UPDATE: Trump Hails Venezuela's Guaidó At State Of The Union Address
This story was updated at 10 p.m.
Though it was a last-minute surprise, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó was after all invited to attend President Trump's State of the Union address Tuesday night and was hailed by Trump during the speech as Venezuela's "true and legitimate President."
Trump and almost 60 other countries recognize Guaidó as Venezuela’s constitutinally legitimate president, and he supports Guaidó's movement to dislodge the socialist regime there. But Trump did not meet with Guaidó over the weekend — even though Guaidó was in Miami and Trump was just an hour north in Palm Beach.
So rumors abounded that Guaidó would be Trump’s guest at his State of the Union speech. But Tuesday afternoon the White House and Guaidó's aides announced instead that Trump had invited Ivan Simonovis, a former Venezuelan police hero who escaped to Florida last year after 15 years in detention.
Then Tuesday evening came media reports that Guaidó had been asked to attend, as well. And indeed, about a half hour into his State of the Union address, Trump pointed to the House gallery where Guaidó was seated.
"Here this evening is a very brave man who carries with him the hopes, dreams and aspirations of all Venezuelans," Trump said. "Joining us in the gallery is the true and legitimate president of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó."
After thunderous bipartisan applause in the House chamber, Trump asked Guaidó to "please take this message back [to Venezuela] that all Americans are united with the Venezuelan people in their righteous struggle for freedom."
Guaidó is ending a two-week world tour aimed at reviving international support for his stalled campaign to oust Venezuela's authoritarian President Nicolás Maduro. An invitation from Trump was seen as critical to confirming the U.S. still has confidence in his efforts.
Guaidó was among about a dozen people Trump recognized during his address. The president did not mention Simonovis.
In 1998, a year before Venezuela's socialist revolution came to power, Simonovis led a SWAT team rescue of a hostage. But while he was Caracas’ police chief in 2004, then-President Hugo Chávez jailed him for ordering cops to fire on pro-regime demonstrators, which he denies. Ten years later, Simonovis was put under house arrest — and last May security forces loyal to Guaidó secretly let him out.