Microsoft CEO, Syrian Refugee Among State Of Union Guests

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -

Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella and a Syrian refugee who now lives in Michigan will be among 23 special guests at President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union speech, the White House said on Sunday.

Inviting Americans whose stories bring to life the president’s priorities has long been part of the annual State of the Union ritual.

This year, one seat will be left empty, in symbolic memory of victims of gun violence. Obama has said he plans to make the need for tougher gun laws an issue ahead of the November 2016 presidential and congressional elections.

Nadella and several other notable guests are below


The White House traditionally invites one CEO to the State of the Union address. Past CEO guests have included Larry Merlo of CVS Health Corp, Mary Barra of General Motors Co, Tim Cook of Apple Inc and Ursula Burns of Xerox Corp. This year, it is Nadella’s turn.


Refaai Hamo – a 55-year-old scientist who fled Syria for Turkey, then was diagnosed with stomach cancer before moving to Troy, Michigan, with his family as refugees last month – will sit with first lady Michelle Obama during the speech. Obama plans to accept 10,000 refugees from Syria over the next year, and has fought Republican efforts to suspend the program.


Ronna Rice, CEO of a Greeley, Colorado honey company that exports to Japan, South Korea and China, will represent the small businesses that stand to benefit from tariff reductions in the TPP trade deal. Obama wants to persuade Congress to approve the deal this year.


Obama also hopes to work with Congress on prison sentencing reform legislation before leaving office, one of the few areas where he shares common ground with Republicans. His guests will include Sue Ellen Allen, a former inmate from Scottsdale, Arizona who now helps others re-enter society and Mark Luttrell Jr., mayor of Shelby County, Tennessee, who helped create special courts to focus on rehabilitation rather than incarceration.