Vice President Joe Biden has joined an increasing number of Democrats who plan to miss Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to a joint meeting of Congress next month, signaling a new uptick in tension between the White House and the Jewish leader.
Biden, who presides as president of the Senate and typically would attend such a speech, instead will travel overseas that day.
“We are not ready to announce details of his trip yet, and normally our office wouldn’t announce this early,” an unnamed official from Biden’s office told The New York Times. “But the planning process has been underway for a while.”
President Barack Obama also will not meet with the Israeli leader and ally during the upcoming event on March 3.
The Obama administration has been involved in tense negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program for months. The president has been pushing for a diplomatic agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But Netanyahu doesn’t think Iran can be trusted to make a deal in good faith. During his speech, he is expected to make the Israeli case against negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran.
His address will take place three weeks before the deadline for the United States and its partners to reach an outlined agreement with Iran.
House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to speak in front of a joint session of U.S. legislators, a move that angered and surprised the White House. But Boehner, the highest ranking Republican in the government, didn’t inform the Obama administration about his plan. And while many congressional Republicans support Netanyahu, the White House has called Boehner’s decision a breach of protocol.
The prime minister’s visit to the United States will take place just weeks before Israelis head to the polls to decide whether or not to give him another term. Netanyahu’s speech could help his reelection bid and position him as willing to sully relations with the White House in the name of Israel’s own national security interests.
“As prime minister of Israel, I am obligated to make every effort to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weaponry that will be aimed at the State of Israel. This effort is global and I will go anywhere I am invited to make the State of Israel’s case and defend its future and existence,” Netanyahu said last month.
Other top Democrats who intend to boycott the address include South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, Georgia Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights hero, and North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield, head of the Congressional Black Caucus.