WASHINGTON (AP) — Three prominent House Democrats are vowing to skip Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress next month, saying they disapprove of House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to invite the Israeli leader without consulting President Barack Obama.
Reps. John Lewis of Georgia, G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon said they won’t attend Netanyahu’s March 3 speech.
The White House also hinted Thursday that Vice President Joe Biden may not attend Netanyahu’s speech, which is expected to focus on Iran. Spokesman Josh Earnest said Biden takes “very seriously” his responsibilities as Senate president, including his ceremonial duty to attend joint sessions of Congress. However, Earnest noted that Biden missed a joint session in 2011 because he was traveling abroad.
Earnest said the vice president’s travel schedule for early March has not been finalized.
He told reporters that Obama “does believe it is up to individual members of Congress to make their own decision about whether or not to attend.”
Lewis, a hero of the civil rights movement, said Thursday that Boehner’s unilateral invitation to Netanyahu was “an affront to the president and the State Department” that cannot be ignored. Butterfield, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Thursday he was “very disappointed that the speaker would cause such a ruckus” among members of Congress. He called the speaker’s actions “unprecedented.”
Blumenauer, a well-known liberal and advocate of alternative energy, called on Boehner last week to cancel the joint session with Netanyahu. If the speech goes forward, “I will refuse to be part of a reckless act of political grandstanding,” Blumenauer said.
The Constitution vests the responsibility for foreign affairs in the president, Blumenauer said, adding that “it’s deeply troubling that the speaker is willing to undercut diplomacy in exchange for theatrics on the House floor.”
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Thursday that “support for Israel has always been a bipartisan issue, and it always should be.”
Butterfield also criticized Netanyahu, saying that by accepting Boehner’s invitation without talking to Obama, the prime minister had “politicized” his visit to the United States.
Netanyahu’s speech is expected to focus largely on Iran — and its nuclear program — amid delicate negotiations involving the United States, other Western powers and Tehran. Netanyahu’s acceptance of Boehner’s invitation has infuriated the White House and many congressional Democrats.
Netanyahu is a critic of administration negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, and some Democrats fear the Israeli leader will use the opportunity to embarrass Obama and further his own campaign for re-election.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said she plans to attend the speech.
“It is really sad that it has come to this,” Pelosi said Thursday, adding that “as of now, it is my intention to go.”
Butterfield and Lewis both said their decisions to skip the speech were personal and were not part of an organized boycott.
“I can emphatically say it is not an organized effort,” Butterfield said, adding: “The only thing I can control is my attendance.”
AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace and Associated Press writers Nedra Pickler and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.
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