Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, shakes hands with U.S. Senator John McCain during a meeting with the Israeli and U.S. delegations at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, Monday, Jan. 19, 2015.
WASHINGTON — On Feb. 18, Speaker of the House John Boehner was asked by 23 Democratic members of Congress to postpone Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress on March 3.
The letter, written and circulated by Reps. Keith Ellison (Minn.), Maxine Waters (Calif.) and Steve Cohen (Tenn.), accuses Boehner (R-Ohio) of using Netanyahu as “a political tool against the President.”
“The timing of this invitation and lack of coordination with the White House indicate that this is not an ordinary diplomatic visit. Rather this appears to be an attempt to promote new sanctions legislation against Iran that could undermine critical negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran,” the letter reads.
Further, the foreign head of state was not invited by President Obama and he accepted the invitation without going through White House channels, marking a major departure from established protocol. This alone has been a major contributing factor to the speech being seen as a partisan flashpoint, yet controversy has also swelled around the speech coming just two weeks before Israeli elections and in the midst of a deadline on U.S.-Iran nuclear negotiations.
With a growing number of Democratic lawmakers saying they will skip the speech, MintPress News decided to see which of the 23 lawmakers who signed the letter to Boehner plan to attend — or skip — the speech now that it’s apparent that a postponement isn’t in the cards.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio poses for a photo with Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., right, to re-enact the House oath-of-office, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ) — As of press time, Coleman’s office had not returned MintPress’ request to confirm the congresswoman’s attendance, but The Hill is reporting that she will be attending.
Rep. Peter Welch (Vt.) — Welch told Vermont Public Radio on Feb. 6 that his “preference” would be for the address to be postponed until after the Israeli elections and the Iran nuclear talks deadline. He confirmed that he will attend Tuesday’s speech, saying: “I believe, on behalf of Vermont, my responsibility is to show respect for foreign leaders who come to Congress.”
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., holds up a bumper sticker given to him by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., at Democratic headquarters in Portland, Ore.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.) — In a Jan. 29 piece for The Huffington Post, Blumenauer described the timing of Netanyahu’s address to Congress and the Israeli election as setting “dangerous and reckless precedent.” He asserted that he would not be part of “a reckless act of political grandstanding.”
Rep. André Carson (Ind.) — As of press time, Carson’s office had not returned MintPress’ request to confirm whether the congressman would be attending, but both CNN and The Hill are reporting that he will not be.
Rep. Steve Cohen (Tenn.) — “After deliberation, I have decided I cannot in good conscience attend the Prime Minister’s speech,” Cohen said in a statement released Tuesday. “I have attended the Prime Minister’s previous speech and my support of Israel has not wavered but I believe that this speech at this time and brought forth in this manner is dangerous to Israel as well as inappropriate.”
Rep. Danny Davis (Ill.) — Davis’ office confirmed to MintPress on Friday that the congressman will not attend.
Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.) — Ellison’s office confirmed to MintPress on Friday that the congressman will not be attending. “At the end of the day, the timing is all wrong. There are two problems, the US congress is being inserted in an Israeli election and that he is speaking when we’re having a domestic policy debate regarding Iranian sanctions,” Ellison told the Minneapolis Star Tribune earlier this month. “I’ve criticized President Bush as much as anyone, but I always understood he was the president of the United States … This is a very disrespectful thing to do to the office of the presidency.”
Rep. Peter DeFazio (Ore.) — DeFazio’s office confirmed to MintPress on Friday that the congressman does not plan to attend.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (Ill.) — A spokesman for the Congressman told the Chicago Sun-Times in early February that Gutiérrez has a “consistent, strong record on Israel” but the speech is “more of a stunt.” He continued, “Republicans are playing politics with Israel for domestic consumption here and in the upcoming vote in Israel and the Congressman decided he would rather not participate.”
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (Texas) — Johnson’s office told MintPress on Friday that the congresswoman “has no plans to attend the speech at this time.”
Rep. Barbara Lee (Calif.) — Lee’s office told MintPress News on Friday: “If the speech is not postponed, she will not be attending.”
Rep. Betty McCollum (Minn.) — McCollum penned an op-ed in the Washington Post on Thursday, explaining why she won’t be attending Netanyahu’s address before Congress, which she describes as a “campaign rally.”
Rep. Jim McDermott (Wash.) — “I do not intend to attend the speech of Bibi,” McDermott said in an email to SeattlePI.com in early February. “The whole event is to shore up Bibi’s political campaign. It also may reflect an attempt to gum up the negotiations with Iran. Side benefit is to make the president look weak.”
Rep. Jim McGovern (Mass.) — “I think the timing and the circumstances of this speech are deeply troubling,” McGovern said in an interview with Radio Boston on Thursday.
Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas) — “The relationship between the United States and Israel is too important to politicize,” O’Rourke said in a statement, as reported by the El Paso Times on Wednesday. The congressmen added that the way in which the address was organized has done “a deep disservice to the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
Rep. John Yarmuth (Ky.) — “We know what he is going to say,” Yarmuth said in a Feb. 12 statement in which he expanded on some of “the many reasons” he won’t be attending.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., speaks in Detroit, Monday, July 7, 2014.
Rep. John Conyers (Mich.) — Conyers’ office told MintPress on Friday that Conyers, dean of the House and a ranking member of the Judiciary, had not decided whether to attend.
Rep. Hank Johnson (Ga.) — Johnson said he’s hoping the speech is postponed, according to The Hill.
Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (N.J.) — Payne’s office told MintPress on Friday that the congressman had not decided whether to attend.
Rep. Chellie Pingree (Maine) — Pingree’s office told MintPress on Friday that the congresswoman had not decided whether to attend.
Rep. Mark Pocan (Wisc.) — Pocan’s office told MintPress on Friday that the congressman had not decided whether to attend.
Rep. Mark Takano (Calif.) — As of press time, MintPress could not verify whether Takano plans to attend. Calls to his office were unreturned.
Rep. Maxine Waters (Calif.) — A member of Waters’ office told MintPress on Friday that the congresswoman would be pleased to attend a speech delivered by the prime minister of Israel — “whomever he or she may be” — after the elections, but could not confirm whether Waters would be attending Tuesday’s address.