APN Legislative Round-Up: February 13, 2015

1.  Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2.  The Bibi Speech Political Storm Continues
3.  Members on the Bibi Invite, Possible Boycott
4.  Hearings
5. Members on the Record

 

Of note:

AIPAC’s Policy Conference March 1-3 – Conference website; speakers; schedule
New CRS Reports:  January 28, 2015: Iran Sanctions; January 26, 2015: Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses
New RAND report: Congress's Role in Implementing a Nuclear Agreement

 

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

(IRAN DEAL OVERSIGHT/VETO)  S. XXX:  Credible rumors began circulating this week that long-impending new Iran legislation – to be introduced by Senator Corker (R-TN) and seeking to legislate Congressional oversight/veto over any Iran deal – would be marked up in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before the end of the month.  It is anticipated that Corker, chair of the SFRC, may be finding support for his effort from ranking member Menendez (D-NJ), as well as, possibly, from Kaine (D-VA).  Text of the new Corker bill is reportedly still being tweaked; as noted in the 1/9/15 edition of the Round-Up, this legislation is expected to be similar to legislation Corker introduced last year (S. 2650), which hit a wall (see the 7/25/14 edition of the Round-Up for details).  It should be noted that many experts consider this legislative effort or ore even more dangerous to the success of Iran talks and reaching an agreement than the pending sanctions bill, as explained in this excellent analysis from RAND and in this excellent brief from the Arms Control Association.  Regarding timing, it is worth noting that a markup in the SFRC before the end of February would set this bill up nicely to be a focus of AIPAC lobbying during its policy conference (AIPAC lobby day is March 3, the same day Netanyahu is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress). 

(TRYING TO OUTLAW BOYCOTTS/PRESSURE AGAINST SETTLEMENTS) HR 825:  Introduced 2/10 by Roskam (R-IL) and Vargas (D-CA), the “United States-Israel Trade and Commercial Enhancement Act.” While text of the bill has still not been published in the Congressional Record as of this writing, Roskam has posted the text on his website, here.  The bill was referred to the Committee on Ways and Means, as well as the Committees on Foreign Affairs, Financial Services, and the Judiciary.   Roskam’s bill summary is here (which completely glosses over the bill’s true focus on protecting settlements).  A letter commending the bill from former Israeli Ambassador (and current Knesset candidate) Michael Oren is here.  Here is a quick analysis of the bill:

What is the purpose of this bill?  The avowed purpose of the legislation is to fight anti-Israel BDS.  However, in effect the bill is about discouraging and perhaps eventually criminalizing economic pressure targeting settlements and the occupation – as evidenced by the fact that the bill is peppered with references not just to Israel but to “Israeli-controlled territories” – code for settlements and the occupation.  Given that all significant actions taken by the EU and European countries that relate to economic pressure on Israel have focused, exclusively, on settlements and the occupation, it is clear that protecting Israel from pressure on settlements is the real goal of this bill. Indeed, rather than being called anti-BDS legislation, this bill should more properly be called a pro-settlements initiative. 

What would it actually do?  It (a) requires far-reaching reporting by the U.S. government and individuals; (b) requires the U.S. to raise objections to Israel-related boycotts and similar things with allies; and (c) seeks to protect US persons and companies from prosecution under foreign courts being recognized by US courts when it comes to business with Israel or settlements.

What kind of activity does it actually target?  The bill repeatedly refers to "politically motivated" boycotts, etc.  The term “politically motivated” is not defined in the “definitions” section of the bill, so the intent of the drafters is open to debate.  What is not open to debate is the fact that the kind of actions by the EU and European nations that this bill is ostensibly trying to target – for example, the EU guidelines regarding settlements – are not “politically motivated” by any rational understanding of the term.  Rather, such actions are grounded in the LAWS governing the EU and the various European nation – laws that nobody has ever suggested or could reasonably suggest were drafted with a politically motivated goal of targeting Israel (indeed, if anything could be said to be “politically motivated,” it is the fact that these laws have for so long gone unimplemented with respect to Israel and the occupation).  The formulation in this legislation would similarly not appear to apply to US companies or organizations - say, pension funds or say, PC-USA – which determine that investing in specific companies or participation in specific projects conflicts with their legally-adopted organizational or corporate guidelines for global conduct, due to activities related to settlements and the occupation.

