Sen. Bennet hopes his State of the Union guest will help put a human face on the need for more aid for Ukraine

Joe Biden, Michael Bennet
Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo
President Joe Biden talks with Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., at Camp Hale near Leadville, Colo., Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. Biden designated the first national monument of his administration at Camp Hale, a World War II-era training site, as he called for protecting “treasured lands” that tell the story of America.

When Marina Dubrova, the head of Ukrainians of Colorado, got a message that she was invited to be a guest of Sen. Michael Bennet at the State of the Union, she didn’t really believe it. Dubrova joked to a colleague, “I feel like the Russians are kind of kidding around.”

The president’s annual address to Congress is often a time when lawmakers can highlight issues important to them through the guests they bring.

Over the past year, Bennet has been an aggressive champion for the need to continue U.S. support for Ukraine, at one point holding up funding for the federal government to pressure congressional leaders. He recently returned from a Congressional Delegation trip to Ukraine led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“I'm so happy that Marina said yes because I think it's really important to remind the American people of how significant our support for Ukraine is, and how significant this partnership has been,” Bennet told CPR News.

The Senate recently passed a bipartisan bill to provide military aid to Ukraine and other allies, but the House has not taken it up.

“I wanted to have my guest be somebody who would be in the chamber reminding the Speaker and other people that the work is undone and that we have to finish it,” said Bennet.

Dubrova, who came from Ukraine 30 years ago, told CPR News she could never have imagined she’d have the honor to hear a president speak in front of the entire Congress. And while she’s excited to listen to President Joe Biden, there’s one thing she really wants to hear: that the House Speaker, Mike Johnson, will put the aid bill on the floor for a vote. 

“I know it might be too optimistic for me to say that, but it would be a great help, great support … to people of Ukraine,” Dubrova said. “Because behind the wars, behind the tanks and weapons, there are just regular civilians who are still struggling, still getting killed by every night bombing, so that would be my biggest wish.”

She also praised the support other members of the Colorado delegation have shown for Ukraine.

A rally for Ukraine on the Colorado Capitol steps. Feb. 24, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
A rally for Ukraine on the Colorado Capitol steps. Feb. 24, 2022.

From gun violence to abortion, guests highlight a range of domestic issues.

With the 25th anniversary of the Columbine High School attack approaching, Rep. Jason Crow wanted to focus on an issue that “sometimes, with everything going on, may not be getting the attention that we would like (it) to be getting.”

“As a community that has had more than our share of gun violence incidents, from Columbine to the Aurora Theater shooting to STEM school to Arapahoe High School, what we know in the Sixth District of Colorado is that while time goes on and passes, that the scars of these incidents remain with our community for many, many years,” Crow said.  “So we wanted to tell that story about the impact of gun violence in our community.”

His guest is Heather Martin, a student who survived the Columbine High School shooting by barricading herself in an office for three hours before the police got her out. She’s now a teacher in Aurora and has launched The Rebels Project with other Columbine Class of ’99 alumni to help survivors of mass shootings deal with the trauma.

“I was very honored and kind of surprised,” Martin said of the invite. “I'm really looking forward to hearing the conversations surrounding the measures that are being planned to help prevent these (mass shootings) and… how we can support people in the long run, because there are thousands of us now, and we need help. And we need help long after the cameras go away and long after everyone else moves on.”

Crow has used the State of the Union to highlight the issue of gun violence before. In 2023, his guest was Richard Fierro, who helped disarm the Club Q shooter.

Dean of the Colorado delegation, Rep. Diana DeGette, is co-chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus. Her guest for the speech will be Adrienne Mansanares, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

Since the fall of Roe, a massive and concerted effort has been made to restrict reproductive rights and enact abortion bans. Even in states like Colorado, where our rights are protected, clinics and providers are struggling under the weight of out-of-state patients who’ve fled their home states for care,” said Diana DeGette in a statement, adding that organizations like Planned Parenthood have “stepped up to meet the moment.”

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Abortion rights supporters gathered on the state Capitol steps in Denver on Tuesday after a leaked draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court called for overturning Roe vs. Wade.

Sen. John Hickenlooper, who created a bipartisan Colorado River Caucus, will bring Becky Mitchell, the Upper Colorado River Commissioner as his guest. 

For her second State of the Union, Rep. Yadira Caraveo, a pediatrician, is bringing a constituent she helped. Catalina E. DeJesus’s Medicaid renewal hit a snag that resulted in a $700 increase for her son’s inhaler. Caraveo’s office was able to get her Medicaid coverage restored and a more reasonable price for her son’s medication.

In 2023, Rep. Pettersen brought a family member and this year she’s bringing a friend. Pettersen’s guest will be Lucinda Schneller. The two worked together on the Obama campaign and Schneller was the Treasurer for Pettersen’s campaign for Congress.

This is retiring Rep. Doug Lamborn’s final State of the Union. Like last year, Lamborn will be bringing a family member to the speech.

Neither Rep. Joe Neguse nor Rep. Lauren Boebert had finalized their guest selection as of Wednesday evening, but CPR News will update if that changes.

At least one member of the delegation is not bringing a guest, though. This may be Rep. Ken Buck’s last year in office, but instead of inviting someone to join him, he gave his guest ticket to a colleague. He is expected to watch the speech in the chamber or possibly on TV.