WASHINGTON (CBS DC/AP) — Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus say they’re planning to skip Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 speech to Congress, calling it a “disrespectful” political move made by Republicans.
Members of the CBC – some of the most vocal supporters of President Barack Obama against political attacks — followed the lead of Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., in expressing discontent over a speech whose audience will be largely Republican and almost entirely white, Politico reports. The CBC members are looking to set up a separate meeting with Netanyahu through Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer.
“To me, it is somewhat of an insult to the president of the United States,” Rep. Greg Meeks, D-N.Y., leaving the White House on Tuesday after a long meeting with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, told Politico. “Barack Obama is my president, he’s the nation’s president, and it is clear therefore that I’m not going to be there, as a result of that, not as a result of the good people of Israel.”
Last week, Lewis, 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 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 House Speaker John Boehner’s actions “unprecedented.” He also criticized Netanyahu, saying that by accepting Boehner’s invitation without talking to Obama, the prime minister had “politicized” his visit to the United States.
Netanyahu himself took to Twitter, writing “I’m determined to speak before Congress to stop Iran,” on Tuesday. But rather than placing blame with any Israeli officials, Boehner was the focal point of criticism by members of the caucus.
“CBC members are willing certainty to meet with any representative of Israel. We understand Israel’s plight, and we support the state of Israel,” Butterfield said. “I don’t hold Netanyahu responsible,” Butterfield said. “I hold Speaker Boehner responsible but I would hope that Mr. Netanyahu would not want to get involved. I personally think it is disrespectful.”
The disrespect was a sentiment echoed by several CBC members.
“It is very disrespectful to this president, and what concerns me more is that I think it’s a pattern that is starting to develop from this speaker that we’re getting more and more disrespectful of the office of the presidency,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La. “I think it’s silly and petty.”
Butterfield told Politico that he, Meeks, Johnson and many other members of the CBC are not planning to attend Netanyahu’s speech. But members said that the speech is about something deeper than a racially tinged slight.
“It’s not just about disrespect for the president, it’s disrespect for the American people and our system of government for a foreign leader to insert himself into an issue that our policymakers are grappling with,” said Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga. “It’s not simply about President Obama being a black man disrespected by a foreign leader. It’s deeper than that.”
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