If adopted, would this imperil trade agreements with Europe and other trading partners?  Possibly.  The implication of this bill is that Congress wants to use trade agreements to impinge on the sovereignty of our trading partners (by demanding that they ignore or change their own laws to suit a controversial Congressionally-mandated foreign policy position) and to in effect strong-arm our allies into adopting policies vis-à-vis not only Israel but the settlements that are anathema to the positions and principles of those countries and their citizens. And trading partners would be foolish not to assume that this bill is just the first step in what will be an escalating effort to use U.S. law to force them to toe Congress’ allegedly pro-Israel, but in reality pro-settlement, line.

Will this bill go anywhere?  It’s too soon to tell.  According to the 9/9/14 Buzzfeed report, AIPAC was directly involved in the original drafting of this bill (“The most powerful pro-Israel lobbying organization, AIPAC, is working on drafting legislation that would aim to counter the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, two sources familiar with the situation told BuzzFeed News.”), but AIPAC declined to comment officially at that time and now that the bill is back in the spotlight, has not yet done so this time around, either.  As of this writing, the bill is also not featured on the legislative agenda section of AIPAC’s webpage.  Some suggest that this bill may become the Israel-focused element of AIPAC’s lobbying agenda for its upcoming policy conference in March – time will tell.  Regardless, it seems likely that some members of Congress will welcome an easy opportunity to take what is being framed as a pro-Israel stand against BDS (as opposed to what this really is, which is stand in favor of settlements).  And even if this bill fails to move as a freestanding bill, it would make sense to watch for an effort to attach a version or part of this bill to FY16 ForOps legislation.

Also see: 

US bill seeks to tie massive trade pact to EU rejection of BDS (Times of Israel 2/10/15)
New bill in Congress prioritizes fight against BDS in EU trade talks (Jerusalem Post 2/10/15)
Pro-Israel Activists Aim To Block Boycott Movement With Legislation (BuzzFeed, 9/9/14).

(ENHANCE US-JORDAN DEFENSE COOPERATION) HR 907: Introduced 2/12 by Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and 3 cosponsors, “To improve defense cooperation between the United States and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.  The press release announcing the bill is here; Al-Monitor’s report on the bill is here.  As noted in last week’s Round-Up, on 2/4, Senate Armed Services Committee members sent a letter to Secretary of State Kerry and Secretary of Defense Hagel urging increased aid to Jordan to help in the fight against ISIL.  Notably, increased defense cooperation with Jordan may require a reassessment of the U.S. policy that guarantees Israel’s “qualitative military edge” (known as the QME) – a policy that may be slowing the ability of the U.S. to aid Jordan.  Further reporting on that twist in the story, also from Al-Monitor, is here.

(SENATE GOP WELCOMES BIBI!) S. Res. 76: Introduced 2/12 by Cornyn (R-TX) and 50 GOP colleagues (no Democrats), “A resolution welcoming the Prime Minister of Israel to the United States for his address to a joint session of Congress.”  Referred to Senate committee. Resolution text (not yet in the Congressional Record) and Cornyn statement introducing it, are here. Cornyn’s press release on the resolution is here.

