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Britain’s Blair May Address Joint Session

House leaders are considering inviting British Prime Minister Tony Blair to address a joint session of Congress later this year.

The invite is viewed as a way for lawmakers to thank Blair for Great Britain’s having fought alongside the United States during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Leaders might also use the opportunity to present Blair with the Congressional Gold Medal if such an award is approved.

The possibility of inviting Blair came up during the House Republican Conference meeting Wednesday morning, and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) spoke favorably of the idea.

“We’re in the process of trying to make that happen,” Hastert said in a brief interview Wednesday afternoon.

Foreign leaders and dignitaries have addressed joint sessions or joint meetings of Congress about 100 times in American history. The most recent to have the honor was Mexican President Vicente Fox in September 2001. A year before that, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee spoke to the two chambers.

An address by Blair would mark the sixth time a British prime minister has spoken to a joint gathering. Winston Churchill appeared three times, while Clement Atlee and Margaret Thatcher each spoke once. In 1991, Queen Elizabeth II addressed a joint meeting, marking the only such appearance by a British monarch.

Technically, an invitation to speak to a joint session would have to be extended by the House rather than the Senate, as such gatherings are traditionally held in the House chamber.

House officials cautioned that no definite decision has been made about whether to invite Blair, though there is a clear sentiment among lawmakers that Blair’s steadfast support of the United States in the face of domestic opposition should be recognized.

On Wednesday, the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee approved by voice vote a bill to award Blair the Congressional Gold Medal. Originally introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), the measure currently has 78 co-sponsors.

A companion bill in the House, introduced by Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.), has 113 co-sponsors and is awaiting action by the Financial Services Committee.

It has been relatively rare for a foreigner to be awarded the Gold Medal. The last non-American to receive one was Pope John Paul II in 2000. Churchill was given the medal in 1969.

John Bresnahan contributed to this report.

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