Guests in the first lady's box at President Obama's 2011 State of the Union. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

As we noted earlier Tuesday, whom politicians invite as their guests at the State of the Union is full of political symbolism.

But it's not just presidents who get to make political statements by inviting their fellow Americans to hear the president's annual address to Congress in person. Congressional lawmakers also get to bring a a guest -- and more than one if you're in leadership.

Taken in totality, whom they bring can help us get a better of understanding of where Congress's priorities for the new year lie.

Here's a roundup of some of the guests lawmakers are inviting and some of the issues they're bringing up in doing so.

More empty seats


Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) talks to a potential voter about immigration before the arrival of Donald Trump for a meeting with local residents in Iowa in June. (REUTERS/Brian Frank)

Pivoting off President Obama's decision to leave a seat empty in the first lady's guest box to honor victims gun violence, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) announced he's not inviting a guest to honor aborted fetuses.

And he's leaving his own seat open as well: "I will be in the member's chapel praying for God to raise up a leader whom he will use to restore the Soul of America," King said in a statement.

Obamacare (and some bipartisanship)


Pope Francis met with Little Sisters of the Poor in September. (Courtesy of Little Sisters of the Poor)

Speaker Paul D. Ryan's (R-Wis.) guests actually earned him tentative praise from the other side of the aisle. As part of an ongoing effort to focus his party on poverty, the new speaker is bringing founders of nonprofit and religious groups who are focusing their efforts on homelessness and gang violence, reports CQ Roll Call's Stephanie Akin.

Rebecca Vallas with the liberal Center for American Progress told Akin "it's hard to dispute that Paul Ryan and a lot of his GOP colleagues have really upped their game when it comes to talking about these issues."

But Ryan, who makes sure to jab at the president almost every chance he gets, isn't just sending kumbaya vibes with his guest list. He's also bringing two members of an order of Catholic nuns who are challenging Obamacare. The Post's Mike DeBonis reports two nuns from the Little Sisters of Poor, which runs 30 nursing homes in the United States, is challenging the law's requirement that its insurance offer free contraceptive care to its employees.

"The Sisters’ stand in defense of religious liberty -- one of our most fundamental rights -- is nothing short of courageous, and it’s my privilege to support their cause," Ryan said in a statement.

Donald Trump


Donald Trump. (Jim Cole/AP)

Democratic leaders in Congress are making a point -- and seizing a political opportunity to do so -- in inviting Muslim Americans as their guests.

The idea, of course, is to counter GOP front-runner Donald Trump's recent suggestion to temporarily ban new Muslim immigrants. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) (who is chair of the Democratic National Committee) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) (who is Muslim) will invite Muslim Americans in their communities -- from students to doctors to an Army medic.

Criminal justice reform

CQ Roll Call's Lindsey McPherson also reports that at least two lawmakers, from different sides of the aisle, are inviting guests who benefited from a new law eliminating taxes on compensation people receive for wrongful convictions.

The law's sponsors, representatives Sam Johnson (R-Tex.) and John Larson (D-Conn.), are inviting two men who served between 18 and 24 years on wrongful convictions. The law, the aptly named Wrongful Convictions Tax Relief Act, was supported by powerful lawmakers from both parties and suggests that criminal justice reform could be one sliver of compromise in Congress in a year where both sides will likely dig into their respective issues and not budge.

Environmental regulations


Pikeville in eastern Kentucky coal country of Pike County.  (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

Several Republicans are using their guest list to humanize their opposition to President Obama's environmental regulations, especially emissions limits on coal-fired power plants. Republicans say it's costing blue collar Americans jobs; Obama says it's a necessary investment in the future and has pointed the finger at competition from new energy and fracking for coal's decline.

At any rate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is bringing a fourth-generation coal miner from eastern Kentucky who recently lost his job after a mine shut down.

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) is inviting the president of a local boilermakers, blacksmith and iron ship workers union who Daines says is "a proven leader" in standing up to Obama's coal regulations.

Student debt


Elizabeth Warren. (AP)

Senate Democrats are using the State of the Union to launch an election-year issue when it comes to student debt.

Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the Senate's populist liberal leader -- next to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) -- is among those Senate Democrats inviting guests with significant amounts of student debt. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), are doing the same. The Senate Democrats' press office says the students will wear #InTheRed buttons, and in the coming weeks the lawmakers will unveil a proposal for debt-free college.

Democrats, despite losing the Senate in 2014 when this was one of their top campaign issues, still see student loan reform as a winning general election issue in 2016. (Democratic presidential candidate front-runner Hillary Clinton has proposed a debt-free college plan, and Sanders, also running for the Democratic presidential nomination, proposes to increase taxes to make college free.) 

College football


Jim Harbaugh. (Evan Habeeb/Getty Images)

The season's over -- Alabama beat Clemson 45-40 Monday to win the national championship, FYI -- but that didn't stopped lawmakers from honoring members of their favorite teams. CQ Roll Call notes that Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) will invite a former Navy quarterback, and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) said he's bringing University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh.

Same-sex marriage


Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, with Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, greets a crowd after being released from jail in September. (Timothy D. Easley/AP)

The Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage in June, but the debate about it -- and LGBT rights -- appears far from over on Capitol Hill.

Among his many guests, Obama is inviting Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the successful Supreme Court case. The president is expected to celebrate the swift public acceptance of, and then legal acceptance of, same sex marriage over the past year.

On the opposite end of the political spectrum -- but possibly just a few feet away in the galleries from Obergefell -- will sit Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis. Davis became a sensation in social conservative circles and a polarizing figure nationally when she refused to sign same-sex marriage certificates in her court. At least two presidential candidates -- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R) showed up to celebrate her release from jail.

Davis isn't any lawmakers' guest, though; rather, the conservative religious freedom advocacy group Liberty Council announced Tuesday it got Davis and her lawyer a seat in the gallery.

Electoral politics


Rep. Tammy Duckworth's (D-Ill.) Senate race just got a lot more interesting. (AP)

The Democratic primary for the Senate in Illinois (to take on vulnerable Republican incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk) was already heated. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) is the favorite, but she's facing several challengers.

The drama stepped up a notch when Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) announced he's inviting one of Duckworth's top rivals, attorney Andrea Zopp, to the State of the Union. Zopp actually asked Davis to be his guest, reports Lynn Sweet with the Chicago Sun-Times, to raise her national profile. We're writing about her, so she can safely assume that plan worked.

Pivoting off President Obama's decision to leave a seat empty in the first lady's guest box to honor victims of gun violence, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) announced he's not inviting a guest so he can honor aborted babies. And he's leaving his own seat open as well: "I will be in the members' chapel praying for God to raise up a leader whom he will use to restore the soul of America," King said in a statement.