(GOP JEWISH MEMBER DEFENDS JEWS AGAINST OBAMA & ISIS) HR XXX:  This week, the Obama Administration sent to Congress a draft of a bill authorizing the use of military force (AUMF) against ISIS.  The text of that draft is available here.   The debate over the AUMF, which will likely go on for some time, will involve serious questions, including where would the president be authorized to carry out military actions?  For how long?  Against whom?  What kind of commitment of U.S. forces?  But for Rep. Zeldin (R-NY), the sole Jewish GOP member of Congress, there is a bigger immediate concern: Zeldin is outraged over the Obama Administration’s failure to recognize – in the non-binding, introductory “whereas” clauses of the bill – that Jews are one of the groups targeted by ISIL.  In media statements Zeldin points to the attacks in Paris as evidence that Jews (presumably everywhere) are as threatened by ISIL as those unfortunate Muslims, Yazidis, etc, who are being brutalized and massacred in areas actually under ISIL’s control.  He also implies that the Obama Administration deliberately didn’t include Jews because it wants to downplay rising global anti-Semitism and threats to Jews.  Going one better, Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal suggested that the omission was a sign of the Obama Administration’s hostility toward Israel and Jews. The RJC quickly jumped on board, issuing a statement demanding that the AUMF be amended to include Jews as a group threatened by ISIL, although in contrast to Zeldin, who invokes the Paris attacks to explain his concern, the RJC release talks about Jews in the Middle East (it is not clear if the RJC is worried about the safety of the tiny Jewish population in Iraq and the Levant, which in fact has so far has not been a specific target of ISIL, perhaps because it is so small as to be nearly non-existen, or if they are implying that Israel is under threat from ISIL, or if they just did an extremely poor job drafting a very short statement).  Media reports on this ridiculous story: CNN,  Daily Caller, JPost  

Letters:

(EXONERATING BIBI, BLAMING BOEHNER) Israel-Deutch-Lowey letter On 2/12, Reps. Israel (D-NY), Deutch (D-FL) and Lowey (D-NY) – all Jewish – sent a letter to House Majority Leader Boehner regarding the invitation for Netanyahu to address Congress.  The letter, which states explicitly that all three will attend the address, focuses 100% on the protocol question, asking for “full transparency” about what happened.  In effect, the letter asks Boehner to either completely absolve Netanyahu of any responsibility for this mess and agree that it was all Boehner’s fault, or to publicly call Israel’s Ambassador in Washington and its Deputy Foreign Minister liars.  The letter does not raise objections to the speech on substantive grounds (i.e., that Netanyahu’s goal is to scuttle Iran diplomacy, or that the speech will be used as a campaign event).

2.  The Bibi Speech Political Storm Continues

This week again saw new developments on the Hill over the drama surrounding Netanyahu’s planned March 3 address to a joint session of Congress.

GOP doubles down in support of Bibi appearance…  The GOP was clearly back on offense this week, with numerous members speaking out in support of the Netanyahu speech, including an almost unbelievably McCarthy-istic speech from Rubio, R-FL, excerpted in section 3, below (in which he suggested that boycotting the speech supports terrorism).  This week also saw the introduction of an unabashedly partisan Senate resolution (S. Res. 76) welcoming Netanyahu’s speech.  At the same time, the ZOA came out with a scorching condemnation of Jewish groups opposing the speech (comparing them to European Jewish leaders who were in denial about the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s) and the RJC launched a petition campaign supporting the speech, presumably meant to counter the very successful “I’m a Jew.  Bibi Does NOT speak for me” petition against the speech led by J Street.

…while Democratic opposition to Bibi speech continues to grow…  More Democrats have come out in the last week criticizing the planned Bibi speech before Congress in March (see Section 3, below, for excerpts – updated from last week).  In addition, more members have gone on the record stating that they will not attend.  The Hill newspaper is keeping up a Whip List of who is going and who is not, here.

From the press:

The Forward 2/11: Why Israel Lobby Is Biggest Casualty of Feud Over Benjamin Netanyahu's Speech
Haaretz+ (Peter Beinart) 2/11: Netanyahu's real victim? The American Jewish establishment
Roll Call 2/10: Democrats Facing Choice Between Obama, Netanyahu
Politico 2/10: Don’t disrespect our president, black lawmakers tell Netanyahu
TPM 2/9: A Tangled Web
JTA 2/9: The little Times correction that couldn’t (make Speechgate go away)
The Forward 2/8: Benjamin Netanyahu Backers Insist He Technically Didn't Snub Barack Obama Over Speech [but they’re wrong]
Haaretz+ 2/8: Scorched earth created by Netanyahu's Congress speech is spreading
The Hill 2/6: Dems lining up to skip Netanyahu
Politico 2/6: Benjamin Netanyahu’s side strikes back

 

3.  Members on the Bibi Invite, Possible Boycott

House and Senate members continue 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 (updated from last week to include new ones); 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.”

