WASHINGTON (JTA) — Twenty-three Democrats wrote John Boehner, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, urging him to delay Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress.
The letter, sent to Rep. Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday, was spearheaded by Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.).
It said the March 3 speech was inappropriate coming just two weeks before Israeli elections and three weeks before a deadline for the outline of an Iran nuclear agreement.
“We strongly urge you to postpone this invitation until Israelis have cast their ballots and the deadline for diplomatic negotiations with Iran has passed,” it said. “When the Israeli prime minister visits us outside the specter of partisan politics, we will be delighted and honored to greet him or her on the Floor of the House.”
Netanyahu’s speech will focus on the putative agreement, which he says is a bad deal that will leave Iran a threshold nuclear weapons state. The Obama administration backs the talks.
Boehner and Netanyahu arranged the speech without informing the White House or congressional Democrats. They insist it will go ahead as scheduled.
The number of signatories to the letter is small but includes some of the U.S. House of Representatives’ most prominent black and Hispanic lawmakers. In addition to Cohen, there is one other Jewish member, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.).
A nonbinding resolution in the Senate backing the speech and its timing has garnered more than 50 co-sponsors — virtually the entire Republican caucus.
Separately, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a senior Democrat in the Senate, said Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu to speak was mishandled but urged Democrats to attend the speech in any case.
“Democrats and Republicans have always worked together on it; we ought to keep it that way,” Schumer was quoted in the Jerusalem Post as telling WAMC Northeast Public Radio.
Netanyahu, Schumer said, has “every right to come here and speak, but he ought to do it in a bipartisan manner.”