Gold Star families, Florida leaders among special guests for State of the Union
President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress, at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 7, 2023. Image via AP.

Joe Biden
From family members of Hamas hostages to FAMU's President, Florida's delegation will bring guests with important agendas.

Members of Florida’s congressional delegation will be making statements with who they bring to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union. Lawmakers will bring regional leaders, international activists and those impacted by dangers around the globe as guests.

The following individuals will appear in the House gallery today, invited by Florida lawmakers.

Etty Israeli

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Miami Republican, will bring guest Etty Israeli, whose 19-year-old nephew Itay Chen hasn’t been heard from since Hamas terrorists invaded the Gaza border communities on Oct. 7. Chen, a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, was stationed as part of a tank unit at the time.

“Today marks 151 days since the horrific terrorist attack on Israel — an attack that killed nearly 1,200 people, including at least 32 Americans,” Rubio said.

“The atrocities committed that day are indefensible, and Hamas is still holding more than 100 hostages, including Itay Chen. The pain and sorrow does not wane for the families of the victims. The uncertainty and grief can be paralyzing, especially for those like Etty Israeli still holding out hope that their loved ones will return home.”

Nathaly Haratz Kaswan

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott will host Nathaly Haratz Kaswan, a Florida mother raising awareness of Hamas hostages through the Milk Carton Project, which emblazons images of kidnapped civilians in Israel on milk cartons.

“Outside of my office in Washington, I have a poster of every hostage and a large milk carton made through the Milk Carton Project on display for all to see,” said Scott, a Naples Republican. “I will not take them down or stop fighting for action until every hostage is home and safe and I am proud to see Floridians like Nathaly fight for them every day.”

Kaswan welcomed the publicity.

“I am grateful for the work Senator Scott has done to continue to bring awareness to the hostages who have spent more than 150 days in captivity — and we cannot let up the fight,” she said. “Hamas has launched a brutal attack against my Jewish brothers and sisters, and I won’t stop fighting to raise awareness until every hostage taken by Hamas is safely back home.”

Gillian Kaye

U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, will bring a constituent directly impacted by the Hamas attack. Sarasota mother Gillian Kaye’s stepson Sagui Dekel-Chen was last seen fighting off attackers to protect his wife and children during the Hamas attacks.

“The eyes of the world will be on Washington as the president addresses the state of the war and hostage negotiation efforts,” Steube said.

“Ms. Kaye, her husband Jonathan, Sagui’s wife Avital, their three daughters, and countless other loved ones have awaited Sagui’s safe return for nearly five months. Ms. Kaye’s presence at the State of the Union is integral to keeping national and international attention on bringing every single hostage home.”

Kaye continues to hold hope for Dekel-Chen to come home alive.

“I am grateful to Rep. Steube for keeping the issue of our hostages and their continued captivity in Gaza in the national spotlight,” she said.

“March 7th will mark five months since the brutal massacre of nearly 1,500 Israelis and the abduction of hundreds more by Hamas terrorists to Gaza, including my stepson Sagui Dekel-Chen. We will only be whole again with the return of all hostages and appreciate so much the partnership with our congresspeople who have advocated tirelessly on our behalf.”

Paula Knauss Selph

Spotlighting another international tragedy, U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz, a St. Augustine Beach Republican, has invited Paula Knauss Selph to the speech. Selph’s son, Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Christian Knauss, was one of the 13 American service members killed in an ISIS-K terrorist attack at the Hamid Karzai International Airport during the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

“It has been over two years since the death of Paula’s son, Ryan, and the Biden administration still has not taken any accountability for the lives lost during the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan,” Waltz said.

“Paula and the families of the other 12 U.S. service men and women who died that day deserve answers from President Biden, not just photo-ops. I hope that Paula’s attendance at this year’s State of the Union Address will send a clear message that we will not stop until a thorough investigation is complete and those responsible are held accountable. May we always remember Ryan for his heart, his humor, and his passion for service to this great nation.”

Steve Nikoui

Likewise, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Stuart Republican, will draw attention to the deaths at the airport’s Abbey Gate by hosting Steve Nikoui, another Gold Star father whose son, Marine Lance Corporal Kareem Nikoui, died in the attack.

“Joe Biden has been trying to turn the page on Afghanistan after his incompetence cost American lives, but not on my watch,” Mast said.

“For the last three years, Joe Biden has done nothing but tried to deflect blame as terrorists have taken hold of Afghanistan, repressed women, and killed those who supported America. I will continue to call out President Biden to remind him of the damage he has done to national security and American families.”

Kareen Nokoui’s brother, Dakota Halverson, died from suicide shortly before the one-year anniversary of the attack.

Larry Robinson and Malou C. Harrison

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Democrat, will try to spotlight bright spots in Florida’s higher education institutions. She will host Dr. Larry Robinson, president of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), and Dr. Malou C. Harrison, Executive Vice President and Provost of Miami Dade College.

The Congresswoman said that’s an effort to spotlight historically Black universities and colleges that primarily serve minority populations. Wilson serves as ranking Democrat on the House Higher Education Committee.

“I am honored to have Dr. Robinson and Dr. Harrison as my guests for the State of the Union address,” Wilson said.

“Their dedication to their respective institutions and students is exemplary, and their presence serves as a testament to the transformative power of education. As we tackle the challenges and opportunities facing higher education, we must continue to support our educators, institutions, and HBCUs to ensure that every student has access to quality education and the opportunity to thrive.”

