Joint Meeting

Netanyahu speaks to Congress
House Office of Photography

Israeli leader addresses Congress

When Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed a joint meeting of Congress on May 24, he became only the fourth foreign leader or dignitary to have done so more than once.

Joint meetings of Congress have a unique history full of ceremony, ritual and milestones. Netanyahu’s milestone second address puts him in the company of South African President Nelson Mandela and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, each of whom addressed two joint meetings. English Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed three (in 1941, 1943, and 1952).

Unlike joint sessions of Congress which are more formal and usually reserved for U.S. presidents’ addresses, joint meetings are used for special commemorative events and to receive addresses by dignitaries. To initiate a joint meeting, both the House and Senate declare themselves in recess for a joint gathering in the House chamber.

Spotlighted by television camera lights, the House chamber appeared as a kind of stage for Netanyahu’s address. Members of the House and Senate and the President’s cabinet filled the hundreds of seats on the House floor. The surrounding, elevated galleries buzzed with special guests and members of the public. House photographers roamed the floor, while dozens of national and international journalists took seats in the press gallery.

With the bang of a gavel, House Speaker John Boehner brought the joint meeting to order. With that, an intricate ceremony including the introduction of dignitaries, members of the president’s cabinet, and Netanyahu himself – escorted by the House and Senate sergeants at arms – began.

That ceremony has greeted foreign leaders and dignitaries since the first such address on Dec. 18, 1874. On that day, King David Kalakaua of Hawaii was set to be the first foreign leader to speak before a joint meeting of Congress. Because the king was incapacitated by a head cold, Hawaiian Chief Justice and former House member Elisha Hunt Allen delivered the king’s address for him.

Since then, 105 foreign leaders or dignitaries have addressed joint meetings. Most recently before Netanyahu, Mexican President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa did so on May 20, 2010. Netanyahu’s first such address was on July 10, 1996.

Joint meetings of Congress facts:

  • Eleven monarchs or royalty have addressed joint meetings.
  • Ten women have addressed joint meetings.
  • The years in which the greatest number of foreign leaders or dignitaries have addressed joint meetings of Congress: 1976 (5), 1985 (5), 1954 (4), 1959 (4), 1960 (4), 1989 (4), and 1994 (4).

For more information about joint meetings of Congress, visit the Clerk’s page about foreign leaders and dignitaries who have addressed Congress and the Clerk’s page about joint sessions and meetings.