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…’”

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.”

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.”

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.”

Leahy (D-VT): Saying he won’t attend the Bibi speech, “The unfortunate way that House leaders have unilaterally arranged this, and then heavily politicized it, has demolished the potential constructive value of this Joint Meeting.  They have orchestrated a tawdry and high-handed stunt that has embarrassed not only Israel but the Congress itself.  It has long been an unwritten rule and practice through the decades that when it comes to American foreign policy, we speak and act thoughtfully, with one voice when we can, with the national interests of the United States as our uppermost consideration, and with caution about the unintended consequences of unilateral actions like this.  They have diminished that valuable precedent.

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.

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.’

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

Sanders (I-VT):  Saying he won’t attend the Bibi speech, “What Speaker Boehner has done is politicize the situation in a way that's unprecedented…A president of the United States, whether that person is a Democrat or Republican, leads us in foreign policy. When you have a situation in the Middle East where the politics and the dangers are so volatile, the idea that the speaker of the House would invite Mr. Netanyahu to Congress without consulting President Obama is a very, very bad idea…It is wrong to give any politician, not just Netanyahu, the stage of a speech before a joint session of Congress as part of his political campaign. That's wrong for politics in Israel. It's wrong for politics anywhere in the world.”

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.’

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.”

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.”

Blumenauer (D-OR) 2/11: “the scheduled March 3 invitation by Speaker Boehner to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress is wrong on many levels. It is a deliberate attempt by the Israeli Prime Minister and the Speaker of the House to undercut an effort at a diplomatic solution to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power… It is outrageous to think that Israel or any country would use Congress as a prop for their highly contested domestic elections. This proposed speech would be right in the middle of a short and heated Israeli election. It is unseemly and counterproductive. One has only to look at Netanyahu's television commercials from his last election--and how he used his appearance before Congress--to see where this is going.  Finally, there is the issue of respect for the Office of the President and the responsibility to conduct foreign policy. I can't imagine what the reaction would have been if Speaker Nancy Pelosi had offered French President Sarkozy an opportunity to lecture Republicans and George Bush about our disastrous policy in Iraq. Republicans would have been apoplectic.     This is not good for Israel either. It is creating a backlash at home for Netanyahu. It is creating heartburn for some of the strongest supporters of Israel in Congress, and it is straining the relationship between the administration and the Government of Israel… It is unnecessary; it is unfortunate; and it is a bad precedent. Joint sessions involving heads of state and other world leaders should advance American interests and be a positive expression of our values and our opportunities, not a partisan or an ideological device. This proposed speech fails that test. The invitation should be withdrawn or rescheduled, or the Israeli Prime Minister, himself, should reconsider. I, for one, have no intention of being part of dignifying this blatant political act with my presence, because it is not good for Congress; it is not good for Israel ; and it is not good for the United States.”

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].

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.’”

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.’”

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.”

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.” 

Hirono (D-HI) 2/10: (Honestly, not clear what she is asking for), “The U.S. Israel relationship is of such great importance that Congress has reaffirmed its bipartisan support of Israel time and again. The question is not whether or not Members should attend Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech next month but whether we should adhere to the usual way that these invitations to address Congress are extended. And that way is to work with the President, who is Constitutionally tasked with conducting foreign policy.  I call upon Speaker Boehner to work with the President to extend this invitation.”

