Pretty much everything about the first presidential debate is under close scrutiny, from the candidate's debate prep to their guest lists. Monday's debate — the first time Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will face off this campaign season — is crucial for both candidates. Everything they do and say will be carefully analyzed, and each action sends a message, especially who they single out to invite to the big event. So who is Anastasia Somoza, one of the people Clinton invited to the debate?
For those who have followed the Clinton campaign, Somoza is a familiar face. Somoza, who was born with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia, has been an outspoken disability advocate and longterm fixture in Clinton's political career. After meeting President Bill Clinton at a town hall as a child in 1993, Somoza went on to intern for Clinton during her time in the Senate, and worked on Clinton's 2000 Senate campaign.
Somoza has appeared in several Clinton campaign ads, and was one of the highlighted speakers at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. During her speech, which was widely circulated and applauded, Somoza spoke about being both a disabled American and the child of immigrants, and she detailed her journey and friendship with Clinton.
"Over the past 23 years, she has continued to serve as a friend and mentor, championing my inclusion and access to classrooms, higher eduction and the workforce," Somoza said in her speech. "She has never lost touch with people like me. She has invested in me. She believes in me. And in a country where 56 million Americans with disabilities so often fill invisible, Hillary Clinton sees me."
Somoza has also been outspoken about the Republican frontrunner, who has repeatedly been criticized by disability advocates, most notably after he mocked a disabled New York Times reporter last November. “Donald Trump has shown us who he really is, and I honestly feel bad for anyone with that much hate in their heart,” Somoza said in her speech. “Donald Trump doesn’t see me, he doesn’t hear me, and he definitely doesn’t think for me.”
“I fear the day when we elect a president who defines being an American in the narrowest possible terms, who shouts, bullies and profits off of vulnerable Americans,” Somoza later added.
While Somoza's presence at the debate isn't surprising, it still sends a powerful message, showing that Clinton prioritizes the voices and visibility of disability advocates. Also notable is that Somoza is one of four inspiring women invited by Clinton to attend. Clinton has certainly come prepared to show America what she stands for — and she's brought all the help she can get.