Mar 7, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Sports influencers, crime victims lead Mike Johnson's SOTU guest list

House Speaker Mike Johnson, wearing a blue blazer, white shirt and red tie, stands behind a colleague and in front of a row of American flags.

House Speaker Mike Johnson. Photo: Valerie Plesch/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

The guests House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is bringing to the State of the Union include high-profile conservative athletes and individuals directly affected by crime and immigration.

Why it matters: State of the Union guests are a symbols of causes lawmakers want to champion – and Johnson's are sending a deeply conservative message.

The details: Among the more than two dozen guests Johnson is bringing to the address are:

  • Enes Kanter Freedom: A former NBA player who has emerged as a vocal critic of the China and Turkey.
  • Riley Gaines: A former college swimmer turned activist against transgender women's participation in women's sports.
  • Kristina Gill: The wife of former Trump administration official Mike Gill, who was shot and killed in Washington, D.C. last month.
  • Ben Kurian & Zunxu Tian: Two NYPD officers subject to an attack in Times Square last month that involved migrants.
  • Mia Schem and Orna & Daniel Neutra: An Israeli former hostage in Gaza and the family members of an American IDF soldier still held by Hamas.
  • Ella Milman and Mikhail Gershkovich: The parents of Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter imprisoned in Russia.
  • Darin Hoover and Alicia Lopez: The parents of a Marine killed in the Hamid Karzai Airport bombing during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Zoom out: Johnson's guests – who also include mothers whose daughters were killed by fentanyl and MS-13, as well as the head of a crisis pregnancy center – are reflective of the priorities signaled by other GOP guests.

  • Rep. Mike Collins (R-Ga.) said he invited the parents of Laken Riley, a Georgia nursing student killed by an illegal immigrant, but they opted to remain at home "as they grieve the loss of their daughter."
  • Several other Republican lawmakers are also bringing family members of service members killed during the withdrawal from Afghanistan – still a sore point for the Biden administration.

The other side: Labor rights, abortion and IVF are the main focus of Democrats' State of the Union guests.

  • Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), who is leading a bill to create federal protections for IVF, is bringing an IVF patient from her district, while Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) is bringing an endocrinologist and fertility specialist.
  • Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) said he is bringing Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO.
Go deeper