Rosa María Payá

Another South Florida lawmaker, U.S. Rep. Carlos Giménez, will draw attention to an international drama closer to home. The Miami-Dade Republican will host Cuban opposition leader Rosa María Payá, daughter to the late anti-communism activist Oswaldo Payá, as his guest.

“She is joining me to denounce the ongoing brutality of Cuba, demand freedom for all political prisoners, and hold the regime accountable for its crimes against humanity,” Giménez said.

“Recently, colleagues of mine on the fringe traveled to Havana to meet with officials of the Castro regime to serve as apologists and lobby on their behalf. I am proud to stand with Rosa María to continue to loudly denounce the evils of the Cuban regime. It is my honor to represent our community and fight for the freedoms we cherish.”

Payá also wants to bring attention to the recent revelation of a U.S. diplomat working as a Cuban spy for decades.

“I will be present at the State of the Union Address thanks to an invitation by Congressman Carlos Gimenez,” Payá said.

“This comes a week after my family filed a lawsuit against Victor Manuel Rocha, the former U.S. Diplomat that served as a spy for the Cuban regime for decades. My family is fighting for the truth, for justice, and to end the impunity of the Cuban regime and its accomplices, just as we have been doing since my father’s assassination in 2012.”

John Frankman

Former U.S. Army Capt. and Green Beret John Frankman will attend the State of the Union as a guest of U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican. Frankman served in the 7th Special Forces Group. He separated from the military after refusing a mandate for soldiers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Following the enforcement of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate that discharged 8,600 service members, Mr. Frankman was one of thousands who voluntarily separated from the Army due to hardships he and other unvaccinated service members faced based on discriminatory and punitive Department of Defense policy,” Gaetz posted on X.

“He is now fighting to fix the injustices committed against service members at the hands of Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense (Lloyd) Austin.”

Franklin, a Panhandle resident, has advocated for the “Declaration of Military Accountability” campaign, seeking accountability for the vaccine mandate and other military decisions.

Ed Bravo

U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack, a Gainesville Republican, plans to highlight a domestic social ill claiming lives. She will bring Ed Bravo, a Gainesville man who lost daughter Serena to fentanyl poisoning in 2021, to highlight the ongoing opioid crisis.

“The fentanyl pouring across the southern border is a direct result of the Biden Border Crisis,” she told News Nation.

The Congresswoman said Serena was among many who thought they were taking different drugs and ended up dying from an opioid.

Felipe Souza Lazaballet

U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost, an Orlando Democrat, announced that he will bring Felipe Souza Lazaballet, Executive Director of Hope CommUnity Center, to be his guest. The Congressman made clear that’s to spotlight immigrant stories from the state.

“As the proud son of a Cuban immigrant who would not be here today if not for asylum, it’s important we recognize the critical immigration plays in our communities, especially as MAGA Republicans try to pass cruel legislation to harm migrants,” Frost said.

Souza Lazaballet said he’s thrilled for the chance to go and advocate for refugees. In a newsletter to Hope CommUnity Center supporters, he shared the stories of two teenage migrants from Guatamala, Mary and Jose, who fled gang violence with their mother, but ended up in a detention center after their parent was deported home and murdered there. The letter included a number of similarly heart-breaking tales.

“It is indeed a great honor to accept an invitation by Congressman Maxwell Alejandro Frost (FL-10) to be his guest at the State of the Union address today,” he wrote.

“It is even more special because he is a child of immigrants, and he understands personally the positive impact immigrants have in our communities. Unfortunately, immigrants and asylum seekers are under attack, and we have become scapegoats for cheap political points. I take this opportunity to carry with me the stories of asylum seekers Hope help each year.”

Stephanie Palacios

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, a Kissimmee Democrat, will bring a local leader: Stephanie Palacios, Second Harvest Food Bank in Central Florida Director of Advocacy and Government Relations. Palacios previously worked as a constituent advocate for former U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, and before that as an assistant public defender.

John Drew

U.S. Rep. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican, will also bring a local leader to the speech. His guest will be Nassau County Tax Collector John Drew. The two elected officials have long been political allies in Northeast Florida, dating back to Bean’s time in the Florida Senate.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


  • Andy

    March 7, 2024 at 11:52 am

    I don’t understand how these GOP members of our legislature can honor these citizens, which deserve these honors, yet back a man running for President, whose Father illegally immigrated here to avoid mandatory military service in his home country, then he himself falsified ”heel spur’ injuries to avoid Vietnam, while 58,000 Americans lost their lives doing the right thing! I guess I understand why they love Putin!

  • Earl Pitts "Sage Political Expert Emeritas" American

    March 7, 2024 at 12:16 pm

    Good Afternoon American Patriots,
    Even though us Sage Patriots dont like 8iden we all still pray that his handlers and puppet masters dont dope him up with too much medical wakey wakey juice that it harms good ‘Ole Lunch bix Joe.
    Old frail folks cant handle too mucg wakey wakey juice ya know.
    Earl Pitts American

  • PeterH

    March 7, 2024 at 12:38 pm

    Trump’s “America First” narrative is built on isolationism ….. and alliances with Putin and other totalitarian dictators! Americans need to embrace patriotic values and champions for Democracy. Today’s Republican leadership has abandoned NATO and America’s heroic advancement of Democracy around the globe.

    Republicans are America’s worst enemy!

    Vote all Republicans out of office!

Comments are closed.


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