National Security Advisor Susan Rice said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming address to a joint meeting of Congress will be “destructive” to U.S.-Israeli relations. Republican House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to speak in front of a joint session of U.S. legislators on March 3, a move that has angered and surprised the White House and many Democrats.
“What has happened over the last several weeks, by virtue of the invitation that was issued by the Speaker and the acceptance of it by Prime Minister Netanyahu two weeks in advance of his election, is that on both sides, there has now been injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate, I think it’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship,” Rice told PBS’ Charlie Rose on Tuesday.
“It’s always been bipartisan. We need to keep it that way. We want it that way. I think Israel wants it that way. The American people want it that way. When it becomes injected or infused with politics, that’s a problem,” she added.
Netanyahu has declined to meet with Senate Democrats during his visit to Washington, D.C., citing his belief that such an event “could compound the misperception of partisanship.”
Boehner, the highest ranking Republican in the government, didn’t inform the Obama administration about his plan to invite Netanyahu to speak. And while many congressional Republicans support Netanyahu, the White House has called Boehner’s decision a breach of protocol. Last weekend, Boehner said he purposefully instructed Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, not to tell the White House about the invitation because he didn’t want there to be interference.
President Obama will not meet with the Israeli leader and ally during the upcoming event. But he publicly asked those in Congress not to take any actions that could potentially harm ongoing negotiations. Other Democratic leaders, including Vice President Joe Biden, plan to miss the address to Congress. Biden, who is president of the Senate and typically would attend such a speech, instead will travel overseas that day.
The Obama administration, as well as China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom, 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. It will also come just two weeks before Israelis head to the polls to decide whether or not to give Netanyahu another term.
The growing list of top Democrats who intend to boycott the address also includes 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.
Netanyahu’s supporters have warned of political consequences for Democrats who are thinking about skipping his address to Congress.