WASHINGTON (AP) — Oksana Markarova, Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States, and Frances Haugen, the former Facebook employee who revealed what the company may have known about damage caused by its social media platforms, will sit with Jill Biden for President Joe Biden’s state of the Union address, the White House said Tuesday.
Also seated alongside the first lady are Intel Corp. CEO Patrick Gelsinger and several people she met over the past year while touring the country on behalf of the Biden administration. They include a community college student parent, a military spouse, a middle school student, a nurse, a Native American tribesman, and a union member.
The guest list marks a big change from last year, when Biden delivered a speech — not labeled a State of the Union address — before a joint session of Congress in 2021, a few months after taking office.
The coronavirus pandemic was raging at the time, and attendance at the president’s annual appearance in the House of Representatives chamber in the US Capitol was severely restricted, allowing lawmakers who were required to wear face coverings to spread out and socially distance.
Guests, who lawmakers usually take to task, were locked down last year because of the pandemic. The First Lady attended alone after virtually meeting with a group of guests.
Since then, however, the COVID-19 situation has improved.
The federal government recently made mask-wearing optional across much of the US, including Washington, and congressional leaders invited all members of the House and Senate to attend, believing a negative COVID-19 test result was required .
Lawmakers were barred from bringing guests this year, but that ban apparently didn’t extend to the first lady.
Jill Biden continued her public support for Ukraine on Monday — when she wore a white mask with a sunflower, the country’s national flower, at a public event at the White House — by inviting Markarova to sit down with her for the nationwide televised speech .
Tradition has it that the First Lady invites guests who help embody policies and positions important to the administration. President Biden has rallied Western nations against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision last week to launch a war against its smaller neighbor, Ukraine.
Haugen said Facebook’s systems fuel hate and extremism online and fail to protect young people from harmful content, saying the company lacks any incentive to fix the problems. Her revelations over the past year shed light on an internal crisis at the company, which provides free services to 3 billion people.
Haugen backed up her claims with a series of disclosures to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which were also submitted to Congress in redacted form by her legal department. The redacted versions presented to Congress were obtained from a consortium of news organizations including The Associated Press.
Gelsinger joined President Biden at the White House in January to announce that his company would build a $20 billion semiconductor manufacturing facility near Columbus, Ohio. The facility will help the US produce semiconductor chips, which are in high demand and in short supply, contributing to supply chain disruptions. The facility will also create thousands of jobs, Biden and Gelsinger said.
The President’s sister, Valerie Biden Owens, and Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, will also be seated in the First Lady’s box.
But at least half a dozen lawmakers were not expected in the House chamber after reporting positive COVID-19 tests. They include Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., and Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., both members of the committee investigating last year’s Capitol riot, and Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio gave another reason for staying away from the speech.
“I just don’t do COVID tests anymore unless I’m sick,” he said.
Associated Press writer Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.