APN Legislative Round-Up: February 6, 2015

1.  Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2.  Backlash Still Building over Boehner’s Bibi Bid
3.  Members on the Bibi Invite, Possible Boycott
4.  Hearings
5. Members on the Record

 

Of note:

Latest APN Action Alert: Tell Your Elected Officials: Oppose March 3rd Netanyahu Speech before Congress

 

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

No new bills or resolution this week (yippee!)

Letters:

(SUPPORTING BIBI SPEECH TO CONGRESS) Franks et al:  On 2/3 Tea Partier Franks (R-AZ), along with Zeldin (R-NY, and the only Jewish Republican in Congress), and Lance (R-NJ), circulated a Dear Colleague seeking cosigners on a letter to Speaker Boehner supporting his invitation to Netanyahu to address Congress.  The letter to Boehner focuses on the threat of Iran and the importance of hearing from Netanyahu about this threat, noting that “Two decades ago, on July 10, 1996, Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress, warning of the danger that Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons and sponsorship of terrorism posed to world security…”  What Netanyahu actually told Congress 20 years ago was that the deadline for preventing both Iran and Iraq from acquiring nuclear weapons was “extremely close” – an assertion that raises questions about how Netanyahu measures time, how good his intelligence was (and is) on the issue, and his honesty.  The letter to Boehner concludes, stating, “At this time, Congress must unequivocally demonstrate to Israel's enemies that there is no daylight between the United States and its embattled friend and ally” – ignoring the fact that by turning Israel into a partisan, wedge issue, Boehner and Netanyahu are themselves directly responsible for doing the opposite.

(MORE AID TO JORDON TO FIGHT ISIL) SASC letter:  On 2/4, Senate Armed Services Committee Chair McCain (R-AZ) and Ranking Member Reed (D-RI) sent a letter to Secretary of State Kerry and Secretary of Defense Hagel, signed by all members of the SASC.  The letter calls for urgent U.S. support to Jordan to help it in the fight against ISIL, and comes after the murder of a Jordanian pilot by ISIL and a meeting between SASC members and the Jordanian King Abdullah.  The letter notes, “Jordan is seeking to obtain aircraft parts, additional night vision equipment, and precision munitions that the King feels he needs to secure his border and robustly execute combat air missions into Syria.  We understand the need to ensure the integrity of third party transfers, the protection of critical U.S. technologies, and our commitment to the maintenance of a Qualitative Military Edge (QME) for Israel.  However, Jordan’s situation and the cohesiveness of the coalition demands we move with speed to ensure they receive the military materiel they require for ongoing operations against ISIL.  We believe that Jordan’s requests need to be addressed expeditiously, commensurate with their urgent operational needs in the fight against ISIL.  As such, we urge you to adjudicate the cases associated with various requests made by the Jordanian Armed Forces with a sense of urgency reflecting the pace of events, and in the context of their determined resolve to fight ISIL and the strengthening of our bilateral relationship and security cooperation.” 

(UNSC RESOLUTIONS & HEZBOLLAH) Meadows-Meng letter: On 2/2, Reps. Meadows (R-NC) and Meng (D-NY) led a bipartisan letter, cosigned by 26 others members of HFAC, to UNSYG Ban Ki-moon.  The letter blames recent Hezbollah attacks against Israel and the rearming of Hezbollah inside Lebanon on the failure to implement UN Security Council resolutions dealing with Hezbollah.  The letter requests “details as to 1) how the UN and UNFIL will increase cooperation with the LAF in pursuing compliance with Security Council Resolutions 1550 and 1701; and 2) what steps the UN and UNIFIL will take independent of the LAF to respond to the violence and rearming of Hezbollah.”  Meadows’ press release is here.

 

2.  Backlash Still Building over Boehner’s Bibi Bid

This week saw new developments in the Boehner-Bibi drama (for a good summary, at least prior to the most recent developments, see here).

Public support for Boehner/Bibi in Congress seems to weaken:  There were a few voices in Congress continuing to defend Boehner and support the March 3 Netanyahu speech.  The most fulsome of these was the Franks et al letter (discussed above).  A 2/1 statement from Ryan (R-WI) calling the invitation “appropriate,” with Ryan commenting, “I don’t know if I would say it’s antagonizing…I think we would like to hear from the leader of Israel on his thoughts on Iran.”  A 2/4 statement from McCain (R-AZ) noted that “I think that would not be appropriate treatment of the prime minister of Israel [for Democrats to refuse to attend the speech], and I'm sure they can respond to their constituents as to why they would do that…”  These and similar statements in the media seem to represent a lessening of energy on the “defend Boehner/Bibi” side of the equation, as compared to the previous week or so, which saw numerous statements from House members, as noted in last week’s Round-Up (Barletta (R-PA), Olson (R-TX), Westmoreland (R-GA), Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Burgess (R-TX), Turner (R-OH), Boehner (R-OH), Boehner (R-OH).

