Republicans praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress on Tuesday — and a top Democrat slammed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's comments that the speech was "an insult to the intelligence of the United States."
"Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech was not condescending," said Rep. Brad Sherman, the California Democrat and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He was a member of Netanyahu's escort committee during his Washington visit.
"Every speech contains passages which remind the audience of facts they already know, and conclusions with which they already agree," Sherman said. "That is not condescension; that is oratory.
"The prime minister’s speech did contain some new insight that Congress should carefully consider," he said.
Pelosi, who also represents California, said that Netanyahu’s address left her nearly in tears. She said she was "saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran."
Nearly 60 of the 232 Democratic members of Congress boycotted the Israeli leader's address. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state were among the Democrats attending the speech.
In his 39-minute address,
Netanyahu said that negotiating a bad nuclear deal with Iran would be a "countdown to a potential nuclear nightmare" by a country that "will always be an enemy of America."
"If the deal now being negotiated is accepted by Iran, that deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons — it will all but guarantee that Iran will get those nuclear weapons, lots of them," the Israeli leader said in a strong critique of President Barack Obama's diplomatic efforts with Tehran.
Netanyahu said Iranian leaders were "as radical as ever" and could not be trusted. He said that the deal being worked out with world powers would not block Iran's way to a bomb "but paves its way to a bomb.
"This deal won't be a farewell to arms, it will be a farewell to arms control ... a countdown to a potential nuclear nightmare," Netanyahu told lawmakers and visitors.
His speech drew 26 standing ovations, and lawmakers greeted Netanyahu with cheers as he entered the chamber where Obama gives his annual State of the Union address. The prime minister faces a March 17 election in Israel.
"I’ve come here today to tell you we don’t have to bet the security of the world on the hope that Iran will change for the better," Netanyahu said. "We don’t have to gamble with our future and with our children’s future."
He brought along Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and writer, and used him to invoke the phrase "Never Again" about the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews.
In the Oval Office, a clearly frustrated Obama denounced Netanyahu's speech as offering "nothing new" — and the Iranian government called it "boring and repetitive," according to the state news agency IRNA.
Netanyahu, still, has a history of speaking directly to the American public, and his message may fall on fertile ground. A Gallup poll released Monday showed his popularity in the U.S. near an all-time high at 45 percent, up 10 percentage points from 2012.
Republicans said Netanyahu's remarks heightened the nuclear threat posed by Tehran, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scheduled debate on bipartisan legislation to require legislators to vote on any nuclear deal between the Obama administration and Iran.
"Congress must be involved in reviewing and voting on an agreement reached between this White House and Iran," the Kentucky Republican said. "This bill would ensure it does."
House Speaker John Boehner, who invited Netanyahu to address Congress, said the speech was what "the American people needed to hear, plain and simple.
"It addressed the gravity of the threats we face and why we cannot allow a nuclear Iran, or any semblance of a path to a nuclear Iran," he said. "It demonstrated why there is such deep-seated — and bipartisan — concern about the deal that is being made."
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise accused Obama for trying to "inject politics" into Netanyahu's visit and commended the prime minister for doing "a really good job tactfully at the very beginning of his speech at defusing some of those political implications."
"Most Americans recognize that Iran is working towards developing nuclear-weapons capability," the Louisiana congressman told Jake Tapper on CNN. "Our sanctions were working incredibly well to bring their economy to the brink.
"And right when they were brought to the table, the president let off the gas, eased back on the sanctions. The prime minister rightly raised real concerns."
North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that "Prime Minister Netanyahu asked for America’s unwavering support for Israel, our friend and ally in a tumultuous region. It’s unfortunate the prime minister even had to ask.
"Over the last six years, I have watched this administration’s foreign policy failures in the Middle East pile up and erode our relationship with Israel," Burr added. "I will continue to support the United States’ partnership and am thankful for the prime minister’s address to Congress today."
Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, a leading GOP member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, reiterated his longstanding opposition to the Obama administration's talks with Iran.
"Iran’s record stands for itself: It cannot be trusted," Inhofe said. "Iran remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, continues its efforts to develop nuclear weapons and has directly threatened the existence of Israel and the United States.
"I stand with Netanyahu’s demands today that Iran’s government must change its behaviors," he said. "This must be a non-negotiable item in any agreement the United States seeks to reach with Iran, and anything short of it will be a bad deal, not only for Israel but for the West."
Rep. Mike Turner, the Ohio Republican who chairs a House Armed Services subcommittee, said that "a nuclear Iran is unacceptable.
"Iran’s turbulent past, along with its unstable central government, prove that the country cannot be trusted — especially when negotiating issues like weapons of mass destruction," he said. "Preventing a nuclear Iran is undeniably critical to the national security of the United States."
Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn called Netanyahu's remarks "an affirmative message regarding the importance of the relationship between the U.S. and Israel and its effect on not only the Middle East, but the entire world.
"We must work in unison to place well-defined economic and political pressure on Iran and make it clear that the United States will never tolerate a nuclear-equipped Iran," she said.
Arizona Rep. Matt Salmon blasted the White House for its willingness to reach a deal with Tehran at all costs.
"With the outlook that any deal is better than no deal, concessions are bound to be made to our detriment," he said. "While pure distance allows the U.S. a modicum of protection from the effects of a nuclear Iran in the short term, we can all agree that the most adversely affected country by a bad deal would be Israel."
Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole said that Netanyahu's address was "sobering" — adding that "the prime minister’s warnings should also be heeded by President Obama, who appears to be on a dangerous and reckless path in negotiations with Iran.
"Even though the administration believes that a deal with Iran is possible, I remain deeply skeptical that the country will abide by any agreement reached," he said. "Israel shares that same concern and distrust of Iran.
"A nuclear-armed Iran is a threat to the safety of the entire west but also poses a direct threat to the very existence of Israel, as well as to the Sunni states of the Middle East."
West Virginia Rep. David McKinley noted that "unfortunately, some in Washington recently have developed a bad habit of saying 'no.' Senate Democrats obstruct open debate on executive overreach.
"President Obama issues veto threats on bills before they are even voted on — and now some members of Congress boycott a speech by our strongest ally in the Middle East to make a political statement.
"The controversy over today’s speech is just the latest manifestation of the unwillingness of some in Washington to listen and cooperate," McKinley said. "The American people deserve leaders who work together for a stronger, more secure America, and do not hide from debate and conversation."
Bloomberg News and Reuters contributed to this report.
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