Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress Tuesday morning and across D.C. — and even outside of it — the big question was: Where were you?
The controversial address came two weeks before the Israeli leader’s own election and has been condemned by the White House as political maneuvering designed to sink a pending nuclear deal with Iran. Republicans invited the leader to address Congress without alerting the White House, something many argue is a violation of protocol. Nearly every elected official in Washington was forced to weigh in with their attendance. Here’s a rundown of who was doing what during the speech.
President Barack Obama won’t attend or meet with Netanyahu on this visit, and the White House has largely condemned the visit as a political maneuver. Shortly after Netanyahu’s address was scheduled to start, he was slated to participate in video chat with a handful of world leaders including England’s David Cameron, France’s Francois Hollande, and Germany’s Angela Merkel.
Vice President Joe Biden, the president of the Senate, dodged the question — he’s in Guatemala; Secretary of State John Kerry is also abroad.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Monday she wouldn’t be attending because she said House Speaker John Boehner made it “more political and less helpful” by inviting the Israeli leader.
Virginia’s Sen. Tim Kaine — a moderate Democrat considered to be a likely contender for vice president — took a progressive stance when he decided not to attend. Kaine said in a statement he’d tried to delay the event due to the upcoming Israeli elections two weeks from today and was “disappointed” it hadn’t been postponed. “For this reason, I will not attend the speech,” he said.
They were joined by six other Senate Democrats who all skipped the event, with many citing the partisan politics engendered by the visit. As Hawaii’s Sen. Brian Schatz put it in a statement, “the U.S.-Israel relationship is too important to be overshadowed by partisan politics.”
While unconfirmed, it was unlikely that former Secretary of State and likely 2016 contender Hillary Clinton attended the event, though she is in Washington, D.C., accepting an award from EMILY’s List on Tuesday.
Dozens in the House told NBC News they wouldn’t attend either.
In total, at least 50 Congressional Democrats skipped the event, NBC News has confirmed.
For Republicans, Netanyahu’s address was a hot ticket — one for which it was worth hopping pm a plane. Ohio’s Gov. John Kasich flew in just for the event. The Republican governor — and likely 2016 contender — has lifetime privileges in Congress after serving in the House and told Politico he was attending to publicly express concerns about nuclear negotiations with Iran.
Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch got an upgrade; Hatch sat behind Netanyahu, in the seat normally occupied by Biden.
He condemned many Democrats’ decision to skip the event as “partisan loyalty to President Obama” that has “come to taint even a nonpartisan address of international significance.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham hosted a watch-party fundraiser with GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. The luncheon had the dubious distinction of being the first event to officially benefit a 2016 campaign, with the South Carolina Republican asking supporters to donate to his political action committee to fund travel while he considers a 2016 bid.
The Washington Post reported that 40 Republican donors paid $2,700 to co-chair the event, which included a policy discussion with Graham and a handful of Republican guest speakers, including New Hampshire’s Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Colorado’s Sen. Cory Gardner, and Arizona’s Sen. John McCain. Those in Senate were expected to attend after watching the Netanyahu address from Congress.
Much like the State of the Union, The Washington Times reports that members were given one additional ticket — tickets were in such demand Republicans had pleaded with Democratic lawmakers skipping the event to share.
“I could scalp that ticket, there are so many people who want it,” Rep. Tim Walberg told the paper.
Likely 2016 Republican hopefuls currently serving in Congress, like Texas’ Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul, also planned to attend.
Those not on Capitol Hill — namely Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, former Gov. Jeb Bush and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum — told Time they had previous commitments, but expected to watch the prime minister’s comments. Many endorsed the speech in interviews, with Bush earning a shout out, too.