WASHINGTON – The speech generated more buzz than the State of the Union, yet some key members of Congress were absent.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Tuesday to a joint meeting of Congress about the importance of not settling for a bad nuclear deal with Iran.
However, more than 50 Democratic members of Congress chose not to attend, protesting Netanyahu’s speech and calling it a political stunt. Netanyahu is just weeks away from Israel’s national elections, where he is seeking his fourth term as prime minister.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, invited Netanyahu, breaching the protocol that only the president formally invites foreign heads of state to address members of the government. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Al Franken, D-Minn., and Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., were among those who boycotted the event in the U.S. House chamber. Vice President Joe Biden was traveling and did not attend.
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., was not at the speech and denounced Boehner’s invite as disrespectful to President Barack Obama.
“That the Speaker of the House of Representatives would allow the floor of this chamber to be used to undercut the negotiations of the President of the United States is partisan, and it is not right,” Lewis said at a news conference after the speech. “The Speaker’s action is an affront to the President of the United States, to the Democratic leadership of Congress and the Department of State.”
Though House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., attended the Israeli leader’s speech, she released a statement afterwards saying she was “near tears” because of Netanyahu’s “insult to the intelligence of the United States.”
She added she was “saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation.”
Throughout the speech, Pelosi was visibly upset, hesitant to join her party in the numerous standing ovations. At one point, she threw her hands up and seemingly asked those around her why there was so much applause and so many standing ovations.
Former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who served his last term as an independent, said Democrats that did not attend the speech made a mistake, but said he was glad most Democratic members were in the House chamber.
“Frankly, I talked to some of those who didn’t come and they said they’d be watching on television, which I thought was kind of funny because I thought they should’ve come but I’m glad they were watching and listening,” he told a reporter after the speech.
Despite the protests, many Democrats applauded the speech for its tough stance on Iran. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., was there and said it was time to move past the partisan tension.
“I thought the speech was outstanding and the prime minister sent a very strong message to the entire world,” she said. “As we move forward, he made it clear that no deal is better than a bad deal, which is what Secretary Kerry, frankly, has been saying.”