Washington Quagmire Deepens Over Netanyahu Speech

YERUSHALAYIM -
Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.)(R) and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.)(L) said they won’t come to Netanyahu’s speech. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) is in the center. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.)(R) and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.)(L) said they won’t come to Netanyahu’s speech. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) is in the center. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The political quagmire created by plans for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress deepened on Thursday, as additional Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, expressed reservations about attending.

Dozens of Democrats were reportedly distressed over being caught between support for Israel and loyalty to President Barack Obama, who has said he will not meet with Netanyahu during the trip.

Two House Democrats announced on Thursday they would skip the speech in protest against House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to extend the invitation without consulting the White House.

Rep. John Lewis, and Rep. G.K. Butterfield, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said they would not attend the March 3 speech.

Lewis called  Boehner’s move “an affront” to President Barack Obama and the State Department that he could not ignore. Butterfield said he was “very disappointed that the speaker would cause such a ruckus” in Congress.

Both said their decisions were personal and not part of an organized boycott.

On Wednesday, it emerged that Vice-President Biden might snub the Israeli leader. Josh Earnest, White House press secretary, said that Biden “might be busy on March 3.”

Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, currently in the U.S., have been conferring with both Democrats and Republicans to try to bring the diplomatic storm under control. But they also ran into choppy waters.

Dermer met with congressmen while Edelstein went to see House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday. Steny Hoyer and House Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Eliot Engel, who was also invited, decided not to come to the Edelstein-Boehner summit after learning that Pelosi had been left out.

Edelstein tried to repair the situation, arranging a meeting with Pelosi, who brought along Hoyer and Engel.

Meanwhile, Pelosi had more cold water to throw on the plan. Flip-flopping from an earlier statement that she would attend the speech, she later put out a statement saying that “casting a political apple of discord into the relationship is not the best way forward given the formidable challenges our two countries are facing together,” Politico reported.

Dermer was expected to meet with Engel on Thursday.