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US Speaker declines request to invite Ruto for Congress address

The United States House Speaker Mike Johnson has turned down a request by top Democrats for President William Ruto to address a joint session of Congress.

The request to address the joint session was made by the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs in April, which formally requested Speaker Johnson to invite President Ruto to address a joint session of Congress, potentially giving the Kenyan leader a new podium to promote his ideals.

But in a statement, Johnson’s deputy chief of staff, Raj Shah, said the speakers’ decision not to invite Dr Ruto to address lawmakers was due to “scheduling constraints”.
“Speaker Johnson welcomes President Ruto to the Capitol. We have offered the Kenyan embassy over 90 minutes of engagement including a one-on-one visit with Speaker Johnson, (a) bipartisan leadership meeting with Speaker Johnson, Leader Jeffries, and Committee Chairmen and Ranking Members, and a bicameral meeting. Unfortunately, due to scheduling restraints, we could not accommodate a request for remarks before a Joint Session,” he said.

According to Shah, a joint session consumes a lot of energy on Capitol Hill. The chamber closes for hours, a security headache and the House leadership loses a large chunk of the day’s floor time.

Last month, Committee Chairman Michael McGaul and Ranking Member Gregory W. Meeks wrote to Speaker Johnson asking him to send a formal invitation to Nairobi to coincide with President Ruto’s upcoming state visit to Washington in late May.

“This year, we are celebrating the historic 60th anniversary of the US-Kenya diplomatic relationship. Such an invitation would underscore the importance of the US-Kenya relationship and send a valuable signal to the people of Africa,” the two lawmakers said.

After the Speaker’s decision, Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Richard E. Neal blasted Speaker Johnson’s failure to recognise the importance of this diplomatic relation.

“Africa and its people helped shape our great nation, allowing it to become the superpower that it is today. Strengthening ties across the continent, including with a key strategic partner, Kenya, is of great importance to our shared economic aspirations and democratic values,” part of the statement read.

He added that the continent deserves the same level of respect given to its partners in other parts of the world.

He noted that the Republican leadership has invited Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and President Yoon Suk Yeol to address joint meetings of Congress during their official visits to the United States, and “I see no reason why President William Ruto’s upcoming state visit should be any different. Even in times of great tragedy and global conflict, the Congress has historically shown a depth of focus, and amid appliance acts, there should be time to recognise the importance of President Ruto’s visit.”

He went on: “I had the privilege of hosting former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, where we spoke about the great opportunities to strengthen relations between our two economies present, and since then, Kenya has only continued to demonstrate its commitment to reaffirming our 60-year partnership. With the Biden Administration already rising to the rightful occasion by hosting a state dinner, the Congress must do the same.”

President Ruto would have been the first Kenyan leader to address a joint meeting of Congress and the first African leader to do so since Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf spoke in the House chamber in 2006.

President Ruto is scheduled to be in Washington, US, on May 23, 2024 on an official State visit where he will be hosted by US President Joe Biden, the first such visit to the White House by an African leader since 2008.

His trip to the US, later this month, will come as Washington pushes allies across the world to stand against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.The US has also struggled to defend Israel in the face of mounting atrocities in Gaza.

Nairobi has played on the Washington side on both issues, even though it also raised concerns about the human rights violations in Gaza.

But on Friday during the UN General Assembly, Kenya threw its support to grant the Palestinians additional rights in the global body and backed their drive for full membership, which is blocked by the United States.

The resolution, which was adopted by a tally of 143 votes to nine, with 25 countries abstaining, allows Palestinian representatives to the UN to sit with, cooperate with and debate with member states.

The Palestinian flag will fly in its alphabetically ordered place at UN buildings.

Its representatives will be able to do almost everything that UN member states can do, except vote on resolutions.

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