House

Dems to Boehner: Postpone Netanyahu

Greg Nash

Liberal House Democrats are pressing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to postpone Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress.

They say the speech on March 3 threatens to undermine the multilateral talks on Iran’s nuclear program at the expense of the country’s foreign policy and security interests.

Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) also contend that Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu was underhanded because neither President Obama nor Democratic leaders in Congress had been consulted beforehand.

{mosads}Furthermore, the liberals argue, the speech is poorly timed because it comes just a few weeks before the Israeli prime minister faces a tough reelection contest.

The three Democrats are circulating a letter urging Boehner to postpone the speech until Israel’s elections have passed and the Iran talks have ended.

“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,” the lawmakers wrote in a draft version of the letter making the rounds in Democratic offices this week, referring to the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

“The invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu enlists a foreign leader to influence a presidential policy initiative,” they added. “Aside from being improper, this places Israel, a close and valued ally, in the middle of a policy debate between Congress and the White House. We should not turn our diplomatic friendship into a partisan issue.”

A Democratic aide said Tuesday that more than 20 Democrats have endorsed the letter, with others in line to sign on. The liberal lawmakers are expecting to deliver their message later this week or early the next.

Announced by Boehner the day after Obama’s State of the Union address, Netanyahu’s speech is expected to focus largely on the Iran talks. The Israeli prime minister has been highly critical of those negotiations, pushing instead for tougher sanctions on Iran — a move Obama has warned could sink his efforts at diplomacy.

A number of Democrats have also urged tougher sanctions, but they’ve backed off since the speech was announced to give Obama more breathing room in the final phase of the talks.

Both Boehner and Netanyahu have been defiant in the face of the Democratic criticisms. Boehner last week said it’s “a very good idea” to hear Israel’s concerns about the Iran talks directly from the Israeli prime minister, while Netanyahu took to Twitter Tuesday with a string of messages — in English — defending the coming speech.

“I am going to the United States not because I seek a confrontation with the President, but to speak up for very survival of my country,” he wrote. “I intend to speak in the U.S. Congress because Congress might have an important role on a nuclear deal with Iran.”

The Democrats have a much different view, and many are lining up to boycott Netanyahu’s speech to protest the process, the policy and the politics behind it.

“Our relationship with Israel is too important to use as a pawn in political gamesmanship,” Ellison, Waters and Cohen wrote.

“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.” 

Read more from The Hill:

WHIP LIST: Dems skipping Netanyahu speech

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