From Bono to Tyre Nichols’ parents: Who is attending this year’s State of the Union address?
President Joe Biden will deliver his second State of the Union address on Tuesday 7 February – his first since the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives after November’s midterms.
Mr Biden’s speech will take place at 9pm EST (2am GMT) and will be carried live across the major American news networks. It marks the unofficial start of the 2024 presidential campaign, with the Democrat discussing key areas of public concern, from police reform and the economy to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
He is expected to lay out policy priorities, champion the country’s bounceback from Covid-19 and draw contrasts between his administration’s hopes of encouraging unity post-Trump and the behaviour of certain fringe Republicans still more interested in sowing division, judging by the chaotic (and ultimately unsuccessful) resistance mounted to stop Kevin McCarthy securing the House speakership.
Mr Biden’s address to the joint session of Congress will also provide him with a platform from which to reassure Democrats that he is fighting fit and ready to embark on a second term, despite having turned 80 in November.
As is customary, the president will be flanked by the House speaker, Mr McCarthy, and his vice president, Kamala Harris, as he delivers his speech to the assembled members of the House and Senate, with family, friends and specially invited guests looking down from the balcony of the lower chamber.
Among the parties already invited to attend this year’s event include RowVaughn and Rodney Wells, the mother and stepfather of Tyre Nichols, and Brandon Tsay, the hero of the Monterey Park mass shooting.
Here’s a guide to everyone confirmed so far.
RowVaughn and Rodney Wells
Tyre Nichols, 29, a FedEx driver by profession, was brutally beaten by five police officers during a routine traffic stop in Memphis, Tennessee, on 7 January and died three days later of his injuries in hospital.
The officers concerned have all been dismissed and an investigation into their conduct is underway but the release of bodycam footage of the incident has provoked fresh outrage and renewed calls for reform.
The deceased’s parents were invited to attend the State of the Union by Congressional Black Caucus chairman Steven Horsford, a Nevada Democratic congressman, and have accepted.
“Like so many, I was outraged and deeply pained to see the horrific video of the beating that resulted in Tyre Nichols’ death,” Mr Biden has said of the incident.
“It has a lot to say and do with the image of America. It has a lot to do with whether or not we are the country that we say we are.”
Vice President Harris has since attended Nichols’ funeral in Memphis alongside civil rights leaders the Reverend Al Sharpton and Ben Crump.
Brandon Tsay and Henry Lo
Mr Tsay, 26, was invited to the State of the Union by California Democratic congresswoman Judy Chu after he heroically intervened to disarm the gunman who carried out the mass shooting at a Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park near Los Angeles on 21 January, saving an untold number of lives.
According to CNN, just an hour after Ms Chu extended the invitation to Washington, he was called by Mr Biden himself to make the same offer, the president having already been in touch to thank Mr Tsay for his bravery.
“I wanted to call to see how you’re doing and thank you for taking such incredible action in the face of danger,” Mr Biden had told him.
“I don’t think you understand just how much you’ve done for so many people who are never going to even know you. But I want them to know more about you.”
Mr Tsay has since been awarded a medal of courage by the Alhambra Police Department during a ceremony on Sunday.
Monterey’s mayor, Henry Lo, has also been invited by California senator Alex Padilla.
The lead singer of Irish rock band U2 has been invited in honour of his advocacy and philanthropic support for global health and AIDS relief initiatives.
The husband of former House speaker Nancy Pelosi will be there, an important statement after hewas severely injured days before the midterm elections by a man with a hammer who broke into his San Francisco home and allegedly sought to harm the veteran California lawmaker.
Family members of mass shooting victims
Congressmen Maxwell Frost of Florida and Greg Casar of Texas will invite parents of victims of the Parkland and Uvalde school shooting massacres.
Congressmen Joe Neguse and Jason Crow, both of Colorado, have also invited guests with ties to recent mass shootings.
Mr Neguse will bring the wife of a man killed in a 2021 mass shooting in Boulder while Mr Crow will be in attendance with Army veteran Richard M Fierro, who disarmed a shooter in Colorado Springs in 2022.
Michael Brown Sr
Representative Cori Bush of Missouri will invite Michael Brown Sr, the father of Michael Brown, the unarmed Black teen who was killed in a police shooting in Ferguson in 2014.
The shooting set off racial justice protests in Missouri and around the US and contributed to the founding of the Black Lives Matter movement that continues to this day.
