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Jill Biden’s State of the Union guests include Alabama IVF patient, Swedish prime minister and UAW chief


By Betsy Klein and Arlette Saenz, CNN

Washington (CNN) — An Alabama woman seeking in vitro fertilization, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and United Auto Workers president Shawn Fain are among those headed to the US Capitol Thursday evening as President Joe Biden is set to deliver a high-stakes State of the Union address.

Biden’s speech could offer his most substantial television audience before voters cast their ballots in the general election, and the remarks are expected to center around the key themes of his reelection campaign, agenda accomplishments and what’s at stake in November.

The guest list for first lady Dr. Jill Biden’s box offers a blueprint for the president’s address as he leans on personal stories to put faces to critical issues facing Americans.

“Each of these individuals were invited by the White House because they 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,” her office said in a statement.

Here’s who to look for during Thursday’s speech:

Kate Cox, Latorya Beasley and Maria Shriver

President Biden is leaning into his argument for protecting reproductive rights in the aftermath of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, and he is expected to highlight personal stories of those impacted by numerous laws in states across the country. The campaign is making abortion a centerpiece of its messaging as it seeks to court moderate voters – particularly women.

Kate Cox, the Texas mother of two who fought a high-profile legal battle with her state after being denied an abortion to end a high-risk pregnancy, will be present Thursday as Biden puts a face on the issue.

The first lady is also hosting Latorya Beasley, a Birmingham, Alabama, woman who was in the process of expanding her family through in vitro fertilization “when her embryo transfer was abruptly canceled as a result of the recent Alabama Supreme Court decision,” the White House said.

And Maria Shriver, the journalist and women’s health advocate, will be present. Shriver, who is a cousin of independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., teamed up with the first lady to launch the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research.

Teacher who received student loan debt forgiveness

Though Biden’s signature student loan forgiveness program hit a major legal roadblock last year when the Supreme Court rejected his plan, the president has looked for other ways to ease the burden on borrowers, an issue aimed at attracting younger voters saddled with debt. Nearly $138 billion of federal student loan debt has been canceled for almost 3.9 million borrowers since Biden took office.

One such beneficiary, Keenan Jones, will be on site Thursday as Biden touts his moves to boost debt relief. Jones, a public middle school teacher from Plymouth, Minnesota, received student loan debt forgiveness through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

Navy officer working in the Red Sea

The president is likely to address multiple crises abroad, including Russia’s war in Ukraine, now in its third year, and the Israel-Hamas war in the aftermath of the October 7 attacks. Multiple families of those believed to be held hostage by Hamas will be guests of lawmakers.

The first lady will host Shelby Nikitin, a US Navy officer who was in command of the USS Thomas Hudner in the Red Sea, where Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels have stepped up strikes on ships.

“Under her leadership, the ship deployed to protect maritime shipping from illegal, dangerous, and destabilizing Houthi attacks against vessels transiting the Red Sea,” the White House said.

Nikitin was awarded the Bronze Star for her leadership.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson

As Biden works to draw contrasts with former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, he is likely to highlight his efforts to shore up US alliances and preserve and strengthen American democracy. Biden delivered remarks near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, earlier this year where he condemned political violence and called out what he cast as Trump’s continuing assault on democracy.

On Thursday, Sweden is set to formally become the 32nd NATO ally after a process led by Biden to expand the alliance in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine. To mark the occasion, the first lady is hosting Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in her box. Trump has repeatedly railed against the NATO alliance as president and as a candidate, saying last month that he would encourage Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” to any NATO member country that doesn’t meet spending guidelines on defense – a stunning admission he would not abide by the collective-defense clause at the heart of the alliance if reelected.

Non-profit leader working on fentanyl crisis

Biden has taken a number of actions to stop the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl, which has been the main driver of overdose deaths in the country. Those efforts include a key agreement with China announced last year to crack down on the export of source chemicals and the creation of a Counter-Fentanyl Strike Force aimed at cracking down on illicit financial networks supporting cartels and drug traffickers.

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff is bringing Justin Phillips, the founder and CEO of Overdose Lifeline, a non-profit dedicated to reducing the stigma of substance use disorder and preventing deaths resulting from opioid and fentanyl overdose, to Thursday’s address. Phillips lost her son Aaron to a drug overdose and “focuses her advocacy on expanding access to overdose prevention medications” like Narcan, the White House said.

North Carolinian who benefited from Medicare drug price negotiations

As he looks to appeal to moderate voters, Biden is expected to ramp up his efforts to highlight his work to bolster the Affordable Care Act and bring down prescription drug prices, including capping the price of insulin. He will also highlight a 2025 annual cap on out-of-pocket drug costs.

