The mother and sister of a man jailed in North Korea will be guests at President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address Tuesday, a bid to pressure Pyongyang to release the American.
“I have repeatedly called upon DPRK to release Kenneth Bae and would like to reiterate this message by bringing his family as guests to the State of the Union,” said veteran House Democrat Charlie Rangel.
“As a Korean War veteran, I have long advocated for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and hope North Korea would take steps to build trust and reconciliation by first reuniting the Bae family.”
Bae, a Korean American tour operator described by a North Korean court as a militant Christian evangelist, was arrested in November 2012. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor on charges of seeking to topple the government.
Washington has said it was ready to send its envoy on human rights in North Korea, Robert King, to the reclusive nation to help bring Bae back to the United States.
Guests are often invited to the State of the Union speech as a way to put a face to White House policy principles or lawmakers’ priorities.
Congressman Bill Pascrell of New Jersey is reportedly bringing as his guest Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who helped trigger a scandal engulfing Governor Chris Christie by saying the office of the Republican potential 2016 presidential prospect committed an act of political retribution against him.
The White House, in addition to several other guests, announced that undocumented immigrant Cristian Avila, brought to the country illegally by his parents at age nine, will sit with First Lady Michelle Obama during the address.
The White House is calling for Congress to act this year on comprehensive immigration reform after efforts stalled in 2013.
Meanwhile House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, is including among his guests four employers whose businesses are being adversely affected by the president’s health care reform law known as “Obamacare.”