President Volodomyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine addressed Congress for a second time on Wednesday, and for the first time in person — a track record of face time with the world’s most powerful legislative body that’s exceeded only by Prime Ministers Winston Churchill of Britain and Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.
Addresses by foreign leaders are not unprecedented, but they are relatively uncommon: In the decade before Russia invaded Ukraine, nine foreign leaders appeared before a joint meeting. Since the war in Ukraine started in February of this year, Zelenskyy has appeared before Congress twice, and Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, also addressed an informal meeting in July.
Churchill addressed the U.S. Congress twice during World War II and again in the 1950s. Netanyahu, South African President Nelson Mandela and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin are the only other people recorded by the House to have addressed Congress more than once.
Netanyahu’s 2015 speech came in defiance of President Barack Obama; Republicans in Congress invited Netanyahu without telling the Obama administration first — a breach of protocol.
Zelenskyy appeared virtually early in the war, in an informal address. His speech on Wednesday, before a joint meeting, was the first time he’d left Ukraine since the war began. In his address, the Ukrainian president appealed broadly to members’ sense of justice, as he asked for continued support. In Washington, he also met with President Joe Biden, following an announcement from the State Department of $1.85 billion in new aid, including a sought-after Patriot defense missile system.
The first person recorded by the House as addressing a joint session of Congress was King Kalākaua of Hawaii, in December 1874.