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State of the Union Guests Highlight Biden’s Efforts on Gun Violence, the Climate and More

The White House guest list for President Biden’s State of the Union address will underscore some of his administration’s biggest accomplishments, from student debt forgiveness to the expansion of NATO.

But even as he heralds his accomplishments, the guest list will highlight intractable challenges still facing his presidency, including pervasive gun violence and the vast problem of climate change.

Among the 20 guests who will join the first lady, Jill Biden, to watch the address is Jazmin Cazares, the sister of a 9-year-old victim of the 2022 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers.

After Uvalde, Mr. Biden signed the first gun safety legislation in decades — a measure he plugged during his State of the Union address last year, when he also called on Congress to enact a ban on assault weapons. In September, he announced the creation of the Office of Gun Violence and Safety Prevention, led by Vice President Kamala Harris, at the White House.

But just since the start of 2024, there have been 10 mass shootings in the United States, according to an analysis by The New York Times, which tracks shootings that killed four or more people, not including the attacker, and occurred in a public place without a connection to another crime. Violence involving children, which has surged since 2011, remains a key concern: Since the start of 2024, there have been 10 school shootings causing injuries or deaths, according to an analysis by Education Week, which tracks gun violence in schools.

Ms. Cazares, 18, who was honored by Ms. Biden during an event at the White House in the fall, has become an activist for gun violence prevention, and spent her senior year of high school traveling the country advocating for laws that could have protected her sister, Jackie Cazares.

To other advocates, her presence at the State of the Union is a reminder of the work the president still has to do on an issue that is critical to young voters who helped send him to the White House — especially if he wants them to help do so again.

Ryan Barto, spokesman for March for Our Lives, the group started by students who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Fla., in 2019, said that young voters are calling on Mr. Biden “to finish the job.” He noted that in 2023, no pieces of legislation that addressed gun violence passed.

Last month, Mr. Biden announced an executive order to promote safe gun storage, citing statistics that show gun violence is the leading cause of death of children in America.

Mr. Barto said young voters want to see Mr. Biden use his bully pulpit and executive authority more forcefully, and to address gun violence in a more “holistic way,” by connecting it to the dwindling social safety net, the rise of white supremacy and a lack of federal funding for research.

“We need him to take the reins on this issue — he needs to be out there talking about this issue,” Mr. Barto said. He added, “It’s fine to use his words to give a speech, but it’s after he leaves the podium and what he does that really matters.”

Other guests on Thursday night will include the prime minister of Sweden — which officially joined NATO a few hours before Mr. Biden’s speech, a key foreign policy victory for the president — and people affected by student debt forgiveness, jobs programs, and recent rollbacks of reproductive rights.

Also attending will be guests who reflect Mr. Biden’s energy and climate change agenda — and underscore his message that tackling global warming creates jobs.

Shawn Fain, the president of the United Automobile Workers, will be one of them. Mr. Biden won the U.A.W. endorsement after walking the picket line of a union strike that ultimately led to new contracts with General Motors, Ford and Stellantis.

Mr. Fain’s presence also suggests that the union is likely to support the finalization this spring of a major Environmental Protection Agency regulation to curb automobile tailpipe emissions.

The rule is designed to entice Americans to switch to electric vehicles from gas-powered cars. Labor unions have been wary of the rule, since electric vehicles require fewer workers to assemble.

The Biden administration is making changes to the proposed rule that addresses some of the U.A.W.’s concerns, including giving car manufacturers more time to ramp up the sale of electric vehicles.

Mr. Biden is fond of saying that when he thinks of climate change, he thinks about jobs. And he will have two people in the audience who prove his point.

Natalie King, a Detroit woman whom the White House described as the first Black woman to found an electric vehicle charging manufacturing company, and Rashawn Spivey, the owner of a plumbing company in Milwaukee that replaces lead pipes, will attend the address.

The Biden administration has set a goal of installing 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations across the country by 2030 and replacing every lead pipe, and has put millions of dollars toward both objectives.

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