State of the Union guests spotlight divide on abortion and immigration but offer some rare unity

Mar 7, 2024, 2:04 AM

FILE - Jazmin Cazares, whose young sister Jacklyn was was one of 19 children killed at Robb Element...

FILE - Jazmin Cazares, whose young sister Jacklyn was was one of 19 children killed at Robb Elementary School, attends a hearing at the state capitol, June 23, 2022, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

The invitation list for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Thursday speaks volumes about what Democrats and Republicans want to focus on as the 2024 election season heats up.

Biden and Democratic lawmakers have invited several health care providers and women whose lives have been impacted by stricter abortion laws in states with Republican-controlled legislatures following the landmark 2022 Supreme Court ruling that stripped away constitutional protections for abortion. First lady Jill Biden has also invited union leaders, a gun control advocate, and others that she and her husband have met as they traveled the country promoting his agenda.

Republican lawmakers are inviting guests who place heavy focus on the nation’s broken immigration system, an issue that voters say is a central concern ahead of the November election.

The guests invited to sit in the galleries for Biden’s speech also include at least a few people whom nearly everyone in hyper-partisan Washington should be able to cheer.

A look at some of those expected to be in attendance for Biden’s address and the issues they bring into focus:


— Kate Cox is a Texas woman who was denied an emergency abortion by the state’s Supreme Court late last year even though her health was in danger and her fetus had a fatal condition. The mother of two eventually had to go out of state for the procedure. She is a guest of Jill Biden.

—Dr. Caitlin Bernard is an Indianapolis OBGYN who came under attack in 2022 for providing an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim. She will be the guest of Rep. Judy Chu of California.

— Elizabeth Carr, 42, is the first person born in the U.S. via in vitro fertilization. She will be a guest of Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. He said he invited Carr to spotlight concerns after the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling last month that frozen embryos can be considered children led the state’s three major IVF providers to pause services.

—Roshni Kamta, a native of Jersey City, N.J., was diagnosed with breast cancer at 22 and decided to freeze her eggs before undergoing treatment. The experience inspired her to advocate for wider access to fertility treatments for breast cancer patients. She’s a guest of Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.

—Tammi Kromenake spent nearly 25 years in Fargo, N.D., helping operate the Red River Women’s Clinic, the state’s sole abortion provider. After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, North Dakota enacted some of the country’s strictest abortion laws. Kromenaker moved the clinic to the neighboring city of Moorhead, Minn. She’s a guest of Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn.


Border patrol agent Brandon Budlong, president of the National Border Patrol Council Local 2724, will be the guest of Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., the chair of the House Republican Caucus.

—Two New York Police Department officers, Ben Kurian and Zunxu Tian, who were attacked by migrants in a January incident near Times Square that drew national attention will be the guests of Reps. Anthony D’Esposito and Nicole Malliotakis, both New York Republicans.

—Valeria Delgado, a student at Chapman University in California who has benefitted from the policy created to protect young migrants brought to the U.S. as children, will be the guest of Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif.


—Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson will be in the first lady’s box as Sweden gets set to complete the formal process of joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Sweden along with Finland moved to join NATO after Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Ella Milman and Mikhail Gershkovich, the parents of detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, will attend as guests of House Speaker Mike Johnson. The Louisiana Republican said he invited them to spotlight “unjust” detention of their son, who has been jailed in Russia since last March on espionage charges. Gershkovich and the U.S. government dispute the charges against him.

—Lawmakers also are hosting victims and relatives of people killed or held hostage by Hamas in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Among those expected to attend are Mia Schem, who was abducted by Hamas and released as part of a temporary cease-fire between Hamas and Israel after spending more than 50 days in captivity.


United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain will be among those in the first lady’s box. Other union representatives joining her will be Samantha Ervin-Upsher, a United Brotherhood of Carpenters apprentice, and Dawn Simms, a third-generation union autoworker. The UAW announced in January it was endorsing Biden.


— Jazmin Cazares, a gun control advocate, spent her senior year of high school traveling the country telling the story of her sister Jackie, who was among the 19 students and two teachers fatally shot during a May 2022 shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. She is a guest of the first lady.

—Dawn Chapman for years has advocated for the cleanup of nuclear radiation around St. Louis. She’ll be the guest of Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, who has pressed the federal government to compensate victims of radioactive waste in the St. Louis and St. Charles region of Missouri.

—Minnesota state Rep. Cedrick Frazier is the author of legislation that restored voting rights to more than 55,000 Minnesotans who have completed felony sentences but remain on parole, probation, or supervised release. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., invited Frazier to put the spotlight on voting rights efforts in her home state as she presses for similar legislation on the federal level.


AP writers Aamer Madhani, Farnoush Amiri, Rebecca Santana and Amanda Seitz in Washington, and Ben Finley in Norfolk, Va., Steve Karnowski in St. Paul, Minn., and Geoff Mulvihill in New Jersey contributed to this report.

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State of the Union guests spotlight divide on abortion and immigration but offer some rare unity