Yesterday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) became the first senator to announce he will not attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address, scheduled for March 3. By last night, however, the senator had some company when his fellow Vermonter, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), announced he’ll also skip the event.
“The unfortunate way that House leaders have unilaterally arranged this, and then heavily politicized it, has demolished the potential constructive value of this joint meeting,” Leahy said in a statement. “They have orchestrated a tawdry and high-handed stunt that has embarrassed not only Israel but the Congress itself.”While Sanders was the first senator to say he’ll boycott Netanyahu’s address, Leahy plays a much larger role in U.S. foreign affairs. He chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations.
Leahy’s statement added, “It has long been an unwritten rule and practice through the decades that when it comes to American foreign policy, we speak and act thoughtfully, with one voice when we can, with the national interests of the United States as our uppermost consideration, and with caution about the unintended consequences of unilateral actions like this. They have diminished that valuable precedent.”
The Hill has an online whip list, and as of this moment, these two senators join 12 House Democrats in publicly declaring that they will not be on hand for Netanyahu’s remarks to a joint session. Vice President Biden, of course, will also not be there.
At the same time, 25 House Dems and 6 Senate Dems have said they will attend the event, leaving the vast majority of Democrats on Capitol Hill in the “undecided” camp.
As for the White House, Kasie Hunt reported yesterday on President Obama’s most direct comments on the controversy to date.
Foreign leader running for reelection? Don’t expect to swing by the White House. Or at least that’s President Obama’s explanation for why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t be invited to stop by when he visits the U.S. next month, just weeks before he’s scheduled to face voters back home.“As much as I love Angela [Merkel], if she were two weeks from an election, she probably would not have received an invitation to the White House – and I suspect she wouldn’t have asked for one,” President Obama said during a joint press conference Monday with the German chancellor at the White House.
Obama went on to say the U.S.-Israeli relationship “extends beyond parties, and has to do with that unbreakable bond that we feel and our commitment to Israel’s security, and the shared values that we have. And the way to preserve that is to make sure that it doesn’t get clouded with what could be perceived as partisan politics. Whether that’s accurate or not, that is a potential perception, and that’s something that we have to guard against.”
Evidently, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is less concerned on this point.
Meanwhile, there were some rumors yesterday that Netanyahu is weighing an alternative approach in which he would meet with lawmakers, but not deliver a speech to a joint session. None of those rumors have been confirmed, but Shmuel Rosner, the political editor at The Jewish Journal and a fellow at The Jewish People Policy Institute, hopes the chatter is reliable.
On Monday, there were some reports – reliability unclear – that Mr. Netanyahu was considering alternatives to the speech. Better late than never. Of course, canceling the speech would be somewhat humiliating, not just for him but also for United States Republicans: Some lame excuse would have to be found, a smug response from the White House would have to be endured. But it’s a blow that Republicans could, and hopefully would, be ready to absorb. After all, they have long claimed that they and their constituents make fairer friends than their Democratic counterparts, and what better way to prove that than to take a hit for Israel?
Watch this space,