Democrats slam speaker for snubbing Kenyan leader in US visit

Lawmakers from President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party have accused House Speaker Mike Johnson of disrespecting Africa after he failed to invite Kenyan President William Ruto to address Congress during his upcoming visit to Washington.

The Kenyan leader’s trip is set for next week, following an invitation from President Biden for a state visit.

President Ruto’s state visit, a high honor that includes a ceremonial welcome and a formal dinner at the White House, highlights the strategic partnership between the United States and Kenya. Such visits often feature foreign leaders addressing joint sessions of Congress.

However, Speaker Johnson, a Republican, dismissed a bipartisan appeal to extend this invitation to Ruto, despite requests from both the top Democrat and Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

In response, 14 House Democrats expressed their disappointment in a letter to Johnson, stating, “The people of Kenya deserve more respect.”

Among the signatories was Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who emphasized the potential diplomatic repercussions.

“Foreign adversaries like China, Russia, and Iran are working tirelessly to subvert America’s alliances, particularly in Africa,” the lawmakers warned, suggesting that Johnson’s decision could undermine US influence on the continent.

The Democrats highlighted that four foreign leaders have addressed joint sessions of the current Congress, including the prime ministers of India and Japan and the presidents of Israel and South Korea.

“Failing to offer the same invitation to President Ruto risks sending the message that African partnerships are less valued by Congress,” they wrote, underscoring the importance of maintaining strong ties with key African allies.

Speaker Johnson’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The controversy arises as the US election season intensifies, with many lawmakers focused on their campaigns.

Kenya has been a steadfast US partner on economic and security issues, including efforts to stabilize neighboring Somalia.

Recently, Kenya also volunteered to lead a security mission in Haiti, providing significant relief to the United States in addressing the crisis.

The last African leader to address Congress was Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2006, who was the continent’s first female elected head of state.

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