The first lady will host Steven Hadfield of Matthews, North Carolina, to emphasize those efforts. Hadfield, the White House said, “has a rare blood cancer and is diabetic—two conditions that require very expensive drugs, including a drug that was selected for the first round of Medicare drug price negotiation.”

Augusta, Georgia, mayor and others who will highlight Biden’s infrastructure priorities

Biden is also expected to tout a series of legislative accomplishments that are taking shape across the country: the infrastructure law; the CHIPS and Science Act boosting semiconductor production; and the climate, health care and tax package. But that message has struggled to break through as polling indicates voters still aren’t seeing the benefits of these laws.

Augusta, Georgia, Mayor Garnett Johnson will be present in the first lady’s box, representing his town’s participation as a “Workforce Hub” aimed at training students in growing sectors. Natalie King, the founder of Dunamis Charge in Detroit, is working to manufacture electric vehicle chargers. Stephen Roe Lewis, governor of the Gila River Indian Community is shaping tribal government infrastructure. And Rashawn Spivey, owner of Hero Plumbing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is among those working to replace the country’s lead pipes to ensure safe drinking water.

UAW President Shawn Fein and other union leaders

The past year saw a record number of high-profile strikes, from SAG-AFTRA to the Teamsters. And Biden made history as the first president to join a picket line as he marched with members of the United Auto Workers in Michigan last September, culminating in a new deal between the union and the “Big Three” automakers. Biden has repeatedly called himself the most pro-union president in history.

He’ll drive that point home Thursday with UAW president Shawn Fain joining the first lady as a guest. UAW Local 126 member Dawn Simms, who worked at a Belvidere, Illinois, plant that was closed in February 2023 and then reopened in the aftermath of the UAW-Big Three deal, will also be present.

And Samantha Ervin-Upsher, an apprentice with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters Local 432 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, will be present as Biden looks to highlight career training.

Sister of Uvalde shooting victim

There have been 70 mass shootings in the United States so far this year and 2,036 since President Biden took office, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

Biden is likely to highlight a series of executive actions on the issue, the creation of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention; the gun safety law passed by Congress; and investments in mental health programs, community violence prevention and school security. But he has repeatedly called on Congress to do more – and will likely renew those calls Thursday night.

As he makes that case, Jazmin Cazares of Uvalde, Texas, will be in the first lady’s box. Cazares’ sister, Jackie, was killed at the massacre at Robb Elementary School, and Jazmin has spent the time since “traveling across the country and sharing Jackie’s story,” the White House said.

Military spouse who introduced Biden at previous speech

Biden is also expected to champion the country’s military and military families as part of his unity agenda on Thursday evening. He’s previously used his State of the Union addresses to advocate for veterans’ mental health.

To highlight these efforts, the White House invited Tiffany Zoeller, a military spouse from Fayetteville, North Carolina. Zoeller introduced the president at Fort Liberty as he announced an executive order aimed at supporting military spouse career stability and employment resources.

Bettie Mae Fikes

This year’s State of the Union address falls on the 59th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, a critical moment for the civil rights movement. In 1965, state and local lawmen in Alabama attacked marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge with billy clubs and tear gas, driving them back to Selma. Seventeen people were hospitalized and dozens more were injured by police. Months after the brutality, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law.

Biden is hosting Bettie Mae Fikes, “an American singer and civil rights advocate who was a Bloody Sunday Foot Soldier,” the White House said. Fikes joined the president for an anniversary ceremony last year in Selma, per the White House.

An oncology nurse

President Biden, who lost his son Beau Biden to brain cancer in 2015, has made finding cures for cancer one of his signature priorities through the Biden Cancer Moonshot.

Jill Biden will host Kris Blackley, an oncology nurse from Fort Mill, South Carolina, who has published research “related to patient navigation showing improved outcomes, including decreased readmissions, increased treatment compliance, and equity in care.” The administration has announced actions to expand access to cancer patient navigation services.

Maui police officer who responded to Lahaina fires

The president is also likely to honor first responders during his address Thursday.

Kameryn Pupunu of Lahaina, Hawaii, is a Maui police officer who will be a guest of the first lady. Catastrophic wildfires scorched Maui last August, killing more than 100 people.

“Pupunu was one of the many local police officers who performed heroic acts, including saving 15 individuals, from this deadly wildfire. Tragically, Pupunu lost four of his immediate family members to these fires,” the White House said.

CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Katie Lobosco, DJ Judd, and Sam Fossum contributed to this report. 

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