Sen. Robert Menendez (Dem – NJ) intends to attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address before a joint session of Congress early next month, despite his criticism of House Speaker John Boehner, whom he accused of using “poor judgment” in inviting the PM to speak just two weeks before Israel’s elections.
Menendez, who is the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pointed out that the reason President Barack Obama will not meet with Netanyahu has to do with White House protocol, which forbids meeting with foreign leaders who face re-election at home.
The purpose of this policy is to avoid the appearance of U.S. influence over the outcome of those elections.
Of course, not meeting with a leader also influences the outcome, but that, apparently, hasn’t occurred to the folks who decided on said protocol.
Menendez, who is no dove on the Iranian nukes, has co-sponsored bipartisan legislation—which Obama has threatened to veto—to impose additional economic sanctions on Iran if negotiations don’t yield a final nuclear deal by June 30.
But the Senate Democrats supporting the bill insist on delaying a vote on it until after March 24, the deadline on the negotiations with Iran reaching an agreement.
In a Jan. 27 letter to Obama, they said they “remain deeply skeptical” that Iran will demonstrate by then that its nuclear program is not intended to make weapons.
Menendez said he would not join the Democrats who declared they would boycott the speech because of his concern for U.S.-Israeli relations.
“As someone who believes in the important ally and relationship that we have in the state of Israel, I want to hear what that prime minister has to say, ” he told USA Today. “And so I’ll go and I’ll listen to the speech. That has nothing to do with my views as to whether or not [the invitation] was appropriate. I think it was not appropriate for the speaker to invite him under these set of circumstances.”
Vice President Joe Biden’s office said he would not attend the speech because he will be traveling—not clear yet where.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and several House Democrats have declared they won’t attend the speech in protest—but may watch it on TV.
Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon said, “I will refuse to be part of a reckless act of political grandstanding.”
Menendez ranks third among Senate recipients of campaign contributions from pro-Israel groups, according to a MapLight analysis of contributions compiled by OpenSecrets.org. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., ranks fourth.