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Cooper, Cohen Split on Israeli PM’s Congressional Address

Tennessee’s only two Democratic legislators in Washington have taken divergent positions on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pending speech to Congress Tuesday.

Memphis Rep. Steve Cohen, a Jewish American and self-described “supporter of the state of Israel,” has announced his intention to boycott because he believes “the speech is political theater” for Netanyahu’s re-election efforts.

Cohen also took umbrage with Speaker of the House John Boehner’s invitation to the Israeli leader in light of the Obama administration’s ongoing negotiations in the Middle East. He accused House Republicans of “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 President Barack Obama.

“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 said in a release.

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, on the other hand, plans to attend, as he said he always does when a foreign leader addresses Congress. Cooper’s also planning to bring along the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Nashville to the speech as his guest.

According to a media advisory e-mailed late Monday, House Democrats, led by Cohen, will make a response to Netanyahu’s speech early Tuesday afternoon.

Dozens of Democrats from both chambers of Congress — the count has fluctuated over the past month from 54 members of congress to 34  — have announced that they will not attend Netanyahu’s speech.

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Press Releases

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.

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Press Releases

Alexander, Roe Join Effort to Halt NLRB ‘Ambush Election’ Rule

Press release from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; February 9, 2015:

Senate, House Leaders Introduce Resolution to Stop NLRB Ambush Election Rule; Author joint resolution of Congress to halt rule through the Congressional Review Act

WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 –  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) and Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) today took the first step in stopping the National Labor Relations Board from implementing its “ambush election” rule, which was finalized in December to shorten the length of time in which a labor union certification election is held—currently a median 38 days—to as little as 11 days.

The Republican members authored a joint resolution of Congress that would halt implementation of the rule through the Congressional Review Act.

“This Administration’s appointees on the National Labor Relations Board released their so-called ‘ambush’ rule back in December,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “It’s designed with one purpose in mind — to fatten the wallets of powerful political bosses by threatening the rights of middle-class workers to make informed decisions of their own. Republicans think an employee’s personal information is none of the business of powerful political bosses. But the Administration’s ‘ambush’ rule would allow these bosses to access things like personal email addresses and cell numbers — without permission from the employee.”

“The National Labor Relations Board is supposed to be a neutral arbiter of federal labor law,” said Speaker of the House John Boehner. “Yet under the president’s watch, it has pursued a culture of union favoritism that is detrimental to America’s workers and job creators. The recent ambush election rule will deny workers their right to make fully informed decisions in union elections. Congress will not stand idly by and let that happen.”

“This rule allows a union to force an election before an employee has a chance to figure out what is going on,” said Alexander, chairman of the Senate labor committee. “It also jeopardizes employees’ privacy by requiring employees to turn over personal information including email addresses, phone numbers, shift hours and locations to union organizers.”

“The National Labor Relations Board has lost its way. Instead of fairly enforcing the National Labor Relations Act, the board has made up a new rule out of thin air that only helps political organizations and special interests,” said Enzi, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. “This ‘ambush election’ rule is an example. I’m pleased to join with my colleagues in this effort to make sure employees can have the information and time they need to make informed decisions.”

“The Obama labor board is moving forward with a radical plan that will stifle employer free speech, cripple worker free choice, and jeopardize the privacy of workers and their families,” said Kline, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. “Congress must use every available tool to stop this flawed regulatory scheme. I am pleased to join my House and Senate colleagues in authoring this resolution, and hope Congress will send it to the president as soon as possible.”

“It is prudent that Congress protect employees from this activist NLRB,” said Roe, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions. “For far too long, we’ve seen this out-of-control board violate the rights of American workers and employers by regulatory overreach, and I am proud to introduce this resolution with my colleagues.”

Under the Congressional Review Act, the House and Senate vote on a joint resolution of disapproval to stop, with the full force of law, a federal agency from implementing a rule or regulation or issuing a substantially similar regulation without congressional authorization. A resolution of disapproval only needs a simple majority to pass and cannot be filibustered or amended.

In December, the NLRB released its final rule to authorize “ambush elections,” in an attempt to speed up union elections, which could take place in as few as 11 days. The rule gives employers no time to communicate with their employees before a union election and undermines the ability of workers to make an informed decision. In addition, it will compromise worker privacy by forcing employers to provide employees’ personal email addresses, work schedules, personal cell phone numbers, and other personal information to union organizers without employees’ consent. The rule only gives employers seven days to find legal counsel and prepare for a pre-election hearing before an NLRB regional officer. During those seven days, employers will have to identify every legal concern or forfeit the ability to raise the concern at all.  The ambush election rule will go into effect April 14, 2015.