Dems urge Boehner to delay Netanyahu address to Congress

A group of 23 liberal House Democrats urged Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerRyan has little margin for error in Speaker vote Top Lobbyists 2016: Hired Guns The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Ohio) on Thursday to delay Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to Congress next month.

In the letter spearheaded by Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the lawmakers argued that Netanyahu was being used as a "political tool" against President Obama.

"As members of Congress who support Israel, we share concern that it appears that you are using a foreign leader as a political tool against the president," they wrote.

Netanyahu's March 3 address will be just two weeks before the Israeli elections and while international negotiators work on a deal with Iran to curtail the country's nuclear weapons program. Netanyahu is expected to focus on the Iran negotiations in his speech and call for harsher sanctions.

Instead of March 3, the House Democrats suggested, Netanyahu's speech could be moved to some time after the Israeli elections.

"We strongly urge you to postpone this invitation until Israelis have cast their ballots and the deadline for diplomatic negotiations with Iran has passed. When the Israeli Prime Minister visits us outside the specter of partisan politics, we will be delighted and honored to greet him or her on the floor of the House," they wrote to Boehner.

The Democrats warned that Boehner's invitation to Netanyahu violated protocol, as it was scheduled without input from the Obama administration or congressional Democrats.

"We very much appreciate that Prime Minister Netanyahu has twice had the honor of speaking before a joint session. However, at this time your invitation is contrary to the standards by which our Congress operates and has the potential to harm U.S. foreign policy," the lawmakers wrote.

They further argued that Netanyahu's speech would put a wrench in the international negotiations between Tehran and the P5+1 group of world powers on Iran's nuclear program. President Obama threatened to veto legislation that would establish new sanctions against Iran during his State of the Union address last month. 

"The timing of this invitation and lack of coordination with the White House indicate that this is not an ordinary diplomatic visit. Rather this appears to be an attempt to promote new sanctions legislation against Iran that could undermine critical negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran," they wrote.

On Wednesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest denied that the U.S. was cutting Israel out of the loop on the Iran talks. Officials have accused Israel of selectively leaking details about the talks to undermine negotiations.

Ellison, Cohen and Waters have been circulating the letter over the last week to collect signatures from fellow Democrats.

The other Democratic signatories of the letter were Reps. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), André Carson (Ind.), John Conyers (Mich.), Danny Davis (Ill.), Peter DeFazio (Ore.), Luis Gutiérrez (Ill.), Hank Johnson (Ga.), Eddie Bernice Johnson (Texas), Barbara Lee (Calif.), Betty McCollum (Minn.), Jim McGovern (Mass.), Jim McDermott (Wash.), Beto O'Rourke (Texas), Donald Payne (N.J.), Chellie Pingrie (Maine), Mark Pocan (Wis.), Mark Takano (Calif.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (N.J.), Peter Welch (Vt.) and John Yarmuth (Ky.).

This story was updated at 1:38 p.m.

Read Rep. Keith Ellison letter by kballuck1