PoliticsForeign Policy


Ukraine's first lady declines State of the Union invitation

The White House said at a news conference that Olena Zelenska was sent an invitation and that it wasn't clear why she declined.
Ukraine's First Lady Olena Zelenska.
Posted at 7:18 PM, Mar 06, 2024

The White House confirmed Wednesday at a press conference Scripps News attended that Ukraine's first lady Olena Zelenska declined an invitation to Thursday's States of the Union address, and confirmed that the first lady was indeed sent an invitation to the key event. 

The White House had planned for Zelenska to sit near U.S. first lady Jill Biden. It wasn't clear why Zelenska declined to attend, and the White House referred reporters' questions to Ukraine for clarification on that specific point. 

Politico reported that Zelenska said it was because of a scheduling conflict, specifically that the first lady had to be present for "a visit of children from an orphanage to Kyiv, which was planned in advance," during that time. Other reports, including from the Washington Post, speculated, citing sources, that the possibility of Zelenska being seated near Yulia Navalnaya — the widow of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny — could have become a complex political issue. Navalny died in an Arctic prison in Russia last month.  

Following Super Tuesday victories, Trump calls for debate with Biden
Donald Trump

Following Super Tuesday victories, Trump calls for debate with Biden

Trump's call for debate was short on specifics. President Biden has already resisted calls from within his own party to debate in the primaries.


It would not have been Zelenska's first trip to Washington, or her first appearance in Congress. In July 2022, the first lady made an emotional appeal before the U.S. Congress, punctuated by pictures of children killed or maimed by Russian attacks. "Russia is destroying our people. These are Russia's hunger games, hunting for peaceful people in peaceful cities in Ukraine," said Zelenska.

Just before that in May 2022, U.S. first lady Jill Biden made an unannounced visit to western Ukraine to hold a surprise Mother's Day meeting alongside Zelenska, as Russia pressed its punishing war in the eastern regions.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden signed a short-term funding bill hours before a partial government shutdown would have begun. In addition to funding the U.S. government, Biden called on the House to pass a supplemental security bill to provide aid to Ukraine along with Israel as they both fight wars. 

President Biden will address a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday March 7 at 9 p.m. ET.

The White House said the president plans to outline how his administration will face challenges with optimism, and how he remains hopeful about the future of the country. 

On Wednesday, GOP front-runner and former President Donald Trump used his momentum in the run-up to the State of the Union to urge President Biden to join him on the debate stage as the two run in the 2024 race for the White House, both eager for a second term in office. 

"It is important, for the good of our country, that Joe Biden and I debate issues that are so vital to America, and the American people. Therefore, I am calling for debates, anytime, anywhere, anyplace," Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform. 

No incumbent president has stood for a primary debate, going all the way back to President Gerald Ford.