GOP Invites Blair to Address Congress

Posted June 25, 2003 at 5:58pm

The House Republican leadership has decided to extend British Prime Minister Tony Blair a formal invitation to address a joint session of Congress on July 17.

The leaders will invite Blair as a way of recognizing his support of the United States during the war with Iraq. The House voted Wednesday to award the prime minister a Congressional Gold Medal for the same reason.

Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter Wednesday letting Members know they should save the date. Capitol Hill aides have already been in touch with Blair’s staff to let them know the invite is coming.

Citing security reasons, a spokesman for the British Embassy in Washington said he could not discuss Blair’s schedule ahead of time.

The most recent joint address by a foreign leader was given by Mexican President Vicente Fox in September 2001. If Blair accepts the invite, he would be the fourth British prime minister to address the two chambers, following in the footsteps of Winston Churchill, Clement Atlee and Margaret Thatcher. In 1991, Queen Elizabeth II addressed a joint meeting, the only time a British monarch has done so.

The resolution to award Blair the Gold Medal, originally sponsored by freshman Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.), passed the House by voice vote. The Senate approved an identical resolution, introduced by freshman Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), in May.

It is not clear whether receiving the Gold Medal and addressing Congress would help or hurt Blair politically, as the prime minister has faced criticism from some quarters in Great Britain — mostly from his own Labor Party — suggesting that he is too eager to ally himself with the United States. Blair has also been under fire for the two countries’ inability so far to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.