South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has been invited to address a joint meeting of Congress next week, House Speaker John Boehner’s office announced Friday.
Lee’s address is slated for Thursday, Oct. 13 – one day after the Senate is poised to approve a long-pending trade deal with South Korea as well as two other pacts with Panama and Colombia. Later next Thursday evening, the White House will host a state dinner in Lee’s honor.
“The American and South Korean peoples share deep ties rooted in history and common values,” Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement. “The Republic of Korea has been a strong ally and partner in promoting democracy, advancing economic freedom, and combating nuclear proliferation. It would be an honor to have President Lee, a steadfast friend of the American people, address the United States Congress.”
Lee last visited Capitol Hill in June 2009. But according to a list maintained by the Senate, the last address by a South Korean president to a joint meeting of Congress was than a decade earlier, when Kim Dae-jung spoke in June 1998.
The trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia have been inching their way through Congress ever since party leaders and the White House agreed this summer to move them forward in tandem with the renewal of an aid and retraining program for workers who lost their jobs to outsourcing.
The deals – a key priority for both the Obama administration and congressional GOP leaders – will boost U.S. exports by as much as $13 billion, of which $11 billion would come from the Korean pact, the largest of the trio.
The timing of Lee’s visit, then, is of particular import. If something happens to hold up Congress’s approval of the trade pacts early next week, it could lead to some uncomfortable moments.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) announced this week that his panel will take up the deals Tuesday, with a vote by the full Senate likely to come Wednesday. The House – which earlier this week passed the trade pacts out of committee -- will likely take up the agreements when it returns early next week.