Skip to content

State of the Union guests to highlight divisiveness on foreign, domestic issues

Republicans to keep issues of public safety, Afghanistan withdrawal at forefront

President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address will be attended by a broad range of guests highlighting the nation’s issues.
President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address will be attended by a broad range of guests highlighting the nation’s issues. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Republicans may look to burst President Joe Biden’s bubble Tuesday night as he prepares to deliver his first State of the Union since the GOP took back control of the House.

They will likely seize on the president’s perceived mishandling of foreign affairs, with a nod to China’s surveillance balloon — which was shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday after several days traversing the U.S. 

“Hard to say the State of the Union is ‘strong’ when our commander-in-chief lets a Chinese spy balloon fly across our entire country before doing anything about it,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, tweeted Monday.

On the foreign policy front, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, whose committee is opening an investigation into Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, announced Friday he’d invite Roya Rahmani, the country’s first female ambassador to the United States.

McCaul said he hopes Rahmani’s presence will “send a signal to the women of Afghanistan that they have not been forgotten,” as he vowed to fight for accountability for those involved in the troop withdrawal.

“Women there — many of whom only ever knew the freedoms of the last 20 years — no longer have rights,” McCaul said in a statement. “They must remain fully covered outside of their homes. They can’t go to school. They can’t even be outside without a male companion.”

As for Democrats, they are looking closer to home. RowVaughn and Rodney Wells, the mother and stepfather of Tyre Nichols, the 29-year-old who was beaten to death by Memphis police in January, will be guests of Nevada Democrat Steven Horsford, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus.

Nichols’ death has renewed calls for Congress to pass police reform legislation, though action is unlikely with Republicans in control of the House.

Horsford and other Black legislators met with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House on Thursday and reached an agreement on “how we will continue to work forward both from a legislative standpoint as well as executive and community-based solutions,” Horsford told reporters. Details of that agreement have not yet been released.

Crime and criminal justice

RowVaughn and Rodney Wells will not be the only parents in the crowd who have lost a child at the hands of police.  

Missouri Democrat Cori Bush announced Monday that she invited Michael Brown Sr., the father of Michael Brown, whose 2014 shooting by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson set off nationwide protests and helped galvanize the Black Lives Matter movement. 

In a related move, Wisconsin Rep. Gwen Moore invited professional basketball player Sterling Brown, who was tackled and tased by police in 2018 while he was a member of the Milwaukee Bucks.

“In light of the ongoing police brutality crisis in our country that just claimed the life of Tyre Nichols, I am inviting an individual who had the unfortunate experience of encountering this epidemic firsthand in Milwaukee,” Moore said.

Republican guests also aim to highlight public safety, though through a different lens as they hammered home the idea in the lead-up to November’s midterm elections that Democrats are soft on crime.

Freshman GOP Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer of Oregon invited Portland police officer Jordan Zaitz, who has served “on the front lines of the homelessness and drug crises in Oregon.”

And Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik of New York announced last week that she would bring Jeffrey T. Smith, a county sheriff from upstate New York.

“The American people deserve a government with the same dedication to public safety, and House Republicans are leading the charge to hold the Biden Administration accountable for its crises and deliver on our commitment to create a nation that is safe,” Stefanik said in a statement.

Democratic wins

Many pundits have suggested that Biden will try to cast himself as the “adult in the room” and tout a laundry list of legislative accomplishments during the first half of his presidency, like passage of the Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Some Democrats are taking a similar approach.

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine will bring James Gibbs, the international vice president of United Mine Workers of America, to highlight Inflation Reduction Act funding for a black lung benefits programs that will help miners shoulder health care costs. 

Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon will also promote those laws’ positive impact on workers by attending with Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO.

Democrats also hope to hammer Republicans on issues like abortion and gun control, especially in the wake of a series of mass shootings in recent months.

In a nod to the Supreme Court’s 2022 overturn of Roe v. Wade, abortion rights activist Kate Dineen, who had to travel 500 miles from Boston to Bethesda, Md., and pay out of pocket to receive an abortion after her son suffered a stroke in utero, will attend with Sen. Edward J. Markey.

“We are living in dangerous times, manufactured for partisan and misogynistic gain,” Markey said in a statement. “Extremist Republicans are trying to create a world in which women, LGBTQ+ Americans, young people, and communities of color have fewer rights today than the generation before them.”

Meanwhile, Reps. Joe Neguse and Jason Crow, both of Colorado, and Sen. Alex Padilla of California all invited guests with ties to recent mass shootings. Neguse will bring the wife of a man killed in a 2021 mass shooting in Boulder. Crow will be in attendance with Army veteran Richard M. Fierro, who charged and disarmed a shooter in Colorado Springs last year. Padilla invited Henry Lo, mayor of Monterey Park, where a shooting at a dance studio on Jan. 21 killed 11 people.

Santos returns to Ground Zero

New York Republican Rep. George Santos, who’s facing multiple investigations into lies about his background, announced in a floor speech Monday that he would bring Michael Weinstock, a former firefighter who did rescue work after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center.

It’s the latest in a series of bizarre moves from Santos, who has claimed that “9/11 claimed my mother’s life.” The New York Times, however, reported that Santos’ mother died in 2016 and may not have been in the country at the time of the attacks.

Weinstock is a Democrat who Santos said suffers from a neurological condition related to his time as an emergency worker.

“Michael’s story is one of many that have yet to be told to a wider audience,” Santos said during the speech.

Other notables

“Good Samaritan” Darrell Woodie will attend the State of the Union in place of Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla. Woodie, a part-time Amazon delivery driver who also works as a field representative for Steube’s fellow Florida Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan, found Steube and dialed 911 after the congressman fell from a ladder in January. Steube sustained serious injuries and will be away from Washington for several weeks while he recovers.

Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., will bring professional soccer player and two-time World Cup champion Kelley O’Hara, who has advocated equal pay for the women’s and men’s U.S. national teams.

And Rep. Brendan F. Boyle, D-Pa., invited Chris DeShields, a Philadelphia bus driver who stopped an attempted carjacking by using his 40-foot bus to box in and scare off the perpetrator.

Recent Stories

Alabama IVF ruling spurs a GOP reckoning on conception bills

House to return next week as GOP expects spending bills to pass

FEC reports shine light on Super Tuesday primaries

Editor’s Note: Never mind the Ides of March, beware all of March

Supreme Court to hear arguments on online content moderation

In seeking justice by jury trials, Camp Lejeune veterans turn to Congress