Foreign Heads of State Addressing Congress
Jacob R. Straus, Analyst on the Congress (firstname.lastname@example.org, 7-6438)
February 27, 2015 (IN10236)
On March 3, 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to address a joint meeting
of Congress. The invitation to address a joint meeting of Congress was extended by Speaker John
Boehner on January 21, 2015 (read the invitation). Mr. Netanyahu's speech would be his third address
to a joint meeting of Congress. He previously addressed Congress on July 10, 1996, and May 24, 2011.
Mr. Netanyahu is the fourth Israeli Prime Minster to address Congress. Table 1 lists speeches to a joint
meeting of Congress by Israeli Prime Ministers.
Table 1. Addresses by Israeli Prime Ministers to Joint Meetings of
May 24, 2011
May 24, 2006
July 10, 1996
December 12, 1995
July 26, 1994
January 28, 1976
Yitzhak Rabin (jointly with King Hussein I
Source: Historian of the House of Representatives, "Joint Meeting &
Joint Session Addresses Before Congress by Foreign Leaders &
Dignitaries," at http://history.house.gov/Institution/ForeignLeaders/Joint-Sessions/.
Notes: On November 10, 1987, Israeli President Chaim Herzog also
addressed a joint meeting of Congress. On September 18, 1978,
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar
El Sadat attended the address to a joint session of Congress by
President Jimmy Carter on the Middle East Peace agreement reached
at Camp David.
The invitation has raised questions about the process and protocols used to invite foreign leaders to
the United States generally and to address a joint meeting of Congress, specifically.
Historically, it appears that some form of consultation protocol may exist between the executive and
legislative branch when foreign leaders visit the United States on official duties and the leader will be
invited to speak to Congress. However, no such procedure is codified in law or in House or Senate
Rules. The congressional leadership, through the Speaker of the House, has historically invited nonMembers of Congress to address a joint meeting of the House and Senate. The President retains a
similar right to invite foreign heads of state to meetings at the White House or other locations
coordinated by his Administration. Not all foreign heads of state who visit the United States are invited
to address Congress.
Visits by Foreign Heads of State
According to the United States Department of State, a meeting between a foreign leader and the
President of the United States is arranged by the White House, in coordination with the foreign chief of
state. Once a meeting date has been set, the White House then coordinates the visit through the State
Department's Office of the Chief of Protocol. The Office of the Chief of Protocol coordinates
approximately 350 visits per year by foreign leaders, foreign ministers, and other foreign dignitaries.
Addressing a Joint Meeting of Congress
An address to a joint meeting of Congress is available by invitation only. As such, an agreement on
whom to invite, and when they will speak, is generally reached between the House and the Senate.
Such an agreement is then memorialized in a formal letter of invitation sent to the guest by the
Speaker of the House (read the letter sent to Prime Minster Netanyahu). Since 1809, most joint
meetings of Congress have been held in the Hall of the House.
The first time a foreign leader addressed a joint meeting of Congress occurred in 1874, when King
Kalakaua of Hawaii (then a Kingdom) visited Washington. Since then, there have been 113 instances
where foreign leaders have addressed a joint meeting of Congress.
House and Senate Receptions
There have also been numerous instances of addresses by foreign leaders to either the House or
Senate individually (read a complete list of all addresses to Congress by non-Members in the
Congressional Directory). In some instances, foreign leaders have not been invited to address a joint
meeting of Congress and have instead addressed only the House or Senate. These meetings are
formally called House or Senate receptions. The first House reception was held on December 10, 1824,
when the Marquis de Lafayette addressed the chamber. The last House reception for a foreign leader
was held on February 17, 1977, for the President of Mexico, José Lopez Portillo.
The first Senate reception was held on January 5, 1852, when Louis Kossuth, the exiled Governor of
Hungary, addressed the Senate. The most recent Senate reception for a foreign leader was held on
August 16, 1967, with Kurt George Kiesinger, Chancellor of West Germany.
Past Discussion of Foreign Leader Visits
The upcoming visit by Mr. Netanyahu is not the first visit of a foreign leader to have generated
discussion regarding that leader's potential appearance before Congress. In 1987, for example, Soviet
leader Mikhail Gorbachev was invited to Washington, DC, for a three-day summit with President Ronald
Reagan. In the planning for Mr. Gorbachev's visit, it was reported in the press that he would be invited
to address a joint meeting of Congress. The congressional invitation, however, was never issued after
some Senators reportedly objected to the idea of inviting the Soviet leader. Instead, it was reported by
the media that Mr. Gorbachev met individually with some Members of Congress.