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. ” 

Kaptur (D-OH):  Opposing Bibi speech, “Mr. Speaker, the planned upcoming speech before Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been mishandled from the start. It is being brought forward in a manner that is in total contravention of important diplomatic protocols that exist to support America's strategic interests and, frankly, Israel's. Mr. Speaker, this speech was agreed to unilaterally by the Republican Speaker of this House. He provided no courtesy nor prior notification to the executive branch, as is the standard course of protocol with foreign leaders. This is a fundamental violation of our national unity on foreign policy. Our Constitution assigns the office of the President the right and responsibility to negotiate with foreign governments. To circumvent this imperative and to invite a sitting head of state with no notification to the executive branch does harm to our national interests and our standing throughout the world.  At this time, while our executive branch is pursuing sensitive and promising nuclear negotiations with Iran, why would our Speaker behave so cavalierly? Shouldn't our Nation's executive and legislative branches be unified in matters of foreign policy with such grave ramifications beyond our shores? As this pending visit comes 2 weeks before the Israeli elections, it appears that our Congress will be used as a campaign backstop and backdrop for Israeli election politics. How unfortunate and how wantonly crass and insulting to this Congress and the Constitution we are all sworn to uphold.”

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].

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.’”

McCollum (D-MN) 2/9: Announcing she won’t attend Bibi speech, “As a Member of Congress, the national security interests of the United States are my highest priority. So, I find it very disturbing when a foreign leader in the midst of a campaign for re-election is allowed to address Congress for the sole purpose of undermining a foreign policy priority shared by the Obama administration and our European allies to score political points at home. In my view Mr. Netanyahu’s speech before Congress is nothing more than a campaign event hosted by Speaker Boehner and paid for by the American people. Mr. Netanyahu’s re-election campaign is not my concern, but politicizing and damaging the U.S.-Israeli relationship by aligning his government with Republicans in Congress against President Obama is something I completely reject. For these reasons, I will not be attending his address to a joint session of Congress next month.”

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.”

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...”

Rangel (D-NY): Announcing he won’t attend Bibi speech: “Even though I don't plan to attend, I would hate to be included among those people who are boycotting this…I'm not boycotting. It's about respecting my President on foreign policy… I don't know what good could possibly come out of anybody visiting the United States Congress to take issue with my President. It would be wrong if it was some American that was picked by Democrats or Republicans and it's worse for a person from a foreign government to take issue with a foreign policy that's headed by my President…The whole thing is a nightmare in diplomacy.”  (Rangel 2/11 tweet: “Bibi: If you have a problem with our POTUS's foreign policy meet me at AIPAC but not on the House floor.”)

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.”

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.”

Yarmuth (D-KY):  Announcing he won’t attend Bibi speech, “…Speaker Boehner invited the Prime Minister to address Congress specifically to refute President Obama’s position. I will not contribute to the impression that this body does not support the President of the United States in foreign affairs.  The speech is scheduled less than two weeks before Israeli elections and there is a demonstrable risk that Netanyahu will use the perception of congressional support in his campaign…It will become a matter of score-keeping as to who stands up and applauds and who doesn't…The Prime Minister’s appearance will be construed by many to infer congressional support for his position as opposed to US policy. I do not want my respectful attendance to in any way imply support for his position.  Finally, the speech comes at a delicate period in the negotiations with Iran, coming only three weeks before the deadline established for an agreement on a framework for a program to ensure that Iran does not have the capability to build a nuclear weapon. I sympathize with the Israeli predicament in this situation. They are forced to sit by while six other nations negotiate an agreement that directly affects their national security. They do not have a seat at the table. On the other hand, the only way a potential Iranian nuclear threat can be averted peacefully is if the world powers use the crippling economic sanctions to force a diplomatic solution. All of those countries have an interest in preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s position, if adopted by the United States and the other negotiating parties, would make a diplomatic resolution much more difficult, if not impossible. “

The GOP in Support of Bibi Speech (this week only)

 Rubio (R-FL) 2/12: Floor statement in praise of Israel and…

 …opposing any deal with Iran: “The administration would have us believe that we are in the midst of this negotiation and hopefully we will delay the Iranian nuclear program or extend the amount of time they would need to break out. Let me break it to everyone: They are not going to break out. They are going to sneak out. They will concoct some sort of excuse at some point in the future as to why they need a nuclear weapons program.”
…warning other members of dire repercussions of opposing Bibi’s speech to Congress: “…think about what it says about us as a nation if we are not prepared to make it very clear that before anything else, we are the friends of our allies. What does it say to our other allies around the world, to other nations in other parts of the world that are counting on the American security guarantee for their own existence and their own security, what does it say to Japan and to South Korea and to our allies in NATO, if the United States is prepared to create daylight between us and the State of Israel?”

