Pendulum swings back and forth on Modi addressing Joint Session of Congress

Ruled out for now; but on Capitol Hill, never say never.

By Sujeet Rajan

NEW YORK: Democrats and Republicans legislators agree on one thing at least: to have the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, address a Joint Session of Congress.

A letter to that effect has been signed on by 88 members of the US House of Representatives – an initiative spearheaded by Brad Sherman (D-CA), a senior Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, along with Rep. Ted Poe and Rep. Eni Faleomavaega. A similar letter was written by several Senators to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

But it isn’t going to happen anytime soon, or at least this year, unless the Republicans change their stance of wanting to end Congress before schedule end of September for political reasons.

House Speaker John Boeher, acutely aware that Republicans have a lot of business to conduct with Modi if they gain control of the White House two years from now, has given Modi the preference over when he wants to address the Joint Session, except one blackout week: during his inaugural September end visit to the US next month, to attend the UN General Assembly in New York, and meet President Barack Obama in Washington, DC.

“If not for the unpredictability of the House schedule in late September of this year, an invitation for you to address a Joint Meeting during your upcoming trip to the United States would have been extended,” Boehner wrote to Modi, in his letter dated July 30th.

“I would be very interested in exploring with you the possibility of a visit to the United States Capitol and an address to a Joint Meeting of Congress should your travels bring you back to our country in the months and years ahead,” Boehner said.

“I wish you the best of luck for a safe and successful journey to the United States in September. We look forward to working with you and your government to strengthen the relationship between the people of your country and those of the United States, and to build a more peaceful and prosperous world,” Boehner said in his letter.

India’s ambassador to the United States, S Jaishankar, has also ruled out Modi addressing the Joint Session of Congress. He conveyed this yesterday, on Sunday, speaking to some members of the Indian Diaspora in New York, who are preparing a reception for Modi on September 28th at Madison Square Garden.

But all is not lost, and there may still be hope for Modi doing what prime ministers from India before him have done at Capitol Hill in the last three decades: address all US legislators in one go.

Sherman is now urging House leadership to keep Congress in session September 29th through October 2nd. This would allow the House to address urgent legislative business as well as afford Prime Minister Modi an opportunity to address a joint session during his visit.

“I am pleased that 87 of my colleagues have joined me in this effort to invite Prime Minister Modi to speak before a Joint Session of Congress,” said Sherman, in a letter released today to The American Bazaar.  “The United States and India have a unique relationship based on shared democratic values.  Prime Minister Modi’s visit is an opportunity to further expand this relationship.”

Addressing widespread rumors that the House will be closed on September 29th through October 2nd, Sherman continued, “Congress does not need or deserve a three and a half month vacation. The country faces major problems, and we must make sure that Congress is not irrelevant to solving those problems.”

With adequate pressure on the GOP, especially if the immigration issue flares up with President Barack Obama taking some executive action, it’s likely the Republicans will change their stance, and work the last week of September too.

But it remains to be seen, if given the short notice given at that time and indeed he’s invited to do so, Modi would want to take up the opportunity or not.

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