President Barack Obama is featuring eight Americans as "citizen co-chairs" of his inauguration, a new role created to highlight his first-term accomplishments with examples of lives that have either been improved by his actions or inspired his presidency.
Inaugural planners say the honorees include a woman with a brain tumor who no longer is denied health care for a pre-existing condition; an autoworker who got her job back after the General Motors bailout; and a gay pilot-in-training kicked out of the Air Force before the president repealed the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
Inauguration officials said Wednesday that the president has met most of the eight individuals during his first term and their inclusion in inaugural events is meant to showcase his administration's core values through real-life examples that people across the country can relate to.
It's a time-honored presidential practice to illustrate policy ideas with such anecdotes, and Obama frequently does so. He had those who say they were helped by his priorities introduce him at campaign rallies, and he frequently sprinkled their stories throughout his speeches. On Wednesday he announced gun control legislation before families of those killed in the Connecticut elementary school shooting. But inaugural planners say this is the first time people affected by a president's policies have been given such an official title at an inauguration.
The eight will participate in the National Day of Service on Saturday that kicks off the inaugural events over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. That's the president's call for Americans to serve their communities to honor King's legacy. After Obama's swearing-in ceremony Monday, the eight co-chairs will ride on an inaugural parade float highlighting the inaugural theme of "Our People: Our Future," then attend the official balls that night.
"Every day, I'm inspired by the determination, grit and resilience of the American people," Obama said in a statement provided by his inaugural committee. "The stories of these extraordinary men and women highlight both the progress we've made and how much we have left to do. They remind us that when we live up to the example set by the American people, there is no limit to how bright our future can be."
The list of co-chairs and their descriptions by the Presidential Inaugural Committee are:
— Ida Edwards of Petersburg, Va., a retired nurse and advocate of Obama's health care law who lived through the civil rights movement that inspired Obama's career.
— Erica Chain of San Francisco, who was diagnosed at 27 with a life-threatening brain tumor and was denied coverage from every health insurance provider she applied to. She was able to get coverage because of the Affordable Care Act's prohibition of denials of coverage due to pre-existing conditions and was able to get the surgery she needed to stay alive.
— Lily Griego of Denver, a single mother whose son has been able to attend college because of Pell Grants for low-income families for which Obama increased funding, other financial aid and her work at two jobs.
— Kenyetta Jones of Toledo, Ohio, a 27-year veteran of the General Motors Powertrain Plant in Toledo who was laid off for more than a year in 2009 but was called back to work because Obama approved a second auto industry bailout that year.
— Liz McCartney of New Orleans, who co-founded the nonprofit St. Bernard Project after Hurricane Katrina and has helped rebuild hundreds of homes for hurricane and tornado victims with the support of volunteers and AmeriCorps members. Obama met her when visiting New Orleans for the five-year anniversary of Katrina and promoted the work of the St. Bernard Project in his speech that day.
— Rob Hach of Alta, Iowa, who started a small renewable energy business called Anemometry Specialists and like Obama supports the extension of a wind energy production tax credit.
— David Hall of Washington, who was training to be an Air Force pilot but was kicked out for "homosexual conduct" in 2002 and went on to work for the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."
— Petty Officer 2nd Class Taylor Morris of Joint Base Charleston, S.C., a bomb disposal expert and native of Cedar Falls, Iowa, who became a quadruple amputee after stepping on a bomb while serving in Afghanistan. Obama met him on a visit to Walter Reed hospital last year and surprised him with the Purple Heart while on a White House tour over the summer.
Follow Nedra Pickler on Twitter: http://twitter.com/nedrapickler