Blair: Fast and Furious

Posted July 15, 2003 at 6:55pm

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will blow through the Capitol Thursday, spending a few minutes meeting with House and Senate leaders and none at all talking to reporters before addressing a joint session of Congress.

With questions swirling about the credibility of British intelligence data that became a key aspect of justifying the war with Iraq, Blair, who was invited by Republican leaders to give the address as a way of recognizing his support of the United States during the conflict, will be on an extremely tight schedule.

At 2:45 p.m., he will have a photo opportunity with House and Senate leaders from both parties at the Ohio Clock, just outside the Senate chamber. After a brief meeting with the leaders in the Mansfield Room, Blair will be taken by an “escort committee” of lawmakers through Statuary Hall to the House.

A Democratic leadership aide said that it was likely House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would raise the issue of faulty intelligence with Blair during his meeting with Congressional leaders.

The prime minister is scheduled to deliver his joint address in the House chamber at 4 p.m. A British Embassy spokesman said the speech would last 20 to 30 minutes.

Immediately following the address, Blair and his entourage will jump in a motorcade to the White House to meet President Bush.

Throughout his visit, Blair will be shadowed by the British equivalent of the White House press corps. The group of about 40 reporters — known as “the Lobby” — follows him wherever he goes and will watch the speech from the House Daily Press Gallery.

Even more so than in the United States, the British press has been filled in recent weeks with stories about whether leaders of the two countries relied on faulty intelligence or made misleading arguments in favor of going to war with Iraq.

Normally, when foreign dignitaries visit Congressional leaders, reporters are given some opportunity to lob questions at the visitors. The British Embassy spokesman said that Blair would be unavailable for press questions inside the Capitol not because of the Iraq controversy but because he will be on such a tight timetable. He is, however, scheduled to appear at a joint press conference with Bush later in the day.