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First lady’s virtual joint address guests spotlight Biden administration priorities

When President Joe Biden delivers his address to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night, first lady Jill Biden will forgo the traditional set of guests in the first lady’s viewing box due to social distancing constraints in the House chamber amid the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, she will virtually host a group of guests, inviting them to a virtual reception and remote viewing.

These five guests will spotlight the key themes of Biden’s remarks. Each one will “personify some of the issues or policies that will be addressed by the President in his speech,” the office of the first lady said in a statement Wednesday.

Here are the five guests and a little about their stories:

Javier Quiroz Castro

Javier Quiroz Castro’s story will address two key topics of Biden’s address: the coronavirus pandemic and immigration. Quiroz Castro is a nurse on the front lines of the pandemic, but he is also a Dreamer and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient. Castro was born in Mexico but came to the US at the age of 3.

“I’m working 12-to 14-hour shifts on the newly-created COVID-19 floor, fighting to stabilize patients and keep them from transferring to the ICU to be intubated,” Quiroz Castro wrote in the Houston Chronicle last May, adding, “And yet, any day now, I could lose the right to do this essential work.”

Though the Supreme Court blocked Trump-era efforts to end DACA, Biden signed an executive order to take actions to preserve the program upon taking office.

Maria-Isabel Ballivian

Maria-Isabel Ballivian, the executive director of the Annandale Christian Community For Action (ACCA) Child Development Center, will be key to Biden’s unveiling of a transformative social infrastructure proposal. Ballivian represents another set of essential workers during the pandemic, those caring for at-risk children.

Biden will outline the “American Families Plan” during his remarks. The proposal calls for having low- and middle-income families pay no more than 7% of their income on child care for kids younger than age 5. Parents earning up to 1.5 times the median income in their state would qualify. Biden also wants to invest more in the child care workforce to bring their wages up to $15 an hour, from the typical $12.24 hourly rate they earned in 2020.

Biden is also expected to tout the Covid relief bill passed last month. That legislation provided about $39 billion to child care providers, which could be used to pay employees and rent, help families struggling to pay the cost and purchase personal protective equipment and other supplies.

Tatiana Washington

Tatiana Washington, a gun violence prevention advocate and organizer with “March for Our Lives” and the youth-led “50 Miles More” organizations, will highlight Biden’s push for gun reform, a topic that has taken on new urgency with multiple mass shootings in recent weeks. Washington, the White House said, became involved with gun violence prevention advocacy after her aunt was killed in a murder-suicide, shot by her husband, in March 2017. Biden signed executive actions that made limited moves toward gun control, but he has called on Congress to pass more substantive reforms. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has vowed to put a gun reform package on the Senate floor, with Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut leading outreach to Republicans on the politically sensitive matter.

Stella Keating

Stella Keating, 16, is the youngest guest of the first lady, and is the first transgender teen to testify before the US Senate, according to the White House, advocating for the Equality Act, which amends the 1964 Civil Rights Act to protect people from being discriminated against based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in March 2021. The White House has backed the bill, which passed the House in March but faces an uncertain path in the Senate.

“Hi. I’m Stella. And I’m transgender. I am here before you today, representing the hundreds of thousands of kids just like me who are supported and loved by their family, friends and communities across the country,” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee in her prepared testimony.

She continued, “Right now, I live in a state where I have equal protection under the law. And as a high-school sophomore, I’m starting to look at colleges. And all I can think about is this: less than half of the states in our country provide equal protection for me under the law.”

Theron Rutyna

Theron Rutyna, the information technology director for the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, has been “leading the effort to get broadband to Tribal lands in Wisconsin,” the White House said. Rutyna’s presence as a guest of the first lady signifies both the President’s push toward broadband infrastructure as part of his “American Jobs Plan,” but also the administration’s overall goals toward equity.

“Tribes in Wisconsin represent the most rural of the rural and, in many cases, the most isolated of the State’s residents,” Rutyna said in a statement upon being named to Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ Task Force on Broadband Access. “Having access to Broadband is a requirement not only for students, teachers, and others that need Broadband to work, but in many cases Broadband access is the only avenue towards economic development that an individual may have.”

Article Topic Follows: Politics

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