The Cable

Congress May Not Have Time for Ukraine’s President

Update: Despite a scheduling conflict related to the midterm elections, House Speaker John Boehner announced on Wednesday that he would in fact extend an invitation for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to address a joint meeting of Congress. "Having President Poroshenko address Congress is another signal of our steadfast commitment to the aspirations of his people," ...

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Update: Despite a scheduling conflict related to the midterm elections, House Speaker John Boehner announced on Wednesday that he would in fact extend an invitation for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to address a joint meeting of Congress. "Having President Poroshenko address Congress is another signal of our steadfast commitment to the aspirations of his people," Speaker Boehner said. "It will be an honor and a privilege to welcome him to the United States Capitol." Earlier, an aide to Boehner had said fitting Poroshenko into the House and Senate’s schedule could be difficult.

 

A push to invite embattled Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to speak before a joint session of Congress in September may fall victim to a scheduling conflict caused by the midterm elections.

On Monday, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee urged House Speaker John Boehner to invite Poroshenko to address the two chambers, viewed as the highest honor Congress can bestow on a foreign leader. But while the proposal is still under review, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel says it may be impossible to accommodate Ukraine’s leader because the speaker is likely to truncate the House’s pre-election session.

"We have committed to a bipartisan leadership meeting and we’re still considering a joint session, but that will be difficult given the short notice and the legislative calendar," Steel tells Foreign Policy.

The GOP-controlled House only has 12 legislative days scheduled ahead of the Nov. 4 elections — and even that might be pared down to as few as eight, as members clamor to head home to campaign. That dynamic already spoiled plans for India’s prime minister to address Congress during his first visit to the United States since becoming president — which prompted some grumbling in the Indian-American community. Now Poroshenko’s proposed address may suffer the same fate at a time when his country is fending off a concerted Russian-backed rebellion in its east.

"We believe that it is critically important for every member of Congress to hear from Ukraine’s president at this defining moment for not only Ukraine, but for Russia and the post-Cold War international order," wrote Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) in a letter to Boehner. "President Poroshenko is on the front line of this conflict to determine the fate of Ukraine and the future of the international order."

Kiev and Russian-backed separatists are observing a tenuous cease-fire but many doubt that it will hold. On Monday, Poroshenko traveled to the eastern port of Mariupol and pledged to deliver a "crushing defeat" to the rebels if they dared advance on the strategic town, which rests along the route of a potential land bridge between Crimea — which Russia annexed in March — and Russia.

"I have ordered [the military] to secure the defense of Mariupol with howitzers, multiple rocket launchers, tanks, anti-tank weapons and air cover," Poroshenko, a former chocolate magnate, said. Poroshenko will be in Washington on Sept. 18 to meet with President Obama at the White House.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did not respond to a request for comment about the joint address.

You can read the Menendez-Corker letter here

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