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Democrats and Mr. Obama have severely curbed the program, arguing the money is better used elsewhere, but Mr. Boehner has vowed to fight to restore the program, saying it will be a key test of Mr. Obama’s willingness to work with Republicans.

“It’s an honor to be asked by the speaker, to be dignified and let our faces speak words,” said Virginia Walden-Ford, executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice. “I’m a strong believe in when people see the faces of their constituents, or children or parents or whatever, then it’s really hard to say we can’t do what’s best for them.”

In keeping with the tone of the speech, the gallery seating proved less controversial than in past years.

In 2006 anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, the guest of Rep. Lynn Woolsey, was ejected and arrested for refusing to cover up an anti-war T-shirt. Soon after, Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young’s wife, Beverly, was asked to leave because she was wearing a pro-troops T-shirt.

The next day Mr. Young, a former chairman of the Appropriations Committee who along with his wife regularly visited wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, angrily denounced the move on the House floor.