US House Leadership Chaos May Affect Albanese's Visit

Many members of US Congress want Anthony Albanese to be accorded the honour of addressing a joint meeting of the House of Representatives and Senate.

Date: 20-10-2023 00:00

US House Leadership Chaos May Affect Albanese's Visit

The Republican failure to pick a new House Speaker that has handcuffed the US Congress is spilling over into the diplomatic arena, potentially taking the gloss off a state visit next week by Australia’s prime minister.

Many members of Congress want Anthony Albanese to be accorded the honour of addressing a joint meeting of the House of Representatives and Senate when he visits Washington, but without a House leader, he cannot come because there is no one to invite him.

“The Speaker impasse doesn’t help matters. … It requires joint chambers to host that,” Representative Joe Courtney, a co-chair of the House Friends of Australia caucus, told Reuters.

Australia is longtime US ally seen as particularly important in efforts to push back against China’s growing might, and Michael McCaul, Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, lamented the chaos.

“Australia is one of our most important allies and their prime minister cannot be invited to address a joint meeting of Congress,” he said.

“It’s vital to hear from him on our critical alliance in the Indo-Pacific and on implementation of our AUKUS partnership. But we are still in chaos and unable to accomplish even this simple thing.”

Addresses to joint meetings of Congress are generally reserved for the closest US allies, or major world figures, sometimes controversially.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave the last such address, in June, preceded by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in April and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in December.

Albanese is due in Washington for a four-day visit from Monday until Thursday, and Courtney said discussions envisioned him visiting Capitol Hill on Wednesday or Thursday.

Albanese’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the issue.

Analysts say the Washington visit comes at a delicate time for Albanese, who will be seeking a boost after defeat last week in a referendum on Indigenous rights.

A central focus for his talks with Biden will be the AUKUS security pact to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines, the biggest defence project in Australia’s history, and one that remains controversial domestically given its massive cost running into hundreds of billions of dollars.

The trilateral project, which also involves Britain, faces hurdles from US export controls that could slow its implementation, to the frustration of British and Australian officials, and the congressional impasse could hold up proposed legislation aimed at easing such restrictions.

Albanese told Australia’s parliament on Thursday his visit would focus “on building an alliance for the future” and “progressing our AUKUS pact is critical to that”.


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