Washington – One Connecticut lawmaker decided to skip his speech to a joint session of Congress and others had differing reactions to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s forceful condemnation of U.S. efforts to reach an agreement with Iran over nuclear weapons.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, made a last-minute announcement that she would join about 50 to 70 Democrats who boycotted the speech.
She said she skipped the speech because the “partisan invitation by the Republican leaders of Congress who oppose the negotiations that I support, is disrespectful of the president of the United States and, worst of all, leaves America’s relations with Israel stuck in the same polarized, partisan mud that keeps us from doing the right thing in so many areas.”
President Obama, with the help of permanent members of the U.S. Security Council, plus Germany, is trying to reach a deal with Iran that would limit the nation’s nuclear program.
“It’s a very bad deal,” Netanyahu said. “We are better off without it.”
“That is deeply harmful to Israel,” DeLauro said of the rift between the United States and Israel. “So I felt it is wrong to attend the address that is part of Speaker Boehner’s partisan game plan and part of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s campaign plan in Israel.”
House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to speak to a joint meeting of Congress without coordinating with the White House or State Department. The address was given just two weeks before Israel’s parliamentary elections on March 17.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said he was glad he attended the speech, even though he opposed the invitation to Netanyahu and said it has resulted in “a broader fissure between the Netanyahu government and the Obama administration.”
“It’s not helpful for U.S.-Israel relations, given how strongly his criticism of the president was at times during the speech,” Murphy said. “I think the speech was a mistake.”
Murphy said he decided to attend Netanyahu’s address “because I’m a strong supporter of Israel.”
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said he attended the joint address “because my unyielding support for the partnership between the United States and the State of Israel trumps the misguided, partisan process which led to today’s speech.”
Courtney also said, “The friendship and alliance between the United States and Israel transcends political parties and partisan political gamesmanship.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said he was “encouraged by the strong bipartisan support in the chamber” and that he supports stronger sanctions and “other possible action” if a good deal with Iran is not reached.
“Nothing significantly new on substance, but very powerfully stated,” Blumenthal said. “The Prime Minister’s concerns may well lead to greater care and caution in assessing a deal if and when an agreement is reached. My view continues to be that any agreement must be completely verifiable, comprehensive, air-tight, and long-lasting.”
Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, said, “While I believe the timing and politicization of Speaker Boehner’s invitation — particularly this close to Israel’s elections — was a serious mistake, I attended Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech…because I respect the strong relationship between the United States and Israel.”
“Prime Minister Netanyahu‘s voice is one of many that I will consider as I thoroughly review the ongoing negotiations with Iran,” Esty said.
Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, said he remained “deeply troubled that politics has been injected into the enduring U.S.-Israel relationship, which has always been above partisanship.”
“Ultimately, a nuclear Iran poses a clear threat to the United States, Israel and the entire international community. I am hopeful that we can move past the recent political divisions and keep working together with the international community, and in particular the state of Israel, to prevent Iran from building or obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
Others were more critical. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, “I was near tears throughout the prime minister’s speech – saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the (negotiating nations), and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation.”
GOP leaders, who have opposed the Iran talks, agreed with Netanyahu.
“I share the prime minister’s concerns that the path we are on in these current negotiations with Iran will not adequately prevent them from obtaining nuclear weapons capability,” said GOP House Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., “A bad deal with Iran will threaten America’s national security as well as the security of Israel, and threatens to kick off a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world.”