Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking House Democrat and a strong pro-Israel voice, downplayed a burgeoning Democratic boycott of an upcoming speech before Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and said he would attend it, even though he’s critical of how the speech came together.
“There is no boycott,” Hoyer told reporters, saying “certainly I’m going to attend.” Still, Hoyer admits, the invite to Netanyahu by Speaker John Boehner has caused “consternation” among Democrats livid that President Obama was not privy to the invitation to address Congress.
The speech has underscored raw feelings between Obama, who is pursuing negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, and Netanyahu, a fierce critic of Obama’s approach in those negotiations.
Hoyer lamented that the controversy was threatening to engulf a traditionally bipartisan issue in partisan warfare, although he added that the U.S.-Israel relationship remains intact.
I think it’s clear to everybody that this is politicized. We’re in negotiations in Iran, Netanyahu, the prime minister has strong feelings on this. He’s articulated that, I think everybody knows what those feelings are. Sec. [John] Kerry said, and I agree with this, that the prime minister is welcome to speak to a session of Congress at any time. He is the leader of one of our closest allies in the world. And a nation to which we have very strong, unbreakable ties.
Tuesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would not be attending the speech, the latest in a series of Democrats who have said they will boycott it.
Democrats have objected both to how the speech came about – Boehner reportedly invited Netanyahu without having consulted Obama beforehand – and that the speech will occur at the height of Netanyahu’s reelection campaign.
Republicans have fired back that Obama’s criticisms of “going it alone” are tough to swallow given what they regard as his flagrantly unconstitutional executive amnesty, issued in November weeks after the public repudiated Democrats at the polls.
Hoyer said that shortly after Netanyahu’s address was announced, he spoke to the Israeli prime minster and “told him [about the] political consternation that this had caused within our caucus and that it was unfortunate in light of the fact that this is an overwhelmingly bipartisan stance.”
Regarding how Obama has handled the issue – his aides have signaled their fury in anonymous quotes to reporters – Hoyer said, “I’m not unhappy. They’ve been put in a place where I think they should not have been put.”