WASHINGTON — House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) said Wednesday that Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev will address a joint meeting of Congress on Dec. 9, and he pleaded with angry conservatives who have threatened a walkout to show "civility."
House conservatives, dismayed that a Communist leader is to address a joint session, attacked the planned speech and warned they might walk out. An estimated 75 House members, mostly Republicans, reportedly signed a letter in protest.
During his daily press conference, Wright said, "We will issue an invitation (to Gorbachev) at the request of the White House."
Then, asked about plans by conservatives to protest the Soviet leader's speech and to walk out, Wright added, "I just can't conceive, when it comes down to it, that any members of the House would behave in a boorish way.
"I just believe that there is a tradition of civility that we have a responsibility to uphold in this country," he said. "It behooves those of us in Congress to treat our guest with respect."
But Rep. Dick Cheney of Wyoming, third ranking in the House GOP leadership, said "most Republican members feel very strongly that the invitation to speak to a joint session is a high honor that should not be extended to the head of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union."
And Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) said that addressing Congress "is and should be reserved for democratic leaders of the world."
It was not clear whether opponents could muster the legislative support to block an appearance by Gorbachev, but the uproar might cause the White House to seek a compromise.
Another conservative lawmaker, Rep. Robert S. Walker (R-Pa.), said he had collected 75 signatures on a letter asking Reagan to find another forum for members of Congress to meet with Gorbachev.
In a letter to Reagan, Rep. Gerald B.H. Solomon of New York, ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Human Rights subcommittee, wrote: "I'm sure you'll agree that there is absolutely no difference between the Soviet Union and Hitler's Germany. It follows that Mikhail S. Gorbachev should no more be welcome in the halls of Congress than Adolf Hitler would have been."