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Why was Bono at the State of the Union?

The guest list for the 2023 State of the Union included the families of victims of police brutality, a hero who disarmed the mass shooter in Monterey Park and an abortion rights activist – all gathered to listen to President Joe Biden’s address.

But, one person in particular raised eyebrows when he was spotted sitting in the gallery.

U2 frontman Bono was one of 26 people personally invited to the annual event by First Lady Jill Biden and he took his seat in her box next to Paul Pelosi – the husband of former House speaker Nancy Pelosi – who was savagely beaten in a hammer attack at the couple’s home.

Several people took to social media confused by Bono’s appearance at the event, with one person saying: “I don’t understand why Bono was there sitting with Paul Pelosi. Wth? We live in clown world.”

Another equally confused Twitter user chimed in: “over an hour into the state of the union and no one’s told us why bono’s there.”

So why was Bono at the State of the Union?

The rock star was personally invited to the SOTU in honour of his advocacy and philanthropic work on global health and AIDS relief initiatives.

The Irish singer is the cofounder of the ONE Campaign – an organisation that works with governments to fight poverty and preventable disease – and also (RED) – which has raised more than $700m from businesses to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa.

In a statement released last week, the White House described Bono as “a groundbreaking activist in the fight against HIV/AIDS and extreme poverty”.

“Working in concert with other activists, he played a pivotal role building public and bipartisan political support for the creation of PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), a program announced by President Bush in his State of the Union twenty years ago, and championed by then-Senator Biden,” it read.

Irish rock star Bono watches Joe Biden’s latest State of the Union address alongside Paul Pelosi (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)
Irish rock star Bono watches Joe Biden’s latest State of the Union address alongside Paul Pelosi (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

“PEPFAR is credited with revolutionizing the provision of life-saving HIV medications in poorer countries and saving 25 million lives worldwide.”

In Tuesday night’s State of the Union, the president did not mention Bono by name but referenced the role of the “countless advocates and champions” in helping to “transform the global fight against HIV/AIDS” and called for the same fight against cancer.

“It’s been a huge success. I believe we can do the same with cancer. Let’s end cancer as we know it and cure some cancers once and for all,” he said.

Mr Biden went on to tell the story of Ava Barron, a 3-year-old girl in remission from a rare form of pediatric cancer.

Other notable guests included the parents of Tyre Nichols, the Black 29-year-old who died last month after being brutally beaten by a group of Memphis police officers. They clapped Mr Biden as he called for police reform and accountability.