Ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scheduled speech before Congress on Tuesday, the White House initiated a full-tilt public relations battle against the Israeli leader, both publicly and behind the scenes. Yet despite that lobbying by the Obama administration to dissuade some Democrats from attending Netanyahu’s speech before Congress, more than 75% of Democrats are defying the President, and plan to attend, whether out of cowardice or principle.
It’s hard to know which. Some, like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), are attending, but are angry at Netanyahu and the Republicans for putting them in this position. It is a poor reflection on the President’s foreign policy that his own party has to choose between a long-standing ally and the President’s reputation.
The latest headline, as this column is published, states that 55 Democrats to skip Netanyahu speech to Congress. Considering that there are 188 Democrats in the House of Representatives and 46 U.S. senators who caucus as Democrats (including two Independents), that is still less than a quarter of all congressional Democrats. This Congress, the 114th, has the largest Republican majority since the Congress of 1929 to 1931.
The New York Times reported on Monday about the “uninvited problems” that Netanyahu’s speech brings for Jewish Democrats, and refers to the “bruising political showdown” that his visit has initiated. But the paper’s readers are left with the impression that the blame lies with Republican House Speaker John Boehner (OH) and Netanyahu, not President Obama and his administration’s ongoing opposition to the speech.
“Mr. Boehner—seemingly ready to try to separate Jewish voters from the Democratic Party they have long favored—remains resolute about his decision,” reports Jonathan Weisman for the Times. “He is also open about his hope that Mr. Netanyahu’s address will undermine the Obama administration’s efforts to negotiate an accord with Iran that halts that nation’s nuclear program.”
“But to many Democrats, this time Mr. Netanyahu appears to have gone out of his way to alienate them,” reports Weisman.
On Monday, President Obama’s controversial Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Powers, told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that “The United States of America will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. Period.” The use of the word “period” at the end of her sentence, for the purpose of emphasis, was an unfortunate reminder of President Obama’s repeated promise that “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. Period” How did that turn out? It became PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year.
Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to AIPAC after Powers, and assured the world that he had no intention of insulting President Obama, and that their differences were similar to a family feud. But an Israeli news outlet is reporting that as a result of Netanyahu’s opposition to the Iran deal, the U.S. has cut off intelligence cooperation with Israel “in terms of intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program.”
The opposition to Netanyahu’s speech has filtered down directly from the White House, even if the mainstream media refuse to report on this fact. They prefer to pin the blame for the current conflict all on the Israeli Prime Minister, and on Speaker of the House John Boehner (R\-OH). The media continue to misreport the timeline of events leading up to Netanyahu’s acceptance of the invitation from Boehner to speak before Congress. The White House was made aware of the invitation before Netanyahu accepted, as even The New York Times has acknowledged in a correction.
In early February the UK Daily Mail reported, “Two prominent black Democrats in the House of Representatives are vowing to skip Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress next month, a move that a White House insider says was put in motion by the Obama administration.”
“I’m not saying the president called anyone personally,” David Martosko quotes the anonymous White House staffer as saying. “But yeah, the White House sent a message to some at the CBC [Congressional Black Caucus] that they should suddenly be very upset about the speech.”
The administration went on an outright “offensive against Netanyahu” at the end of February, according to Politico, through the words of Susan Rice, Press Secretary Josh Earnest, and Secretary of State John Kerry. But the day before Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, members of the Obama administration attempted to tone down their criticism a bit. Press Secretary Earnest said that the President believes each member of Congress should decide for him or herself whether or not to attend.
Vice President Joe Biden also will not attend the speech.
Despite all this, the vast majority of Congressional Democrats have chosen their side: Israel, and Netanyahu. More than 75% of Democratic Members from both chambers will be attending Netanyahu’s speech, as of this writing. It also turns out that many of those boycotting are among the most extreme left-wingers in Congress—no surprise there. As a matter of fact, 26 of the 55 who have announced they are not attending are either members of the so-called “Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC)” or of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), or both. The DSA no longer publishes a list of its Congressional members, but there are many who are in both groups. Some even hold leadership positions within these groups.
Bret Stephens makes the case in The Wall Street Journal that “The Democratic Party is on the cusp of abandoning the state of Israel.” He notes that “Over the weekend, a defensive White House put out a statement noting the various ways it has supported Israel. It highlighted the 1985 U.S.-Israel free-trade agreement and a military assistance package concluded in 2007. When Barack Obama must cite the accomplishments of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush as evidence of his pro-Israel bona fides, you know there is a problem.”
Here is the list of those who will not attend PM Netanyahu’s speech, according to The Hill: Those who are members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have CPC after their name. All are Democrats, or caucus with the Democrats.
SENATE – 8 members
Sen. Al Franken (Minn.)
Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.)
Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) CPC
Sen. Brian Schatz (Hawaii)
Sen. Martin Heinrich (N.M.)
Sen .Elizabeth Warren (Mass.)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.)
HOUSE – 47 members
Rep. Karen Bass (Calif.) CPC
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.)
Rep. Corrine Brown (Fl.) CPC
Rep. G.K. Butterfield (N.C.)
Rep. Lois Capps (Cal.)
Rep. Andre Carson (Ind.) CPC
Rep. Katherine Clark (Mass.) CPC
Rep. Lacy Clay (Mo.)
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (Mo.)
Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.)
Rep. Steve Cohen (Tenn.) CPC
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (N.J.) CPC
Rep. John Conyers (Mich.) CPC
Rep. Danny Davis (Ill.) CPC
Rep. Peter DeFazio (Ore.) CPC
Rep. Diana DeGette (Colo.)
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (Tex.)
Rep. Donna Edwards (Md.)
Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.) Co-Chair, CPC
Rep. Chaka Fattah (Pa.) CPC
Rep. Marcia Fudge (Ohio) CPC
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.) Co-Chair, CPC
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (Ill.) CPC
Rep. Denny Heck (Wash.)
Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (Tex.)
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (Texas) CPC
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (Ohio)
Rep. Rick Larsen (Wash.)
Rep. Barbara Lee (Calif.) Whip, CPC
Rep. John Lewis (Ga.) CPC
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.)
Rep. Betty McCollum (Minn.)
Rep. Jim McDermott (Wash.) CPC
Rep. Jim McGovern (Mass.) CPC
Rep. Jerry McNerney (Calif.)
Rep. Gregory Meeks (N.Y.)
Rep. Gwen Moore (Wisc.) CPC
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.) (non-voting Member) CPC
Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas)
Rep. Chellie Pingree (Maine) CPC
Rep. David Price (N.C.)
Rep. Charles Rangel (N.Y.) CPC
Rep. Cedric Richmond (La.)
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) Vice Chair, CPC
Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.) CPC
Rep. Mike Thompson (Calif.)
Rep. John Yarmuth (Ky.)
[Correction: The list of senators has been corrected to show that Sen. Martin Heinrich is from New Mexico, not North Dakota, as previously indicated.]