When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to a joint session of Congress in March, there’s a very good chance the House chamber may have some empty seats.
Vice President Joe Biden is refusing to commit as to whether or not he will attend the Israeli Prime Minister’s March 3 speech to a joint session of Congress. Dozens of House Democrats are also privately signaling that they may refuse to attend the address.
Controversy began last month when House Speaker John Boehner and the GOP leadership extended the invitation to Netanyahu. The visit was not cleared?by?the White House in advance, as is the usual protocol. It is widely believed that the Israeli PM will focus on lobbying members of Congress to oppose the Obama Administration’s high-level talks over the freezing and dismantling of Iran’s budding nuclear weapons program, which Israel says is an existential threat to the Jewish state.
President Obama will not meet with Netanyahu while the prime minister is in Washington, but the Administration says that is out of concern that such a meeting might send the wrong signals so close to an election in Israel. President Obama told CNN:
“I’m declining to meet with him simply because our general policy is, we don’t meet with any world leader two weeks before their election, I think that’s inappropriate, and that’s true with some of our closest allies.”
Israel has attempted to tamp down any talk of Netanyahu’s visit being in any way coordinated with the House GOP or its leadership. An official said earlier this week:
?We appreciate the great bipartisan support for Israel in Congress and hope that members of Congress will be willing to listen to the prime minister on an issue that threatens America’s national security and Israel’s very survival.”
No matter what the reasons for or the repercussions of Netanyahu’s speech may be, it seems likely he will not be speaking to a full house when he looks out on the House chamber.