Opposition in Congress to Bibi speech grows:  At the same time, a growing number of members of both the House and Senate are taking public stands objecting to, or expressing concern about, the invitation and speech – and either stating, or intimating, that they and others may not attend the speech if it goes forward at this time.  A sampling of such statements (dating to the beginning of this mess) are included in Section 3, below. 

Adding the Pope to the mix:  A new twist in the story emerged on 2/5, with news that the Pope had accepted an invitation from Boehner to address Congress in September.  Defenders of Boehner and the Netanyahu invitation pounced on this news as evidence that there is nothing out of the ordinary about the Netanyahu invitation, since the invitation to the Pope was not cleared in advance with the President.  In reality, the two invitations have very little in common.  Unlike Netanyahu, the Pope is not being invited to Congress for the expressly partisan purpose of lobbying against the White House policy on a critical U.S. national security issue and the most delicate time possible.  Unlike Netanyahu, the timing of the Pope’s speech does not appear to raise questions about Congressional meddling in internal papal politics.  And finally, the announcement of the scheduled speech is the very opposite of a surprise – to Democrats or the White House.  Boehner’s invitation to the pope was issued very publicly back in March 2014 (press release here) – an invitation that specifically states that it is “on behalf of the bipartisan leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.“  At the time, it was widely reported that the invitation came from both Boehner and Pelosi, with the Washington Post writing, “House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) issued the invitation as the constitutional officer of Congress, the position that formally invites the president each year to give the State of the Union address. He did so on behalf of House and Senate leaders; minutes after the announcement, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she was pleased to join in making the invitation.”

Bibi throws Boehner under the bus?  Finally, yet another tantalizing new twist emerged in this already deliciously twisty tale, when a senior Israel official – who is a senior member of Netanyahu’s Likud party – came out accusing Boehner of  misleading Netanyahu into thinking that Democrats were on board with the invitation from the beginning.  It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Netanyahu and those around him, having recognized that they have failed to convince anyone that this invitation is anything other than a reckless partisan stunt, may now be shifting tactics and throwing Boehner under the bus.  Reuters, which broke the story, reported:

“A senior Israeli official suggested on Friday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been misled into thinking an invitation to address the U.S. Congress on Iran next month was fully supported by the Democrats. Netanyahu was invited by the Republican speaker of the house, John Boehner, to address Congress on March 3, an invitation Boehner originally described as bipartisan.  The move angered the White House, which is upset about the event coming two weeks before Israeli elections and the fact that Netanyahu, who has a testy relationship with President Obama, is expected to be critical of U.S. policy on Iran. ‘It appears that the speaker of Congress made a move, in which we trusted, but which it ultimately became clear was a one sided move and not a move by both sides,’ Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told 102 FM Tel Aviv Radio on Friday. The interviewer asked if that meant Netanyahu had been ‘misled’ into believing Boehner's invitation was bipartisan, a characterisation Hanegbi did not contest.”

It remains to be seen whether any of the people angry about the invitation will actually believe this very much belated explanation/excuse for this mess.  It also remains to be seen if this statement is intended to prepare the way for Netanyahu to cancel his appearance.  And finally, it remains to be seen if Republicans will quietly accept their leader being painted as incompetent, or duplicitous, or both, in order to save Netanyahu’s political hide.

 

3.  Members on the Bibi Invite, Possible Boycott

 As noted above, a growing number of House and Senate members are going on the record regarding the concerns about the scheduled Netanyahu address to Congress and on the question of whether they or their colleagues might decide to skip the event.  What follows is a sampling of such statements; for a more comprehensive list of statements (Members of Congress, Administration, former U.S. diplomats and military officers, current and former Israeli officials) and editorials, is available here.

 Senate Statements Opposing/Concerned about Bibi Speech

 Minority Leader Reid (D-NV):

On the question of refusing to attend the speech, “Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said he plans to go but said it should be a ‘personal decision’ by senators as to what they do.”

 On the invitation itself:   “‘It’s hurting you.’ Mr. Reid said he told Mr. Netanyahu. ‘I said: You have to understand this. I’m not telling you what to do or what not to do, but you have to understand the background here from my perspective.’… Mr. Reid said he had told Mr. Netanyahu that he believed Mr. Boehner had been out of bounds in offering the speaking invitation. ‘This was not the right thing to do,’ Mr. Reid said.”

