Jun 3, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Congress braces for "large" boycott, disruptions of Netanyahu speech

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wearing a suit in front of an Israel flag.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: RONEN ZVULUN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images.

Democrats are anticipating a large chunk of their caucus to sit out Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to a joint session Congress.

Why it matters: It would represent a significant repudiation of the Israeli prime minister amid persistent Democratic objections to how he has conducted the war in Gaza.

  • Netanyahu's 2015 speech to Congress, which was a major snub of the Obama administration, was skipped by 58 Democratic lawmakers.
  • Many Democrats this year argued against inviting Netanyahu in the first place, accusing Republicans of attempting to divide their party with the speech.

What they're saying: Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) told Axios the boycott "will be large" and that there are "a lot of people who are extremely upset he is coming here."

  • Jayapal said she has spoken to several lawmakers who went to Netanyahu's 2015 speech but said they will not attend this time.
  • Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the progressive ranking member of the House Rules Committee, told Axios he will not attend and said: "I wish it wasn't [happening]."
  • Several other progressives previously told Axios when the speech was first floated in March that they would sit it out.

Between the lines: Some Democrats who have tried to balance their support for Israel and their discomfort with how the war has been prosecuted are struggling with whether to attend, as Axios previously reported.

  • One House Democrat, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said a lot of members will "wait up until the very end to decide" whether they will attend, calling it a "very fluid, unpredictable situation."
  • The lawmaker said that whether there is a ceasefire in Gaza by the time Netanyahu speaks will be the key factor, predicting anywhere from 50 to 100 Democrats will skip the speech if the war is still raging.
  • Another, senior House Democrat said it is "all being discussed" and that "a number [of Democrats] are going and disrupting" the speech.

The other side: Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), a senior Progressive Caucus member, told Axios he is "hoping to have a conversation about it."

  • "Boycotting means smiling GOP staff faces will take our seats. I think we need to see how to best highlight the real Netanyahu than just not showing up to begin with," he said.
  • Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) said he is "sure there will be some" Democrats who boycott but "my constituents elected me to sit in that seat, and I don't just sit there when it's comfortable."

What to watch: The date for Netanyahu's speech is still being worked out, with Netanyahu's office shooting down reports that the speech would take place on June 13, during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, Axios' Barak Ravid reported.

  • Taylor Haulsee, a spokesperson for House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), told Axios: "The Speaker's office is still coordinating with all relevant parties to establish a date for Prime Minister Netanyahu to deliver a joint address to Congress. We will announce a date once it is finalized."

Go deeper... Scoop: GOP lawmaker calls for families of hostages to be invited to Bibi address

Editor's note: Axios' Stef Kight contributed reporting.

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