Wisconsin Democratic congresswoman Gwen Moore has invited the professional basketball player, who was tackled and tased by police in 2018 during his time playing for 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,” Ms Moore said.
Speaker McCarthy has invited another basketball star, formerly of the Boston Celtics, as his guest, praising him for speaking out against Chinese authoritarianism.
“In light of everything too with what’s happening in China, here’s a man who stood up for freedom, lost his right to continue to play basketball, but he continues to fight for freedom,” Mr McCarthy said.
New Jersey congressman Mikie Sherrill, a Democrat, will bring the professional soccer player and two-time World Cup winner as his guest, honouring her advocacy for equal pay in the women’s game.
Massachusetts senator and former Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has invited Eugnie Ouedraogo to the SOTU.
Ms Ouedraogo is a nursing student at UMass Dartmouth and a mother of three, originally from Burkina Faso, who is forced to juggle her aspirations and responsibilities in light of the national crisis in affordable child care.
“We both know what it’s like to struggle to find child care while pursuing an education,” Ms Warren said in a tweet.
“I’m fighting to ensure that every family can find affordable, quality child care.”
Another Massachusetts Democratic senator, Ed Markey, is bringing abortion activist Kate Dineen as his honoured guest.
Ms Dineen was reportedly forced to travel 500 miles to Bethesda, Maryland, to get an abortion at a cost of more than $10,000 after her son “suffered a catastrophic stroke in utero,” a trauma that inspired her to fight for abortion rights in her home state.
“No one should ever have to go through the anguish and uncertainty Kate and her husband went through to find care,” Mr Markey said.
Virginia Democratic senator Tim Kaine will bring the international vice president of United Mine Workers of America to highlight the Inflation Reduction Act’s funding for a black lung benefits programmes, intended to help miners cover their health care costs.
Similarly, Oregon Democratic senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon will promote the benefits of that same act by attending with the president of the AFL-CIO.
Caifornia Democrat Mark Takano, ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has invited the veteran campaigner as his guest.
“I am honored to have a constituent and proud Marine, Richard Valdez, join me as my guest to the State of the Union. Richard has dedicated his life to serving our country and advocating for veterans in our community,” Mr Takano said.
“Richard’s brother-in-law sadly passed away because of radiation exposure during his military service, an exposure now recognised because of the PACT Act.
“Richard’s advocacy was instrumental in my efforts as chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee to pass the Honoring our PACT Act. The PACT Act will make a difference in the lives of millions of veterans who suffer from the effects of toxic exposure to Burn Pits, Agent Orange, as well as exposure to radiation and other toxic hazardous materials due to their service and the surviving families of those lost to their conditions associated with these exposures. I look forward to hearing how President Biden plans to continue to make our veterans a priority in his State of the Union address.”
Another hero on the guestlist is this Philadelphia bus driver who stopped an attempted carjacking by using his 40-foot public vehicle to box in and scare off the perpetrator.
The Democratic congressman for Philadelphia, Brendan F Boyle, extended the invitation.
Greg Steube, the Florida Republican congressman who has been in recovery ever since falling from the roof of his house on 18 January, has announced that the “Good Samaritan” who saved him by calling an ambulance has been rewarded with an invite to Mr Biden’s address.
Mr Steube spent the night in intensive care after sustaining multiple but non-life threatening injuries after falling approximately 25 feet from a ladder while cutting tree limbs at his property in Sarasota.
“While I will still be in Sarasota recovering from my injuries, it is my privilege to share that Mr Darrell Woodie will be attending next week’s State of the Union as my official guest!” the politician wrote on Twitter.
“Mr Woodie called 911 after witnessing my accident and is the epitome of a Good Samaritan!”
Jeffrey T Smith
The Montgomery County sheriff from Fort Plain, New York, has been invited by Republican congresswoman Elise Stefanik from the same state.
“Sheriff Smith and countless other members of law enforcement are on the frontlines every day protecting our communities and fighting against the crises caused by Joe Biden’s failed policies,” Ms Stefanik said in a highly partisan statement.
“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.”
Similarly, freshman Republican representative Lori Chavez-DeRemer has invited Portland’s police chief, who has served, she said, “on the front lines of the homelessness and drug crises in Oregon.”
Mark A Hurley
The former Illinois Air Force colonel retired from the US military in opposition to President Biden’s decision to make the Covid-19 vaccine a mandatory requirement among servicemen and women and is being honoured for that decision by Republican congresswoman Mary Miller.