…suggesting that boycotting Bibi’s speech is tantamount to supporting terrorism against Israel: “…we have seen decade after decade is that anytime Israel's enemies get the perception that somehow America is no longer as committed to Israel's security as it once was, it emboldens them to attack Israel, and Israel has no shortage of enemies that want to not just attack them but destroy them. We have seen what Hamas has done. We have seen what Hezbollah has done. We have seen what Iran wants to do and is doing. If you boycott this speech, if a significant number of Members of Congress boycott this speech, you will send an incredibly powerful message to Israel's enemies…”  and

…going further on that last point:  “One of our strongest ally's Prime Minister wants to speak before the Congress and they won't even attend the speech? What do you think the headlines will be read as in Iran, by the terrorists in Gaza, by the terrorists in Judea and Samaria, by the terrorists in all parts of the world, such as in Lebanon, who want to destroy Israel? What do you think they are going to read into it? What they are going to read into it, unfortunately, is that somehow Congress's commitment to the future security of Israel is not as strong as it once was.”

Colloquy in support of Bibi speech featuring  Jolly (R-FL), Davis (R-IL), and Valadao (R-CA),  2/11:  Among other things (and bizarrely), Jolly appears to argue that opposing the Bibi speech is a form of Congressional intervention in Israeli politics, (as opposed to the other way around):  “…for those who have chosen not to attend, I certainly respect that decision, but I think it sends a message that is wrong to say not just to the people of Israel, but to the Prime Minister himself.  Not only is there a political message trying to be delivered by those that don't attend, but there is also this notion that, somehow, those of us in this body better understand the internal politics in Israel better than the elected leaders. Why should we not trust that Prime Minister Netanyahu understands what is best for his nation? Why should we try to suggest that we know better than Prime Minister Netanyahu what is right for Israel and for the people of Israel? To suggest otherwise is demeaning both to the Prime Minister, as well as to the people of Israel…”

Jolly (R-FL) 2/11:  Supporting Bibi speech, noting “…At a time when the President continues negotiations with Iran over the objections of so many in this body, at a time when the administration has had to acknowledge--forced to acknowledge a secret letter to Iran, it is appropriate for this body to stand up, and it is appropriate for this body to suggest that we stand with Israel perhaps in a way that the President does not...”

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 held a joint hearing entitled, “The Syrian Humanitarian Crisis: Four Years Later and No End in Sight.” Witnesses were:  Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Kelly Tallman Clements (statement); and Acting USAID Administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Thomas Staal (statement).  Video of the hearing is available here.

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) held a hearing entitled, “State Sponsor of Terror: The Global Threat of Iran.”  The uniformly hardline, conservative and neoconservative line-up of original witnesses – Frederick Kagan, AEI (statement); Ilan Berman, American Foreign Policy Council (statement); and Tony Badran, Foundation for Defense of Democracies (statement) – were in the end “balanced” off by one non-right-wing-ideological expert, Daniel Byman, Georgetown University (statement).  Video of the hearing is available here.

2/10:  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a CLOSED meeting (TS/SCI clearances only) where members received an update on Iran nuclear negotiations.

 

5. Members on the Record

Schumer (D-NY) 2/12:  Press release, “A NUCLEAR IRAN IS AN EXISTENTIAL THREAT TO ISRAEL & MUST BE STOPPED.”  Money quote: “I have been one of the leaders in pushing the toughest possible sanctions against Iran. If Iran does not come to an agreement by March 24th I stand ready to vote for additional sanctions.”

 

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