Mar 20, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Democrats dubious of GOP's proposed Netanyahu speech

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wearing a dark gray suit, white shirt and blue tie, standing in front of a U.S. and Israeli flag.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: JACQUELYN MARTIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images.

House Republicans' idea of inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress is being met with skepticism from their Democratic counterparts.

Why it matters: The proposed speech is a transparent effort by Republicans to draw a stark contrast with Democrats after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) harshly criticized the Israeli leader.

Driving the news: At a closed-door House Republican Conference meeting on Wednesday, several lawmakers floated the idea of inviting Netanyahu to speak to Congress.

  • House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), after the meeting, confirmed that he is considering inviting Netanyahu to address Congress.
  • "I had a lengthy conversation with him this morning," Johnson said. "We didn't talk about the logistics. But it's one of the things that we have in mind, and we may try to arrange for that."

Reality check: Several lawmakers suggested a speech by Netanyahu is unlikely without the consent of President Biden and Schumer, who declined to allow Netanyahu to address Senate Democrats' weekly lunch.

  • Netanyahu did, however, virtually address Senate Republicans at their lunch on Wednesday.

What they're saying: Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Ill.), pointing to Netanyahu's controversial 2015 address to Congress, told Axios, "We saw how well this went last time when used as a wedge issue."

  • "I'm deeply concerned about Israel becoming a partisan issue," added Moskowitz, a staunchly pro-Israel moderate.
  • Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.), another firm Israel supporter, said Republicans are "trying to undermine Biden" as the president attempts to rein in Netanyahu.
  • Progressive Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said, "Everything these guys do is about trying to drive wedges ... it's all about trying to seek political advantage."

Yes, but: Some Democrats, while echoing concerns about politicizing Israel, said they would welcome a Netanyahu speech as an opportunity to try to raise their concerns and questions directly with the Israeli leader while he's on Capitol Hill.

  • Pro-Israel Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) told Axios, "I think many of us would like to hear from Netanyahu ... a lot of people have a lot of questions for the prime minister."
  • Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), a progressive Israel critic, said he would "love" to have a Q&A with Netanyahu.
  • "I just think he usually doesn't open himself up to actual, real dialogue," Pocan added.

Between the lines: Pocan said he thinks Republicans are trying to drive a wedge because "they can't pass bills, right? So, they've got to do something."

  • "When you run out of censures and impeachment resolutions, you can have foreign dignitaries come."

The bottom line: "The strategic relationship between Israel and the United States has to remain bipartisan," Rep. Greg Landsman (D-Ohio) told Axios.

  • "I think there are too many people who are making [Israel] partisan and using it as a political cudgel. I think that's unhelpful and disturbing."

Go deeper: Schumer rejects Netanyahu address to Senate Democrats

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