Rare red carpet welcome awaits Modi during US visit

Rare red carpet welcome awaits Modi during US visit

A rare red carpet welcome awaits Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Capitol on June 8 when he will address a joint meeting of the US Congress, the first by a foreign leader this year.

This includes a rarest of the rare lunch hosted by Speaker Paul Ryan at the Capitol, meeting with the top Congressional leadership and a unique reception thrown in his honour jointly by House and Senate foreign relations committees in association with the two India caucuses.

Modi's joint address to the Congress - the first by a foreign leader in 2016 and the first of House Speaker Ryan - is likely to be attended by Vice President Joe Biden and several Cabinet members of the Obama Administration in a rare show of solidarity and support for the Prime Minister, Congressional sources told PTI.

In an increasingly rancorous Congress, the invitation to Prime Minister Modi was one of the rare bipartisan act. Leaders of both the Republican party, which controls both the House of Representative and the Senate, and the Democratic party of the President Barack Obama, teamed together to invite Modi to address a joint session of the Congress, sources at the Capitol Hill said.

Given the sharp differences between the Republican and Democratic leadership and this being an election year, it is likely that Modi would be the only foreign leader to address a joint meeting of the US Congress this year, they pointed out.

Unlike in the past wherein a joint address by a foreign dignitary is restricted to this event only, Hill sources said that the Congressional leaders have so far chalked out as many as four back-to-back events for Modi on June 8 at the Capitol Hill.

The information is according to an itinerary of Modi's schedule chalked out – part of which is still being developed - by the top Congressional leadership.

Modi's engagement at the US Capitol is expected to be kicked off by a meeting with the top leaders of the Congress including House Speaker Ryan; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

Thereafter, Modi would address a joint meeting of the Congress, wherein he is expected to lay out his vision for relationship between the world's largest and oldest democracies.

There is a great enthusiasm among Senators and Congressmen to attend the historic address, a Congressional aide said, based on the response from the lawmakers for Modi's joint address.

Manmohan Singh was the last Indian Prime Minister to address a joint meeting of the Congress on July 19, 2005. Earlier addresses have been by Atal Bihari Vajpayee (September 14, 2000), P V Narasimha Rao (May 18, 1994) and Rajiv Gandhi (July 13, 1985).

The tradition of foreign leaders and dignitaries addressing Congress began with the Marquis de Lafayette of France, who spoke in the House chamber on December 10, 1824.

Last year, four foreign leaders addressed a joint meeting to the Congress, Pope Francis (September 25), Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (April 29), Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani (March 25) and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (March 3).

According to Congressional sources, the joint address is likely to be attended by Vice President Joe Biden, and a number of Cabinet members of the Obama Administration and Supreme Court Justice.

Soon after the joint address, Ryan would host a lunch for the Prime Minister at the Capitol which will be attended by top Congressmen. "This is first for any Indian Prime Minister," Hill sources said.

After lunch, the Prime Minister would attend a reception jointly hosted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Committee on Foreign Affairs in association with the House Caucus for India and Indian- Americans and the Senate India Caucus.

Old timers say that House India Caucus had hosted a similar reception for Vajpayee after his address.

But this time, it is being done by the foreign affairs committees of the House and the Senate, in association with the two India caucuses.

"All these four back-to-back events are being hosted by the US Congress," sources said.

"This is a reflection of importance of India. The Prime Minister agreeing to spend quite a significant part of his one full day at the US Congress shows his acknowledgement and support to such a spirit of bipartisan support," Hill sources said.

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