May 29, 2024

White House State of the Union guests represent themes in speech: economy, reproductive rights

The White House on Thursday announced the guests that will be seated in first lady Jill Biden’s box at President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address — including those fighting for reproductive freedom, advocating for gun violence prevention and benefiting from the president’s student loan forgiveness efforts.

They were invited because each “personify issues or themes to be addressed by the President in his speech, or they embody the Biden-Harris Administration’s policies at work for the American people,” the White House said in a statement.

Several invitees are engaged in reproductive freedom battles: Latorya Beasley — the Birmingham, Alabama, woman who had her first child through IVF and had to cancel an embryo transfer after the state Supreme Court ruling, and Katie Cox — the 31-year-old Texas woman who was denied an emergency abortion by the state’s Supreme Court.

“President Biden and Vice President Harris believe that stories like Kate’s and Latorya’s should never happen in America. But Republican elected officials want to impose this reality on women nationwide,” the White House said in a statement.

The White House said during his State of the Union address, Biden will “again call on Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law so women in every state have the freedom to make deeply personal health care decisions.”

Jazmin Cazares, who became an advocate for gun violence prevention after her 9-year-old sister, Jackie Cazares, was killed at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, is also invited.

“I was really shocked to be invited,” she told ABC News. “I feel like it’s another opportunity to spotlight what gun violence does to small communities.”

President of the United Auto Workers union Shawn Fain will sit with Jill Biden during the speech. UAW endorsed Biden for president, with Fain saying Biden gives the union the best shot for success.

Biden, who has touted himself as the most “pro-union” president, joined Fain on the picket line when UAW workers were on strike.

Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson of Sweden, which formally joined the NATO alliance on Thursday, will attend as a White House guest. Biden has said there is a “sacred commitment” among NATO countries, and blasted former President Donald Trump’s recent comments that he would “encourage” Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to NATO countries that are “delinquent.”

The White House also invited Commander Shelby Nikitin, an officer in the U.S. Navy who recently completed her command tour onboard the USS Thomas Hudner, which was protecting maritime shipping vessels in the Red Sea from Houthi attacks.

On Wednesday, Houthi militants in Yemen killed three civilians aboard a Barbadian and Liberian cargo carrier on Wednesday, marking the group’s first fatal strike on a commercial vessel since it began a string of attacks on key shipping lanes in the region in protest of Israel’s war against Hamas.

The Hawaii wildfires last summer took a major toll — killing 100 people, burning more than 6,600 acres, and leaving thousands of homes and other structures in ruins. Kameryn Pupunu, a police office from Lahaina, Hawaii, is set to attend the State of the Union. Pupunu saved 15 people from the August wildfires, and lost four of his own immediate family members to the fires.

Biden will focus on the economy during his speech, including how his efforts to eliminate student debt have helped Americans. That includes White House guest, Keenan Jones, a middle school teacher who had his remaining student loan debt forgiven as part of the president’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

Through their guests, other lawmakers will be hoping to draw attention to two particular issues this year: women’s reproductive health care rights, and the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. For example, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., announced in a statement that Elizabeth Carr, the first person in the U.S. to be conceived through use of IVF, will be his guest for the speech.

Speaker Mike Johnson invited Mia Schem, a freed Israeli hostage, to attend. He also invited two Gold Star parents who lost children in the Kabul airport bombing during the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.

ABC News will air the State of the Union live at 9 p.m., ABC News Live will stream special coverage starting at 7 p.m. and ABC News Digital will have a live blog starting at 7 p.m.

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