Seven Democratic congressional leaders plan to boycott Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March speech to a joint session of Congress, and more could be joining their ranks.
Prominent black lawmakers U.S. Reps. John Lewis, D-Ga., G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., and James Clyburn, D-S.C., will join U.S. Reps. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz.; Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.; Barbara Lee, D-Calif.; and Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., in skipping out on the much-anticipated speech, which will come at House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation and without White House involvement, The Hill reported.
“For the Speaker to invite a head of state, of any country, to address the U.S. Congress without the consent of the [House] minority leader and the White House goes beyond the traditions of his office,” Butterfield said in a statement, according to the online news site, McClatchy DC.
“It is baffling that Speaker Boehner, who incessantly proclaims executive overreach by the president, would buck long standing diplomatic protocol to extend such an invitation.”
President Obama is making a full-court press against the planned March 3 address, saying it could interfere with negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. It’s also been widely reported that Obama and Netanyahu have had a prickly relationship.
A representative for Vice President Joe Biden, who serves as president of the Senate, has also said he will be traveling and will be unable to attend the speech, according to Bloomberg News.
Many Democrats are split between their allegiance to the White House and their support for Israel. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., met with the speaker of the Israeli Knesset on Wednesday, highlighting the tension, the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz reported.
Netanyahu’s decision to speak to Congress without going through normal diplomatic channels is “casting a political apple of discord into the relationship” between Israel and the United States, her spokesman, Drew Hammill, told Haaretz.
Pelosi, though, plans to attend Netanyahu’s speech.
Netanyahu is expected to hammer home his belief that Iran poses a serious threat to Israel and the West. Obama, meanwhile, has been pushing to negotiate with Iran on a nuclear disarmament deal, which faces a March 31 deadline for a political agreement.