Congressional Democrats are torn between fidelity to President Barack Obama and hearing directly from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as to why the nuclear deal that the administration is trying to close with Iran is a bad idea.
Netanyahu has been invited by House Speaker John Boehner
to address a joint session of Congress on March 3. The premier will also address AIPAC, the pro-Israel advocacy group
, while in Washington, D.C.
No Democrats — including Vice President Joe Biden — have announced outright that they will boycott Netanyahu's speech, despite pressure from the White House and J-Street
. The dovish Jewish group lobbies against Netanyahu's policies on Capitol Hill and within the American Jewish community.
Privately, dozens of House Democrats have said they plan to shun Netanyahu, Politico
Two converging issues — a deadline on nuclear talks with Iran and forthcoming Israeli elections — have made the speech controversial.
Netanyahu's appearance would come just before U.S.-led international talks with Iran over its nuclear weapons program
are set to conclude March 24. His speech is expected to oppose any outcome that leaves the Islamic Republic with the tools needed to make a bomb.
Israeli elections are scheduled for March 17, and polls show that Netanyahu is likely to form the next government. Asked in a poll published Tuesday in the dovish Haaretz newspaper
whether Netanyahu should proceed with the speech given that it will further strain relations with Obama, 46 percent said no, 14 percent were not sure, and 40 percent favored going ahead.
The same poll showed Netanyahu leading his nearest rival, Labor Party head Isaac Herzog, in popularity by 51 percent to 28 percent.
Neither Obama nor Secretary of State John Kerry plan to meet with Netanyahu, citing the Israeli elections as the reason.
Working with J-Street, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee, and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, are pressing to put off the speech, Politico reported.
Cohen said he has not made up his mind about boycotting the Israeli leader. "I haven't made that definite decision," he told Politico.
Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Kentucky, who has signed on to previous J-Street initiatives, also declined to commit to shunning Netanyahu.
"I don't even know what else is on my schedule. It wouldn't be an official boycott. I wouldn't announce that I wasn't going. But I don't really blame Netanyahu — although I'm not a fan of Netanyahu — but I don't blame him for coming," Politico reported.
AIPAC has been encouraging members to attend, Politico said.
Among big name Democrats who are expected to attend are House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, and Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, ranking member on the House Foreign Relations Committee, Politico reported.
A White House spokesman said Tuesday, "We defer to Democratic members if they'd like to attend or not," Politico reported.
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