Durbin (D-OH): 

On the question of refusing to attend the speech: “Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat in Senate leadership, said that many rank-and-file Democrats want to skip the address to show their support for Obama and to oppose what they consider a blatantly political move by Republicans and Netanyahu. Durbin said Democrats are discussing how they would behave during the address so that they would not be viewed by an international audience as overtly supporting Netanyahu's election or undercutting talks with Iran.  ‘They’ve been talking to me about what is the right way to react to what could turn out to be a divisive event,’ Durbin said, indicating that even as a member of leadership he has not decided whether to attend. ‘I haven’t made up my mind.’”

 On the question of refusing to attend the speech: “‘Colleagues of mine are very concerned about it and I'm troubled by it. I won't name names, of course,’ said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat who is also a close ally of President Barack Obama. ‘It's a serious mistake by the speaker and the prime minister. The relationship between Israel and the United States has been so strong, so bipartisan.’  Durbin said he hasn't decided whether to attend the March 3 speech to a joint meeting of Congress.  ‘One of my closest friends -- one of the strongest supporters of Israel -- described this Boehner tactic as a disaster, a terrible disaster for Israel,’ Durbin said, referring to Republican House Speaker John Boehner who invited Netanyahu. ‘I won't speak for any other members but they've been talking to me about what is the right way to react to what could turn out to be a divisive event.’”

 On the question of refusing to attend the speech:  On the question of boycotting the speech, “I haven't made a final decision on that, but I am very troubled…I don't think it helps our relationship with Israel, and I think it was a very short-sighted decision by the speaker and the prime minister.”

Feinstein (D-CA):

On the invitation & possibly not attending speech: “My concern is that it’s obviously political, and it uses the backdrop of the United States House of Representatives, and the Senate and the House, two weeks before a political campaign, and violates all the protocol that’s always existed in terms of working this out with the president…"   On question of whether or not to attend, “’There are people that are discussing that, no question,’ Feinstein said, adding of her own thinking: ‘I haven’t decided.’”

On the invitation itself:   “Inviting Prime Minister Netanyahu without consulting the administration is clearly a breach of protocol and an unwelcome injection of partisan politics into our foreign policy. It puts the United States in the middle of Israel’s election, which is highly inappropriate. I also believe imposing additional sanctions on Iran in the midst of negotiations — which is what Netanyahu will reportedly discuss — would collapse the negotiations and ruin a historic diplomatic opportunity. Imposing sanctions now is reckless and dangerous.”

Sen. Menendez (D-NJ):  “’I respect their views,’ he said of those considering boycott. ‘From my perspective, if he is here I will probably be attending.’

Sen. Schumer (D-NY): “Schumer said he will attend, but in his phone conversation he delivered a stern message to Netanyahu: ‘Israel, for its entire existence, has depended on a bipartisan support for its foreign policy, bipartisan support among Democrats and Republicans. . . . I wasn’t going to tell him to undo the invitation, but he had to do everything he could to show that the policy stays bipartisan.’

Coons (D-DE):

On the timing of the speech and whether he will attend:  “Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, would not say if he would attend. ‘One of the most important pillars of the enduring, strong relationship between the United States and Israel is it has always been strongly bipartisan and I am concerned by some of the elements of the timing of the speech,’ he said.

 On the timing of the speech and whether he will attend:  “Sen. Chris Coons, who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, said, ‘I’ll be weighing what’s the best thing to do.  I remain hopeful that his address would be delayed until after their election…’”

Manchin (D-WV):

On the invitation:  “’It didn’t show a lot of class,’ Sen Joe Manchin (D-WV), usually a frequent critic of the WH, said of Speaker John Boehner’s invitation and the acceptance.

On Netanyahu accepting the invitation:“For the prime minister to accept made it extremely political, knowing how the invitation played out.”

King (I-ME): “Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, said he is still weighing whether to show up. ‘I think it's inappropriate both from in terms of our country and their country,’ he said.”

Kaine (D-VA): Sen. Tim Kaine, who serves on both the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees and recently traveled to Israel, said it’s ‘too early’ to decide whether he’ll attend or not. ‘It is not the norm to do this right before an election and it is being widely reported in the Israeli press as the U.S. expressing some kind of a preference,’ Kaine said.”

Nelson (D-FL):  “When asked whether he’d attend, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said he’d ‘figure that out later.’”

