The Republican invitation for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress over the threat of Iran may be backfiring to the benefit of President Barack Obama: Democrats who had previously been leaning toward voting for a sanctions package are now lining up behind a strategy to delay that threat, according to The New York Times
For months, Democrats have been split on whether to impose sanctions on Iran. Even while the White House insisted that they would hinder the current round of negotiations, a bipartisan bill was moving forward to slap the country with sanctions should the negotiations fail.
Now, with the advent of Netanyahu's visit, many Democrats say they so turned off by the partisan tactic that they are coming around to the president's position, with a number pledging not to vote on a sanctions bill until after the March 24 negotiations deadline with the Iranians.
"For the prime minister to accept made it extremely political, knowing how the invitation played out," West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, one of 10 Democrats who signed a letter agreeing not to vote on a sanctions bill, told the Times, adding that it was off-putting for a number of other Democrats as well.
"It didn’t show a lot of class," Manchin told the Times. "If it had been George W. Bush or Reagan or Clinton or whoever, protocol is protocol."
Meanwhile, a group of House Democrats will formally ask Boehner to delay his invitation to the prime minister until after the March deadline passes, with three lawmakers circulating a letter to the speaker among their colleagues on Wednesday, the Times reported.
In the letter, they accuse Boehner of harming American foreign policy and undermining the president.
"As members of Congress who support Israel, it appears that you are using a foreign leader as a political tool against the president," said the letter, according to the Times.
"When the Israeli prime minister visits us outside the specter of partisan politics," the letter continued, "we will be delighted and honored to greet him or her on the floor of the House."
But most Democrats are averse to creating any acrimony with Netanyahu by signing on to such a public effort, given the powerful pro-Israeli interests many rely on for votes, the Times said.
"There's a lot of people who agree with this letter," Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, who signed the letter, told the Times." "Some will put their name on it. Some won't. But the bottom line is, I haven't run into anyone on our side who thinks this is a good idea."
New Jersey Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez and Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk were the lawmakers who proposed the sanctions legislation
But following the Netanyahu announcement, in stunning shift of tactic, Menendez and a group of nine other Democrats agreed to a delay the voting time frame for his measure, telling the president in a letter that they would not vote for a sanctions bill before the March 24 deadline.
Menendez, however, denied the change had anything to do with Netanyahu's visit.
"It had absolutely no effect," he said, according to the Times.
Other Democrats also feel the invitation has triggered a change of mind on their strategy regarding the sanctions measures, even though they hadn't previously supported the president's course.
"It's been building for days," Greg Rosenbaum, chairman of the national Jewish Democratic Council, speaking about efforts to convince Democrats to offer the president more flexibility, told the Times. "But it really let loose this week."
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