Following the announcement from the White House that Francois Hollande will make a state visit to Washington on Feb. 11, speculation began among the D.C. press corps about whether the French president would be invited to address a joint session of Congress.
Hollande, who last summer pledged support to the United States for a Syrian airstrike, will have several private meetings with President Barack Obama and top administration officials. He is expected to hold a joint press conference with Obama and take questions from both American and French reporters.
He and current partner Valerie Trierweiler will be honored at a state dinner hosted by the Obamas.
So far, it is unclear whether he will be invited to address Congress.
Since Winston Churchill addressed Congress while in Washington during World War II, scores of visiting heads of government and major players on the world stage have been afforded the honor.
Among them are British Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and earlier this year, South Korea's new president, Park Geun-Hye. The opportunity has also been extended to lesser-known world figures such as King Baudoin of Belgium in 1959.
France, hailed as "America's oldest ally" by Obama during the Syrian crisis this summer, has a rather interesting history of its presidents being invited to address Congress.
According to the Congressional Research Service, beginning with Charles DeGaulle after the founding of the French Fifth Republic in 1958, all but one French president visiting the United States has addressed a joint session of Congress.
Left out was Francois Mitterand, the only Socialist until Hollande to hold the office.
Mitterand, France's longest serving president (1981-95), came to Washington often and met with three U.S. presidents.
But Congress never invited him to speak.
Hollande, a protégé who worked in Mitterand's presidential office, was general secretary of the Socialist Party for a record 10 years. Last year, in only the second election in which a sitting president of France was deposed, Hollande defeated center-right Nicolas Sarkozy, whose stirring address to Congress in 2008 was widely praised by lawmakers of both parties.
"Technically it's the speaker of the House that invites the foreign leader to address a joint meeting of Congress," Doug Andres, deputy communications director for the House Rules Committee, told this reporter last year, during Hollande's first visit to Washington as president. "Then, under the rules of the House, to officially convene a joint session of Congress for the purpose of receiving a foreign leader, both Houses must first agree to a concurrent resolution."
At the time, this reporter asked Speaker John Boehner's spokesman whether the speaker was open to the idea of inviting Hollande to address Congress on his next trip to Washington.
Spokesman Michael Steel replied: "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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