WASHINGTON -- As they lay out their plans for the Trump presidency, congressional Republicans will get a reminder in Philadelphia on Thursday that political upheaval and change are not confined to our shores.
British Prime Minister Theresa May will address the Republicans' retreat at the Loews hotel in Center City on a jam-packed day that will also include speeches from Vice President Pence and former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning. House and Senate members will also huddle for strategy sessions on Trump's first 200 days in office, the demands of middle-income voters, tax reform, foreign policy, and health care, according to a draft schedule.
May's visit comes ahead of her Friday sitdown with Trump in Washington, the president's first face-to-face meeting with a foreign leader since his inauguration. The meeting will happen as May oversees the United Kingdom's historic exit from the European Union and attempts to preserve longstanding economic and security ties with the United States, all while working with a new president who has cast serious doubt on overseas trade and military engagement.
It will be the first time a sitting British prime minister has visited Philadelphia since 1965, according to State Department records, though Queen Elizabeth II also visited in 1976.
"The leaders are expected to discuss a number of the most pressing global issues, notably tackling terrorism, Syria, relations with Russia, and cooperation in NATO," said a statement from the British Embassy in Washington, referring to the longstanding defense alliance that Trump has questioned. "The Prime Minister and President will also discuss how we can deepen our already huge economic and commercial relationship to the benefit of both of our countries," including hopes for a new trade deal once the United Kingdom leaves the EU.
Trade between the two counties is already worth more than £150 billion, the statement said. (That's close to $180 billion). The U.K. is the third-largest market for Pennsylvania goods, after Canada and Mexico, receiving 5.9 percent of Keystone State exports, according to the British American Business Council of Greater Philadelphia.
Trump has cast doubt on NATO -- recently calling it obsolete -- and has vowed to put "America first" when it comes to trade and security. One of his first acts in office was to scrap U.S. involvement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive Pacific Rim trade agreement. But his administration has also said it is open to bilateral deals, and securing an agreement with the United Kingdom might have benefits for both sides, said Jeff Rathke, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"Making sure that we are on the same page and that the United States remains committed to NATO is hugely important to Britain," Rathke said. "It needs the United States, and the United States needs Britain, because they are our closest partner, and we do so much with them."
On economics, a U.S.-U.K. trade deal would offer Britain assurances that it will have a viable and vital trade partner once it leaves the European Union, Rathke said. May is also hoping to make it easier for U.S. citizens to work in the U.K. and vice versa, according to news reports in England.
She will be the first foreign head of state to address the annual GOP retreat, according to the embassy, and may find a more receptive audience from Republicans in Congress than from the protectionist Trump.
GOP lawmakers are "generally much more favorably disposed to free trade than the president is," Rathke said. They also tend to be more hawkish, and enthusiastic about NATO.
Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he agreed with prioritizing a trade deal with the United Kingdom, hoping a deal would set "a high standard" for other agreements.
"Theresa May is someone of growing importance globally, and opportunities present themselves for partnerships in trade and security between the United States and the United Kingdom," said another member of the foreign relations panel, Cory Gardner (R., Colo.).
He also hailed Manning, who led the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl championship, as "one of the most important speakers we could have at any conference."
Corker said he would introduce Manning, who starred in his home state at the University of Tennessee. Asked what the quarterback could discuss before congressional Republicans at a policy retreat, Corker said quickly, "Teamwork."