Tragedy in Newtown to color Obama’s State of the Union Speech

Washington -- The violence at Newtown will cast a shadow over President Obama's State of the Union Address Tuesday as the president and other Democrats make their strongest plea for support from Americans for gun control.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced Friday that she plans to bring a little girl who was affected by the Newtown shootings and her mother to Obama's annual address to the nation. Pelosi's office did not identify her guests.

The child, a 4th grader who did not attend Sandy Hook Elementary School, had sent Pelosi and other members of Congress a letter saying she had started an online petition to change gun laws.

"It got a lot of support from all over America, but then I had to take it down because the police were worried about my safety," the girl's letter said. "What everyone in Newtown wants is for you to ban semi automatic weapons and large capacity magazines and to make everyone use guns safely."

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, also announced that she was bringing Carlos Soto, the brother of slain Sandy Hook Elementary School teacher Victoria Soto.

"Having Carlos at the State of the Union will be a powerful reminder that the victims of gun violence are not statistics," DeLauro said.

The longtime congresswoman said it's important for the president to use his "bully pulpit" to reach out to Americans on the issue.

But Obama will also be addressing many congressional Republicans and a smaller group of Democrats  who tend to be supporters of the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups.

"Some will never be persuaded and some will be persuaded on such a significant issue," DeLauro said. "Lots of (lawmakers) have been already moved."

Rep. Elizabeth Esty, the 5th Congressional District Democrat who represents Newtown in Congress, has invited Sandy Hook teacher Natalie Hammond, who was wounded during the mass shooting at her school on Dec. 14.

First Lady Michelle Obama is also expected to have family members of Newtown shooting victims with her.

But victims of Newtown's tragedy won't be the only ones helping to sway public opinion on gun control with appearances at the president's prime time speech.

About 20 Democratic lawmakers plan to bring gun violence victims from their states or districts to the president's address.

For example, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said he plans to bring Carol Price, a Maryland woman who lost her son to gun violence to the president's address. The death of Price's son led to the passage of legislation in Maryland requiring trigger locks on firearms.

Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, as well has invited a victim of gun violence, someone from his southwestern Connecticut district.

The president will use his State of the Union address to push an ambitious agenda for the year. Besides gun control, Obama wants Congress to approve comprehensive immigration reform and to end partisan fighting over the federal  budget by forging a "big deal" with Republicans that includes both spending cuts and revenues from tax reform.

Obama told House Democrats at a retreat in Leesburg, Va., this week that a consensus could be built around "common sense" solutions to address gun violence.

"We cannot shy away from taking those steps," Obama said. As for immigration, the president said, "I'm going to be pushing hard to get it done, early."

Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said it "makes sense" for the president to push hard for gun control in the State of the Union, even if he does not succeed in winning congressional approval for his most ambitious proposals, especially the reinstatement of an assault weapons ban.

"He'll get half a loaf on gun violence, an unexpected victory," Mann said.

There is still hope among gun-control advocates that Congress will approve legislation to expand FBI background checks, increase federal penalties for gun trafficking and take other steps short of banning any type of gun or ammunition sales.

The president also faces an uphill climb on other issues, Mann said.

He said the president, despite his decisive electoral victory, still faces a very conservative majority in the House and a Senate "prone to holds and filibusters."

He also said differences between Democrats and Republicans on taxes and spending have not narrowed.

"The best bet is that the months ahead will be as contentious and ugly as the entire 112th Congress," Mann said.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a possible GOP candidate for president in 2016, will give the Republican response to the president's address. For the first time in history, it will be given both in English and Spanish.

On  Feb. 15, a few days after his State of the Union Address, Obama plans to posthumously award Presidential Citizens Medals to Victoria Soto and the five other teachers and administrators who died protecting their students in the Sandy Hook school massacre. In addition to Soto, the adult victims were Principal Dawn Hochsprung, psychologist Mary Sherlach and teachers Rachel D’Avino, Lauren Rousseau and Anne Marie Murphy. Their families will receive the medals.

The Citizens Medal, the nation's second-highest honor for civilians, was established in 1969 to recognize U.S. citizens who have performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens.

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