State of the Union guests spotlight IVF, conflicts in Israel and Gaza

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(WASHINGTON) -- Seeking to spotlight national issues such as in vitro fertilization and the conflicts oversees in Israel, Gaza and Ukraine, lawmakers have invited a host of guests to attend the State of the Union on Thursday, including the parents of detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and the first American conceived via IVF.

Members of Congress typically invite guests with specific backgrounds and stories that are important to them both personally and politically -- people they want to thank, to honor or even to highlight a particular issue.

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.

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 President Joe Biden's annual address.

In February, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos were children, prompting fears about access to IVF and other fertility treatments.

"It's more important than ever that we commit to protecting access to IVF services nationwide," Kaine said. "We must work to safeguard IVF so the Elizabeth Carrs of the world can continue to be born."

The family of an American hostage being held in Gaza by Hamas (designated by the U.S. as a terrorist group) is also expected to attend Thursday as guests of North Carolina Republican Sens. Ted Budd and Thom Tillis.

"It is an honor to partner with Senator Budd to invite the Siegel family to this year's State of the Union," Tillis said in a statement. "Keith and Aviva Siegel were horrifically taken from their home and kidnapped by Hamas during the October 7th attack. While it is a great relief that Aviva has been released, we are still working to secure Keith's freedom from Hamas captivity."

Rep. Nanette Barragán, D-Calif., announced in a statement that health care advocate and rapper Fat Joe will be her guest. Last year, the Grammy-nominated artist came to Capitol Hill and lobbied for transparency in hospital billing in order to combat the overwhelming amount of medical debt many Americans face.

"Fat Joe's bipartisan work to highlight the need for price transparency at hospitals, from insurers, and other parts of our healthcare system is a vital way to ensure that American families aren't blindsided by huge bills every time after they visit the hospital," she said in a statement.

Speaker Mike Johnson's guests

The parents of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, detained in Russia for almost a year, will attend the State of the Union as Speaker Mike Johnson's guests. A freed Israeli hostage and two New York police officers will also attend as Johnson's guests.

"We are grateful to Speaker Johnson for inviting us to attend the State of the Union and for providing the opportunity to highlight Evan's wrongful detention," Ella Milman and Mikhail Gershkovich -- Evan Gershkovich's parents -- said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal.

Gershkovich has been imprisoned in Russia for nearly a year on espionage charges that The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. and dozens of international media organizations have denied. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

In a statement, Johnson said "I'm honored to host Ella Milman & Mikhail Gershkovich for the State of the Union, shining a spotlight on the unjust detention of their son, Evan. The US must always stand for freedom of the press, especially in places where it is under assault. The Admin must bring Evan home."

Johnson also invited Mia Schem, a freed Israeli hostage, to attend.

Schem, who is 21 years old, was kidnapped by Hamas after fleeing the Nova music festival during the Oct. 7 Hamas attack in Israel.

In a statement on X, Johnson said "I am proud to stand with Mia and join her in demanding the release of all hostages held captive by Hamas."

However, despite voicing support for Ukraine and Israel, Johnson refuses to take up a package of aid for those countries. The Senate passed the legislation last month and the White House has repeatedly pressed the speaker to hold a vote on it.

Johnson also jointly invited two New York Police Department officers: Zunxu Tian with Rep. Anthony D'Esposito, R-N.Y., and Lt. Ben Kurian with Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y. The officers were attacked near Times Square in January.

Last month, seven people were indicted in connection with the assault on the officers.

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.

Other Johnson invitees include: Kristina Gill, the wife of Mike Gill, a former Trump administration official and D.C. resident who was killed in a carjacking; Enes Freedom, a former professional basketball player and vocal critic of human rights abuses; and Riley Gaines, a former University of Kentucky swimmer and outspoken critic of transgender athletes.

Thursday, March 7, 2024 at 2:01PM by Lauren Peller and Mariam Khan, ABC News Permalink