THREE prominent US Democratic representatives gave notice late on Thursday that they would blank Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial visit to Congress next month.
John Lewis, GK Butterfield and Earl Blumenauer said they would not attend Mr Netanyahu’s March 3 anti-Iran speech because they disapproved of House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to invite the Israeli leader without consulting President Barack Obama.
The White House also hinted on Thursday that Vice-President Joe Biden may not attend the speech, which is an important component of Mr Netanyahu’s re-election campaign.
Mr Biden’s spokesman Josh Earnest said that he takes “very seriously” his responsibilities as Senate president, including his ceremonial duty to attend joint sessions of Congress.
However, he noted that the vice-president had missed a joint session in 2011 because he was travelling abroad and that his travel schedule for early March had not yet been finalised.
Mr Obama is livid at the calculated snub concocted by the Republicans and the prime recipient of US aid.
Mr Earnest said that the president did “believe it is up to individual members of Congress to make their own decision about whether or not to attend.”
Mr Lewis, who chaired the Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee civil rights organisation in the 1960s, said that Mr Boehner’s unilateral invitation to the Israeli leader was “an affront to the president and the State Department” that cannot be ignored.
Congressional Black Caucus chair Mr Butterfield said that he was “very disappointed that the speaker would cause such a ruckus” among Congress members, calling his actions “unprecedented.”
Mr Blumenauer has asked the speaker to cancel the joint session with Mr Netanyahu and said that, if the speech went ahead, he would “refuse to be part of a reckless act of political grandstanding.”
The US Constitution vests the responsibility for foreign affairs in the president, he said, adding that “it’s deeply troubling that the speaker is willing to undercut diplomacy in exchange for theatrics on the House floor.”
Mr Butterfield also criticised Mr Netanyahu, saying that by accepting the invitation without talking to the president, he had “politicised” his visit to the US.