House Statements Opposing/Concerned about Bibi Speech

 Pelosi (D-CA):

On the invitation:  “In terms of invitations to speak to Congress — the Prime Minister has spoken two times. The only person who has spoken more is Winston Churchill… It’s a serious, big honor that we extend. That it should be extended two weeks before an election in a country, without collaboration among the leaders of Congress, and without collaboration with the White House, is not appropriate. It is not appropriate.”

On the question of members boycotting the speech, “I don't think anybody should use the word ‘boycott.’ …When these heads of state come, people are here doing their work, they're trying to pass legislation, they're meeting with their constituents and the rest. It's not a high-priority item for them.”

Jewish members:  “Seven Jewish Democratic members of Congress who met Wednesday in Rep. Steve Israel’s (D-N.Y.) office — Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch of Florida, Jerry Nadler and Nita Lowey of New York, Sander Levin of Michigan and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois — lit into [Israeli ambassador to the United States Ron] Dermer. The invitation, they said, was making them choose between Netanyahu and Obama, making support for Israel into a partisan issue that they never wanted it to be, and forcing them to consider a boycott of the speech. One member, according to someone in the room, went so far as to tell Dermer it was hard to believe him when he said he didn’t realize the partisan mess he was making by going around Obama to get Boehner to make the invitation.”

McDermott (D-WA):  “It's a campaign stunt, and I'm not working for his campaign. I'm not a standing stooge.”  [Won’t attend speech].

McGovern (D-MA): “What will be remembered here is the slight against our president and the partisan political nature of it, and I don't know who's served by that.”

Huffman (D-CA): “…I strongly object to Speaker Boehner’s unilateral invitation for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress on March 3rd.   The Speaker’s refusal to confer with President Obama or congressional Democrats on this matter is a clear breach of protocol. Moreover, the timing and context of the speech smacks of political opportunism: an attempt to undermine the President in the middle of delicate nuclear negotiations with Iran, while inappropriately projecting political support for Mr. Netanyahu in the middle of Israel’s election. Our foreign policy should be above political stunts, and the longstanding relationship between the United States and Israel deserves more respectful and responsible behavior than what we have seen from those who so recklessly orchestrated this event… I call upon Speaker Boehner and Ambassador Dermer to do the right thing and postpone this speech. Once the election in Israel is over and the current P5+1 negotiating deadline has passed, they should respect protocol and confer with President Obama and congressional Democrats on a time for the Prime Minister of Israel to address a joint session of Congress. ” 

Schiff (D-CA):I think this was a terrible mistake by the Speaker…I think for us to extend an invitation two weeks before the Israeli election gives Israelis the impression we're trying to meddle in their politics and I also find it extraordinary that a world leader would be invited before the Congress effectively to lobby in favor of a bill that the president opposes…I think it's harmful to the U.S.-Israel relationship. I think it was a very ill-considered decision by the Speaker.”

Ellison (D-MN): “Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, who co-authored a letter to Boehner urging him to reschedule the speech told CNN he hasn't made a decision yet on whether he will attend. But he said, ‘This is not about the prime minister, this is about the speaker. We shouldn't be interfering in a foreign election -- which we are doing -- and we certainly shouldn't be inviting a foreign leader from Canada, Palau, Peru or Israel to rebut our President on a foreign policy matter,’ Ellison said.”

Cohen (D-TN): “Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) said he’s considered not going and has discussed it with his colleagues.  ‘I just don’t know if it’s the proper response or not,’ he said. ‘But I just think it’s a mistake and it might be a proper protest. But I haven’t made that definite decision.’ Cohen added, ‘With his election being so soon, and with the negotiations we have going on with Iran, he’s put himself in a political situation here that’s probably adverse to the best interest of Israel.’”

Nadler (D-NY): "…Speaker Boehner, in extending an invitation to address Congress at this time and without appropriate consultation with the Administration and both parties in the House and Senate as diplomatic protocol demands, has shown his true colors.  He has demonstrated that he is willing to play childish games with our most serious questions of war and peace, and is equally willing to put partisan advantage over Israel’s security.  That the Speaker would seek to undermine the historic bi-partisan support for Israel in this way is a an unprecedented, reprehensible act worthy of condemnation by both sides of the aisle, and from all friends of Israel...”

Lewis (D-GA):  “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.”  [And won’t attend speech].

Butterfield (D-NC):  “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.’”  “…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.” [And won’t attend speech].

Blumenauer (D-OR): “Blumenauer…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.’”  On 1/29, Blumenauer authored an oped, published in the Huffington Post, entitled, “Speaker Boehner, Cancel Netanyahu's Address to Congress.”

