WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – Though billed as a bi-partisan address before a joint session of Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech became politicized almost as soon as it was announced in January.
Democrats blasted the invitation from House Speaker John Boehner, calling it an attempt to do an end-run around President Barack Obama’s attempts to broker a nuclear deal with Iran.
Afterwards it emerged that Netanyahu accepted the invitation without consulting with the White House, an unprecedented move for a head of state.
For his part, Netanyahu said his appearance was not meant as an insult to President Obama, but rather a chance to urge Congress to help fight a mutual foe.
At least 49 Democratic Representatives and 8 Democratic Senators publicly stated before the address they would not attend, according to CNN.
Most notably absent was Vice President Joe Biden, who usually sits behind the podium in his role as president of the Senate. He was sent on an overseas trip by the White House instead. Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah sat in Biden’s place.
Netanyahu took a moment to mention Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who was in the chamber during the speech.
Sens. Al Franken of Minnesota, Tim Kaine of Virginia, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts were among the members of the upper house who boycotted the speech.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and John Lewis of Georgia, also promised not to attend. Rep. Charles Rangel of New York earlier said he would not be there, but later changed his mind.
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