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Cohen Not Attending Netanyahu Congressional Address

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; February 24, 2015:

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today issued the following statement regarding his decision not to attend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned address to Congress next week:

“As a supporter of the state of Israel and a Jewish American, I have been placed in a difficult position regarding the anticipated speech of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the United States Congress.  After deliberation, I have decided I cannot in good conscience attend the Prime Minister’s speech. My decision not to attend is not a reflection of my support for Israel and its continued existence as a state and home for the Jewish people.  I have always strongly supported Israel and I always will. However, I believe, as do many conscientious Members of Congress, that the speech is political theater by Prime Minister Netanyahu, the head of the Likud party, just two weeks before the elections in Israel.  However, the Prime Minister could not speak on the House floor without an invitation from the Speaker of the House John Boehner.  Speaker Boehner and other Republicans supporting the speech are giving a foreign leader the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives as a forum to present a counterargument to the foreign policy peace efforts of the President of the United States who has constitutional authority over foreign affairs.  This speech is high theater for a re-election campaign in Israel and a political tool wielded against our President and his Administration by the Speaker of the House. Further, it is not a coincidence that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress will be during the Washington D.C. convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) with whom Speaker Boehner is currying favor.”

“The United States House of Representatives Chamber should be sacrosanct. Congressional rules do not allow the use of videos of House floor or committee activity in political campaign advertisements.  In 2013, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to Congress and then used video clips of that speech in his re-election campaign ad to great advantage. It is expected Mr. Netanyahu will do the same again.  Congress cannot make laws that govern his conduct in Israel but the Prime Minister should honor the spirit of our campaign laws. Knowing his past use, any invitation for him to speak before Congress should include the condition that his speech to Congress not be used in a campaign ad.”

“Protocol in inviting a foreign leader to speak before Congress includes coordinating with the Administration because foreign affairs are the province of the President.  Not only did Speaker Boehner not coordinate with or inform the President of the invitation, he also asked the Israeli Ambassador not to inform the President.  The Speaker’s invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu is political gamesmanship and it is a very dangerous game.  The Prime Minister’s use of the U.S. House chamber as a stage to argue against the comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear program, which is currently being negotiated among Iran and the P5+1 — the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom and Germany, is reckless.   While Americans and members of Congress may disagree on anything, even foreign policy, providing a forum of such immense prestige and power to the leader of another country who is opposing our nation’s foreign policy is beyond the pale. It endangers the negotiations, insults the good faith of the other nations involved in the negotiations and emboldens Iran who may well view this schism in our government as an opportunity for advantage.  While we can disagree with our President, we as a nation should be as one on our foreign policy and any disagreements should be presented in a respectful, appropriate and time-honored manner.”

“I have given due consideration to my decision not to attend Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address before Congress.  I have attended the Prime Minister’s previous speech and my support of Israel has not wavered but I believe that this speech at this time and brought forth in this manner is dangerous to Israel as well as inappropriate.  Nothing should come between our two nations.  The actions of the Speaker and the Prime Minister have caused a breach between Democrats in Congress and Israel as well as the administrations of the United States and Israel.  My lack of attendance does not mean I will not be aware of the content of the speech nor does it mean I won’t follow the commentary both pro and con but I will not be part of the spectacle.”

Cohen, Other Dems Call on Boehner to Postpone Netanyahu’s Speech to Congress

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis 09; February 19, 2015:

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Keith Ellison (D-MN), and Maxine Waters(D-CA) sent a letter today to Speaker of the House John Boehner urging him to postpone Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before a joint session of Congress. The letter was cosigned by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), André Carson (D-IN), John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Danny Davis (D-IL), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), Henry “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (D-GA), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), James McGovern (D-MA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Donald Payne (D-NJ), Chellie Pingrie (D-ME), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Mark Takano (D-CA), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Peter Welch (D-VT), and John Yarmuth (D-KY).

The lawmakers expressed concern about the invitation’s proximity to Israel’s elections and the use of a close foreign ally as a tool in a domestic political dispute.

The text of the letter is below and a PDF is available here.

The Honorable John Boehner
Speaker of House of Representatives
H-232 Capitol

Washington, DC  20515

Dear Mr. Speaker:

We write to urge you to postpone your invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress in March. Israel is a valued ally and Israeli Prime Ministers have a long history of addressing Congress. As members of Congress who support Israel, we share concern that it appears that you are using a foreign leader as a political tool against the President. We very much appreciate that Prime Minister Netanyahu has twice had the honor of speaking before a joint session.

However, at this time your invitation is contrary to the standards by which our Congress operates and has the potential to harm U.S. Foreign policy.

The timing of this invitation and lack of coordination with the White House indicate that this is not an ordinary diplomatic visit. Rather this appears to be an attempt to promote new sanctions legislation against Iran that could undermine critical negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran. At the State of the Union President Obama made it clear that he will veto new Iran sanctions legislation. The invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu enlists a foreign leader to influence a Presidential policy initiative. We should be able to disagree on foreign policy within our American political system and without undermining the presidency.

Aside from being improper, this places Israel, a close and valued ally, in the middle of a policy debate between Congress and the White House. We should not turn our diplomatic friendship into a partisan issue. Beyond threatening our diplomatic priorities, the timing of this invitation offers the Congressional platform to elevate a candidate in a foreign election.

A visit from Israel’s Prime Minister would normally be an occasion for bipartisan cooperation and support. Our relationship with Israel is too important to use as a pawn in political gamesmanship. We strongly urge you to postpone this invitation until Israelis have cast their ballots and the deadline for diplomatic negotiations with Iran has passed. When the Israeli Prime Minister visits us outside the specter of partisan politics, we will be delighted and honored to greet him or her on the Floor of the House.