June 16, 2024

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Biden welcomes Kenya during his visit to the United States where it is emerging as a vital partner

Biden welcomes Kenya during his visit to the United States where it is emerging as a vital partner

A lawmaker described Speaker Mike Johnson’s failure to invite President William Ruto to address a joint session of Congress as an “insult to American diplomacy.”

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WASHINGTON – What’s on the menu at the White House for visiting Kenyan President William Ruto: smoked short ribs and buttered lobster. What’s not on the list: An invitation for the African leader to address a joint session of Congress.

This missing track has angered many lawmakers.

Even as President Joe Biden prepares to welcome Ruto and his wife Rachel to a lavish state dinner on Thursday night, some fear the absence of the honor given to all heads of state who have recently visited the country will leave a bitter aftertaste.

Many prominent lawmakers are dismayed by House Speaker Mike Johnson’s refusal to hold a joint congressional meeting with Ruto, which the House Foreign Affairs Committee had proposed to “underscore the importance of the US-Kenya relationship.” His office cited “scheduling” problems in the denial.

Ruto’s trip is the first state visit by a Kenyan president to the United States in two decades, and the first by an African leader since 2008. The last African leader to address Congress was Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who spoke in the House of Representatives in 2006.

“An insult to American diplomacy”

In a letter to Johnson, Representative Stephen Horsford, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, called the move “an affront to American diplomacy,” adding that it was “particularly troubling” given that other heads of state who have come to the United States for an official visit during the 118y Congress was invited to address Congress.

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The letter, signed by more than 60 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, demanded that Ruto be treated “with the same respect accorded to other heads of state.”

Recent heads of state, including Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kashida, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Israeli President Isaac Herzog, and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, have addressed the joint session of Congress.

“Failing to invite President Ruto sends a dangerous message to the world,” Horsford wrote. “About the countries that the US Congress deems worthy of addressing Congress and downplays the importance of our nation’s relationship with the continent of Africa.”

Lawmakers warn that “adversaries” are working to undermine US alliances

When asked about his decision, Johnson’s office sent USA TODAY a statement saying that “scheduling constraints” were the reason the invitation was not extended.

“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, committee chairs and ranking members, and a bicameral meeting,” the statement said. The meeting that took place on Wednesday.

Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, along with other lawmakers, also wrote to Johnson noting how “adversaries” such as China, Russia and Iran are working to undermine America’s alliances, especially in Africa.

The East African nation, which is preparing to deploy its own police force in Haiti while the Caribbean nation deals with an ongoing gang crisis, is emerging as a vital African partner for the United States, and Johnson’s choice not to give Ruto the opportunity to address Congress helps create a An opportunity for authoritarian opponents to make inroads into African public opinion, adding that “the people of Kenya deserve more respect.”

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Ruto’s visit marks 60 years of formal partnership between the United States and Kenya “built on shared values, deep cooperation, and a shared vision for the future,” according to the White House. Biden is also expected to inform Congress on Thursday that he intends to designate Kenya as a “major non-NATO ally.” It is a classification given by the United States to countries that have close and strategic working relationships with the US military and defense civilians.

Other partnerships the two countries will work on include global peace and security, economic development, human rights and tackling the climate crisis.

First Lady Jill Biden said the state dinner, a glamorous diplomatic tool, would pave the way “for a friendship that will last, and help create a bright and prosperous tomorrow.”

Roses and orchids

On Thursday night, guests will dine under the stars in a glass pavilion aglow with candles.

The evening’s decor reflects the first lady’s love of candlelight, which she favors to make guests feel at home, even when they are part of a large group, said Brian Rafanelli, event planner for the evening.

The space, saturated with warm pinks and reds, will be decorated with roses and orchids representing the United States and Kenya.

“As guests leave their path illuminated by our only moon,” Biden said. “I hope they feel the same warmth that I felt during my visit to Kenya.”

sIbn Venugopal Ramaswamy is the White House correspondent for USA TODAY. You can follow her on X, formerly Twitter, @SwapnaVenugopal