WASHINGTON (AP) — Two prominent House Democrats said Thursday they will skip Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress next month, saying they disapprove of House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to invite the Israeli leader without consulting the White House.
Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a hero of the civil rights movement, and Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said they won’t attend Netanyahu’s March 3 speech.
“I think it’s an affront to the president and the State Department what the speaker did,” by not consulting the White House, Lewis said in an interview.
Butterfield said he was “very disappointed that the speaker would cause such a ruckus” among members of Congress. He called the speaker’s actions “unprecedented.”
Butterfield also criticized Netanyahu, saying that by accepting Boehner’s invitation without talking to President Barack Obama, the prime minister had “politicized” his visit to the United States.
Netanyahu’s speech is expected to focus largely on Iran — and its nuclear program — amid delicate negotiations involving the United States, other Western powers and Tehran. Netanyahu’s acceptance of Boehner’s invitation has infuriated the White House and many congressional Democrats.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said she plans to attend the speech.
“It is really sad that it has come to this,” Pelosi said Thursday, adding that “as of now, it is my intention to go.”
Butterfield and Lewis both said their decisions to skip the speech were personal and were not part of an organized boycott.
“I can emphatically say it is not an organized effort,” Butterfield said, adding: “The only thing I can control is my attendance.”
Despite his disappointment, Butterfield said he expected the flap over Netanyahu’s speech to blow over fairly quickly and have no long-term effect on Israeli-U.S. relations.
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