The US Congress and the Biden administration remain “committed to advancing the security of Greece,” the Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi tells Kathimerini ahead of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ visit to Washington, DC, where he is expected to meet with the American president in the White House on Monday and to address a Joint Session of the two Houses of Congress on Tuesday.
The speaker of the House – who ranks third in the hierarchy after the president and the vice president – regards Greece as a “valued partner in advancing our mutual security interests” and describes the country as an important energy hub in getting natural gas to Europe, especially during the current crisis and the Ukraine war.
As the head of America’s legislative body, she also notes that “it was the Greeks who taught the world that the legitimacy of government can spring only from the people.”
In contrast to parliamentary systems in Europe, in the United States, Congress acts with complete autonomy from the executive branch. The president does not necessarily enjoy a majority in the two legislative bodies – the Senate and the Congress – meaning that the distinct role of the latter two can be instrumental, as we have seen in many instances when the decisions, proclamations and announcements of presidents have not been enacted because they did not have the support of Congress.
A similar situation may arise now with the F-16 upgrade deal with Turkey, which is opposed by many in the Senate, key among which is the chairman of its Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez, but also in Congress. Pelosi refrains from comment on the specific issue, perhaps because her institutional role dictates that she is neutral on such matters.
Pelosi also underscores the contribution of the Greek-American community, whose members have “strengthened our nation in many ways: whether in elected office or the private sector, arts and sciences or community leadership.”
Right now six members of the House or Representatives – which has 435 members and is representative of the population, as opposed to the Senate, which comprises two representatives elected by each of the 50 states – are of Greek heritage. Four are Democrats (John Sarbanes, Dina Titus, Charlie Crist and Chris Pappas) and two are Republicans (Gus Bilirakis and Nicole Malliotakis).
By inviting Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to address the joint session, the US legislature is paying tribute to the Greek War of Independence. The event was initially supposed to take place on the bicentennial in March last year but had to be postponed because of the pandemic. “It is our great privilege to host you for this belated commemoration of the Greek bicentennial, which we had to unfortunately delay last year due to the pandemic,” says Pelosi of the invitation extended to the Greek premier, in which she stressed the convergence of Greek and American values as they were embodied not just in ancient Greece, but also in the 1821 Revolution.
She also underscores that “the unshakable bond between the United States and Greece is firmly rooted in our shared history and values. When drafting our Constitution, our Founders drew on the ancient Greek ideals of liberty and democracy. Decades later, the Hellenic Republic was born of the same yearning for independence and self-government that ignited the American Revolution.”
How do you assess Athens’ position and contribution, including military assistance, to the Western response to the war in Ukraine?
Greece is a respected member of the NATO Alliance and a valued partner in advancing our mutual security interests, including supporting democracy in Ukraine.
What do you think of Greece’s role as an energy hub?
Greece plays an important role as an energy hub, through which natural gas is imported into European markets. This is critical during this time of heightened Russian aggression against Ukraine, which demands that European nations and other countries around the world decrease their dependence on Russian oil and gas while diversifying their energy sources.
How do you view the role of Greece as a strategic ally in the Eastern Mediterranean, in close cooperation with Israel, as well as a factor of stability in the Balkans?
Greece is a strong, strategic ally in advancing security and stability in the region and around the world. As a democracy on the world stage, Greece can continue to play an important leadership role in preserving and promoting shared democratic values.
What do you think about Turkey’s provocations overflights over Greek islands, disputing Greek sovereignty – something criticized by top US diplomats?
Supporting peace and security in the Eastern Mediterranean has long been a top priority for me in Congress.
Should the US Congress approve the sale of new F-16s – and the upgrade of older ones – to Ankara when the latter is continuously threatening its NATO ally Greece?
The Congress and the administration remain committed to advancing the security of Greece and the stability of the region.
What message does your invitation to Greece’s prime minister to address a Joint Meeting of Congress send?
By inviting Prime Minister Mitsotakis to address a Joint Meeting, the Congress celebrates 200 years of democracy in Greece and reaffirms the unshakable bond between our nations. Our treasured ties are rooted in our shared values of liberty, dignity and equality. Indeed, it was the Greeks who taught the world that the legitimacy of government can spring only from the people. In this pivotal and challenging moment, our nations remain key allies on the world stage as we strengthen the transatlantic alliance and defend democracy in the world.
What are your thoughts on the Greek-American community and its role in US politics – the Democratic caucus includes four members of Greek descent: John Sarbanes (MD), Charlie Crist (FL), Dina Titus (NV) and Chris Pappas (NH) – and society at large?
Our nation has long been blessed by the many extraordinary contributions made by sons and daughters of Greece to our society, to our economy and to our public square. With a sense of civic duty, strong family values, vibrant culture and a tireless work ethic, Greek Americans have strengthened our nation in many ways: whether in elected office or the private sector, arts and sciences or community leadership.