Citing various reasons, twenty-six Democratic members of Congress, twenty-three in the House and three in the Senate, have as of this writing publicly stated that they intend to skip a March 3rd address by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a joint session of Congress regarding negotiations about Iran’s uranium enrichment. In addition, Vice President Joe Biden–who generally can’t seem to kept away from being in front of the television cameras that would accompany such an occasion–will also be absent.
By refusing to attend, however, these leaders aren’t just snubbing House Speaker John Boehner’s tactics. They’re snubbing the Prime Minister of Israel as well.
Many of those who plan to miss Netanyahu’s speech have stated that they aren’t doing so in an attempt to snub him or Israel, but that they choose to stand with President Obama, who they see as having been undermined by House Speaker John Boehner inviting the Prime Minister without first consulting the White House. Others have claimed that they are protesting the politicization of the alliance between the United States and Israel, while some have said that their concern stems from Netanyahu’s speech falling just two weeks before Election Day in Israel.
The most notable House Democrats to announce that they won’t attend include Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, and Congressman Charles Rangel of New York, with the latter going so far as to say that he is “offended as an American.” Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats, and Patrick Leahy make up two of the three Senators who have stated that they will miss the address. Indeed, Leahy described the event as a “tawdry and high-handed stunt” on the part of House leaders.
On the other hand, so far there are forty-nine House Democrats and thirteen of their Senate colleagues who have confirmed that they will attend the speech. The big names among them are House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Senator Barbara Boxer, and Minority Leader Harry Reid. Some of those listed above, particularly Senator Boxer, have stated that they will attend the speech to hear Netanyahu out and show their support for Israel, but that they also disapprove of the way in which Speaker Boehner’s office went about arranging the address.
President Obama, whose rocky relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu has been well documented over the years, would seem to be most irritated about Netanyahu addressing the United States (and the world) so close to Israel’s election and during ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. Additionally, there is no meeting planned between the two leaders during Netanyahu’s visit. Of course, this is the same White House that has called Prime Minister Netanyahu a “chickensh*t”, and promised that “there will be a price” for him accepting Speaker Boehner’s invitation to address Congress. Relations between the leaders of the United States and Israel are just about at their lowest point in recent memory.
To be fair, Democrats have some genuine points. Most would concede that Boehner’s invitation is at least unorthodox, even unprecedented. Further, friction between President Obama and both Speaker Boehner and Prime Minister Netanyahu is nothing new or unexpected. Nor is it a surprise to see some members of the president’s party expressing their displeasure with Boehner’s actions: after all, the Speaker is already one of their favorite targets for political criticism.
That being said, it still seems that those Democrats who have chosen not to attend the speech are being shortsighted. By essentially “taking their ball and going home,” these Democrats are refusing to even consider Netanyahu’s position simply because they dislike the process through which the address was planned. They may claim to be making a statement against John Boehner, but they are also indirectly disrespecting the United States’ greatest ally in the Middle East (and perhaps the world).
Ultimately, it would have been good to see those who are not attending follow the lead of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat who declared his intention to go to the speech while saying that “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Expressing annoyance with Speaker Boehner’s tactics is understandable, but now that the situation has come to pass, it should be more important to members of Congress to stand with our ally than to stand on ceremony.