President Biden invites Navalny's widow to State of the Union address

Washington DC - President Joe Biden invited the widow of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny to attend his State of the Union speech on Thursday but she cannot attend, the White House said.

Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of late Russia opposition leader Alexei Navalny, was invited to the State of the Union speech on Thursday but cannot attend.
Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of late Russia opposition leader Alexei Navalny, was invited to the State of the Union speech on Thursday but cannot attend.  © FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP

Russia will be a key theme for guests at the annual primetime address to Congress, with Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson hosting the parents of detained US reporter Evan Gershkovich.

The White House said Tuesday that Biden, who is giving his last State of the Union before November's presidential election, personally invited Yulia Navalnaya when they met a few days after Navalny died in an Arctic prison on February 16.

"I can confirm that she was indeed invited to the State of the Union. She is no longer able to attend," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

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"I would have to refer you to her people as to specifically why," she said, confirming that Biden himself invited her when they met.

House Speaker Johnson, who is blocking US military aid for Ukraine in Congress, said separately that he was "honored" to host Ella Milman and Mikhail Gershkovich for the speech.

Evan Gershkovich's parents to attend Biden's State of the Union

President Biden will deliver his State of the Union address on Thursday.
President Biden will deliver his State of the Union address on Thursday.  © NATHAN HOWARD / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

He said the invitation would shine a "spotlight on the unjust detention of their son," Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested by Russia nearly a year ago on espionage charges.

The US government has declared that Gershkovich, who categorically denies the spying accusations, is wrongfully detained, and negotiations are underway to swap him in a prisoner exchange.

Johnson said on X that the Biden administration "must bring Evan home."

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Each year, the White House invites citizens and personalities who somehow symbolize the priorities of the president's primetime speech, and who sit alongside the First Lady.

One of its invitees this year is Kate Cox, a Texas woman who had to leave the state for an abortion after learning her fetus was not viable.

Biden has made it a key theme of his re-election bid after his likely Republican election rival, Donald Trump, bragged that his Supreme Court picks had enabled the overturning of the federal right to abortion.

Cover photo: Collage: Nathan Howard / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP & FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP

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