“Biden used the Covid vaccine mandate as a political purge to force the best and the brightest out of our military, and Biden has still failed to provide accountability for his disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan more than two years ago,” Ms Miller said.
She herself has since announced that she will be boycotting the speech, accusing Mr Biden of repeated “lies” over a number of issues.
Texas Republican Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which is opening an investigation into Mr Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, has announced that his guest will be that country’s first female ambassador to the US.
Mr McCaul said he hopes her attendance will “send a signal to the women of Afghanistan that they have not been forgotten”.
“Women there – many of whom only ever knew the freedoms of the last 20 years – no longer have rights,” he 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.”
A former New York volunteer firefighter and 9/11 veteran, Mr Weinstock is the guest of under-fire Republican congressman George Santos, a surprising development given that Mr Santos has been accused of falsely claiming that his late mother died in the terror attacks on the World Trade Center.
The New York Times debunked that and found that the freshman’s mother actually passed away 15 years later and may not have been in the country at the time.
Mr Weinstock, a Democrat, has said he is attending regardless in order to raise awareness of health conditions not covered by the World Trade Center Health Program, including neuropathy, which he himself suffers from.
Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat and former House Speaker, said that Capitol Police sergeant Aquilino Gonell will be her guest at the speech.
Sgt Gonell was injured during the insurrection on January 6, 2021 when Trump supporters laid siege to the Capitol.
“Sergeant Gonell is an American hero,” Ms Pelosi said in a statement, according to The Washington Post. “On January 6, 2021, he put his own life on the line as he courageously protected the Capitol, the Congress and the Constitution from a deadly siege. After enduring unimaginable brutality and trauma, he has continued his selfless service — speaking out to ensure that we all remember the truth of the insurrection.”
The following guests, listed in alphabetical order, will also be there:
Maurice and Kandice Barron of New York, the parents of a three-year-old who has survived a rare paediatric cancer, meant to highlight Mr Biden’s Cancer Moonshot initiative.
Lynette Bonar of Tuba City, Arizona, a nurse and medical executive involved in bringing the first cancer center to a Native American reservation.
Deanna Branch of Milwaukee, whose son was diagnosed with lead poisoning from unsafe drinking water in their home, as Mr Biden aims to replace all lead drinking water pipes in the coming decade.
Kristin Christensen and Avarie Kollmar of Seattle, a mother-daughter pair who are sharing their story about caring for their injured Navy veteran husband and father.
Ruth Cohen of Rockville, Maryland, a Holocaust survivor and volunteer at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum who has warned against rising antisemitism.
Mitzi Colin Lopez of West Chester, Pennsylvania, an advocate for people brought to the US illegally as children who have received protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Maurice “Dion” Dykes of Knoxville, Tennessee, who is training to be a teacher after a 25-year graphic design career as part of a program funded by the 2020 Covid-19 relief law.
Kate Foley of Rolling Meadows, Illinois, a 10th grade student looking to use the skills from her school engineering classes to pursue a career as a biomedical engineer.
Darlene Gaffney of North Charleston, South Carolina, a breast cancer survivor who has promoted the importance of early detection and timely cancer screenings.
Doug Griffin of Newton, New Hampshire, who lost his daughter, Courtney, in 2014 to a fentanyl overdose, as the Biden administration works to strengthen federal efforts to combat the opioid epidemic.
Saria Gwin-Maye of Cincinnati, an ironworker who will work on the federally supported revitalization of the Brent Spence Bridge.
Jacki Liszak of Fort Myers, Florida, who met with the president and first lady in the wake of Hurricane Ian and whose business stands to benefit from federal climate resiliency funding.
Harry Miller of Upper-Arlington, Ohio, a mechanical engineering student and a former football player for Ohio State University, who left football to prioritize his mental health.
Gina and Heidi Nortonsmith of Northampton, Massachusetts, the plaintiffs in Goodridge vs. MA Department of Public Health which cleared the way for their state legalizing same-sex marriage.
Paul Sarzoza of Phoenix, the owner of a cleaning and facilities services company that is benefitting from servicing companies investing in high-tech manufacturing in his area.
Amanda and Josh Zurawski of Austin, Texas, who found doctors unable to intervene after her water prematurely broke at 18 weeks pregnant due to the Texas abortion ban. Ms Zurawski developed sepsis and nearly died because of the delay in receiving treatment, as the Biden administration looks to highlight the consequences of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe vs Wade last year.
Additional reporting by agencies