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Speaker Mike Johnson has decided against inviting Kenyan President William Ruto to speak to a joint meeting of Congress

Mike Johnson’s Kenyan snub

News: Speaker Mike Johnson has decided against inviting Kenyan President William Ruto to speak to a joint meeting of Congress during his state visit to Washington later this month, bucking not only the leader of an important ally but also key lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Ruto would be the first Kenyan leader to address a joint meeting of Congress and the first African leader to do so since Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf spoke in the House chamber in 2006.

Ruto, elected president in 2022, will be in Washington on May 23 to mark the 60th anniversary of U.S.-Kenyan diplomatic relations.

Johnson’s decision also is a direct rebuke of the top two lawmakers on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and ranking Democrat Gregory Meeks (N.Y.) urged Johnson on April 30 to extend an invitation for Ruto to address a joint meeting.

“Such an invitation would underscore the importance of the U.S.-Kenya relationship and send a valuable signal to the people of Africa,” McCaul and Meeks wrote.

Indeed, Kenya is a linchpin in heading off Russia’s influence in eastern Africa. It’s a stable democracy and a gateway to the region. The United States is its largest export market.

Furthermore, the African Growth and Opportunity Act, first approved in former President Bill Clinton’s last year in the White House and renewed by former President Barack Obama, expires this year. AGOA “provides duty-free access to the U.S. market for most exports from eligible sub-Saharan Africa countries,” according to the Congressional Research Service.

Raj Shah, Johnson’s deputy chief of staff, said this about Johnson’s decision not to invite Ruto to address lawmakers:

To be fair, a joint meeting takes up a lot of energy on Capitol Hill. The chamber closes for hours. It’s a security hassle. And the House leadership loses a big chunk of a day’s floor time. But the floor schedule isn’t exactly jam-packed; Republicans are pushing messaging bills on home appliances, for example.

Several foreign leaders have appeared before a joint meeting of Congress lately. Most recently, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida addressed lawmakers and a slew of aides who were called in at the last minute to fill empty seats. Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol have all spoken to a joint meeting during the last couple of years.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries is also supportive of Ruto addressing Congress.

FAA update: With little fanfare, the Senate overwhelmingly passed the five-year FAA reauthorization bill Thursday night, 88-4. The Senate later cleared the House-passed weeklong extension to avert a lapse in the FAA’s authority.

The four “no” votes were from the Virginia and Maryland senators, who ultimately failed to scrap a controversial provision in the bill that adds new flight slots at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

It goes without saying that there’s a lot of frustration right now within the DMV-area delegation. They got rolled by a Senate process that prevented votes on amendments to the massive FAA package in part because the chamber was once again pressed by an imminent deadline.

“It’s really outrageous,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told us as he walked into the chamber to vote against the bill. Van Hollen told us he was considering keeping his hold on the bill, but it eventually became clear that the result would’ve been the same — with an FAA lapse on top of that.

As if the result wasn’t cruel enough for the Marylanders and Virginians, it was Sen. Tim Kaine’s (D-Va.) turn to preside over the chamber while the eventual time agreement was being locked in. At one point, when Kaine had to go through the motions of asking who was opposed to proceeding, Kaine himself immediately blurted out a “No!”

But the ayes had it.

One more quick thing on the FAA: The House rolled the Senate here. We didn’t think it would happen. But it did. The House GOP passed a weeklong extension, the Senate had to eat it and now they control the fate of the FAA reauthorization bill. Even though the House voted against the DCA slots last summer, the vast majority of House Republicans voted for it.

— Jake Sherman, Andrew Desiderio and Max Cohen

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