Deutch (D-FL):  “Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Middle East subcommittee, accused the speaker of ‘political gamesmanship.’”

Lowenthal (D-CA):  “Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) said he was still ‘torn’ over whether to attend the speech or boycott, saying the conundrum has put lawmakers ‘in a very difficult position….I always respect the right of a president of a nation to come before us, but I think the time is totally inappropriate, just before the Israeli election. …’ Lowenthal said in an interview. ‘It’s a deliberate attempt to try to influence the Israeli election and done right after the State of the Union address in which the president said foreign policy is getting better, and Mr. Boehner wants to demonstrate that things are not getting better.’”

Sherman (D-CA):  “Those of us in the pro-Israel community don’t want to see Israel be a partisan football.” And also this:  “Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who often relishes opportunities to break with the White House on Israel, told Foreign Policy on Wednesday that a delay could be beneficial. ‘Washington is more beautiful during April — you’ve got cherry blossoms,’ he said.”

Yarmuth (D-KY):  “I am totally outraged at Speaker Boehner for doing it, I think it’s, it was deliberately designed to undermine the president — that’s close to subversion…I mean, the president is supposed to be conducting foreign policy, not the Speaker of the House… You know, I’m a Jewish member of Congress, I’m a strong supporter of Israel, but my first obligation is to the Constitution of the United States, not to the Constitution of Israel [sic]. And unfortunately, I think, some of the demands that are made of members by AIPAC and some strong Jewish supporters are that we pay more attention — I guess we defer — to Israel more than we defer to the United States. And that’s another thing, because if he’s going to come over here and say ‘well, my intelligence shows this’ — you know, there’s an implicit, I guess, admission — or not admission, I guess concession — that Israeli intelligence is superior to American intelligence. I’m not ready to sit there and endorse that kind of proposition, and I suspect he will, basically, talk about things like that — you know, try to match their assessment of the situation against ours. And I’m not willing to believe theirs is superior.”

Ellison-Cohen-Waters Dear Colleague:  As reported in last week’s Round-Up, On 1/28, Reps. Ellison (D-MN), Cohen (D-TN) and Waters (D-CA) began circulating a Dear Colleague seeking cosigners on a letter to Speaker Boehner (R-OH).  The letter calls on Boehner to “postpone this invitation until Israelis have cast their ballots and our consideration of the current round of Iran-related legislation has concluded.” 

4.  Hearings

2/12:  The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations and Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa will hold a joint hearing entitled, “The Syrian Humanitarian Crisis: Four Years Later and No End in Sight.” Scheduled witnesses (so far) are:  Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Kelly Tallman Clements; and Acting USAID Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Thomas Staal.

2/11:  The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade (chaired by Ted “and-that’s-the-way-it-is” Poe, R-TX) will hold a hearing entitled, “State Sponsor of Terror: The Global Threat of Iran.”  The uniformly hardline, conservative and neoconservative list of scheduled witnesses is comprised (so far) of:  Frederick Kagan, AEI; Ilan Berman, American Foreign Policy Council; and Tony Badran, Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

2/10:  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a CLOSED meeting (TS/SCI clearances only) where members will receive an update on Iran nuclear negotiations.  Briefers will be a “Senior Official” from the State Department and another “Senior Official” from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.  Additional Briefers may be added….

2/4: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia held a hearing, “The Palestinian Authority’s International Criminal Court Gambit: A True Partner for Peace?”  Witnesses (representing a very limited array of viewpoints on the subject, to say the least) were: Jonathan Schanzer, FDD (testimony); Eugene Konotorvich,  Northwestern University School of Law (testimony); Danielle Pletka, AEI (testimony); and David Makovsky, WINEP (testimony).  Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen’s (R-FL) opening statement is available here.  Video of the hearing is available here.  For more, see:  The Hill 2/6 (Josh Reubner): Activists protest one-sided hearing on Palestine and the ICC; and The Tower 2/5: Experts Warn House Committee That Palestinian Court Gambit is Undermining Peace Efforts.

 

5. Members on the Record

Cohen (D-TN) 2/5: Presser - Congressman Cohen Meets with Israeli Ambassador to United States

Rogers (R-AL) 2/4: Iran Fires Up Rocket Program While Obama Weakens U.S. Missile Defense

Toomey (R-PA) /4: With Iran, Congress Must Provide Urgency

Kirk (R-IL) 2/4: Allowing Iran to Aggressively Advance Uranium Enrichment Equates to a "Bad Deal"

Portman (R-OH) 2/3: Presser - Portman and Bipartisan Group Introduce Legislation to Stop Iran's Nuclear Threat (S. 269)

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