Foreign Leaders & Dignitaries Who Have Addressed the U.S. Congress
Joint Meetings and Joint Sessions
Historically there are three methods for receiving foreign leaders and dignitaries: joint meetings, joint sessions, and separate House and Senate receptions.
A joint meeting is the preferred method for receiving addresses from foreign leaders and dignitaries. Joint meetings are used for special commemorative events and to receive addresses by domestic dignitaries. To initiate a joint meeting, both houses, by resolution or by unanimous consent, declare themselves in recess for a joint gathering in the House Chamber. House Rule IV governs this procedure:
“The Hall of the House shall be used only for the legislative business of the House and for caucus and conference meetings of its Members, except when the House agrees to take part in any ceremonies to be observed therein. The Speaker may not entertain a motion for the suspension of this clause.”
As precedent has evolved, however, the House has tended to use unanimous consent, rather than a resolution, for the purpose of receiving a foreign leader.
A joint session of Congress has been used almost exclusively to receive the President’s State of the Union Address (prior to 1942 called the Annual Message), other presidential addresses, and the counting of electoral votes for the President and Vice President of the U.S. Both chambers follow a formal procedure to establish these occasions by adopting a concurrent resolution. Only twice have foreign dignitaries addressed a joint session of Congress: French Ambassador Andre de Laboulaye (20 May 1934), to mark the centennial of the death of the Marquis de Lafayette, and Cuban Ambassador Guillermo Belt (19 April 1948), to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Cuban independence after the Spanish-American War in 1898.