By Scott Wong - 07/28/15 03:46 PM EDT
Lawmakers to meet Netanyahu in Israel
More than 40 lawmakers will travel to Israel next month to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of a critical vote in Congress on the nuclear deal with Iran.
The two congressional trips — one with Democrats, the other with Republicans — occur every two years and are organized and funded by an educational nonprofit affiliated with the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he will take part in the Democratic trip, which kicks off Aug. 3. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will be the highest-ranking member participating in the weeklong GOP visit, which begins Aug. 8.
A member briefing on the trip was held Tuesday at the Capitol.
The lawmakers' visit comes during the 60-day period in which Congress has a chance to review the deal to curb Iran's nuclear program.
President Obama has threatened a veto if the GOP-led Congress votes to reject the agreement — so the onus would be back on lawmakers to muster enough votes to override the president.
Netanyahu, a fierce critic of the Iran deal, is expected to make his case directly to lawmakers. But they'll also get an opportunity to meet with other high-ranking government and security officials, as well as U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro.
The trips are generally geared toward freshman members such as Reps. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) and Mimi Walters (R-Calif.), all of whom confirmed they are attending.
"I've had six deployments to the Middle East and Afghanistan in my time in uniform, and I've been over to Israel as a tourist," said McSally, a retired Air Force colonel and the first U.S. female combat pilot.
"But it's a critical time for us to be going over there with my colleagues ... to hear from our close ally," she added. She is opposed to the deal.
Curbelo said the trips were planned well in advance and coincidentally lined up with the 60-day window.
"Without question, it's a wonderful opportunity to get a unique perspective from the Middle East before having to cast one of the most important votes of this Congress," he told The Hill.
Hoyer, who is undecided about the Iran deal, said he hopes to hear from both supporters and opponents of the nuclear pact.
"We'll meet with Mr. Netanyahu, [and] I'm sure he will repeat his very deep concerns and the dangers he believes that the deal presents to Israel," Hoyer told reporters. "We will speak to people in Israel who do not share his view."
The AIPAC-linked nonprofit, known as the American Israel Education Foundation, has shelled out big bucks to send lawmakers to Israel.
Over the past 14 years, the foundation spent more than $9.4 million on congressional travel, according to a report in National Journal.
— Mike Lillis contributed