President Barack Obama put his fellow Democrats in a perilous and unsustainable position when the White House signaled that attending Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress was tantamount to shedding their party affiliation. As expected, congressional Democrats reported plan to boycott Netanyahu’s speech is crumbling.
On Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) conceded that she planned to attend the speech, though she admitted that she still hoped it would not occur. As for her members in the House, “Members will go or they won’t go, as they usually go or don’t go.”
Well, glad that’s cleared up.
For congressional Democrats, it seems clear that there won’t be any retribution from minority leadership should they decide to attend Netanyahu’s speech. Predictably, what had been “dozens” of Democrats who reportedly pledged to boycott the speech has dwindled to only three. And those three Democrats — Reps. John Lewis (D-GA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and G.K. Butterworth (D-NC) — represent districts with partisan voting index ratings of D+32, +21, and +17 respectively. It has become even clearer that Democrats who fail to attend this speech are merely doing so out of respect for the president.
Pelosi and the White House continue to maintain that it is not the clear and demonstrable bad blood that exists between the Israeli government and the administration that led Democrats to protest Netanyahu’s speech before Congress, but the failure of the House Republicans to observe proper protocol. They insist that, had Republicans informed the White House of their desire to invite Netanyahu to address Congress before submitting it to the Israeli leader, Democrats would have had few objections to the speech.
Well, congressional Republicans decided to test that theory. On Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) revealed that Pope Francis accepted a request from congressional leadership to address a joint session of Congress in September.
“Boehner’s office says it did not coordinate with the White House when the speaker invited the pope last year,” Politico reported. “It told the administration of the visit only this morning — which is also when Boehner told reporters.”
In marked contrast from Netanyahu’s visit to Congress, the news that the Pope would address a joint session of the federal legislature for the first time in history was met with bipartisan acclaim. The White House contended that they haven’t engaged in any contradictory behavior at all. “Certainly the president and the team here was aware of the pope’s intent to travel to the United States, intent to spend some time in Washington, D.C.,” White House Press Sec. Josh Earnest said on Thursday.
So, the White House knew that the Pope was coming to Washington and they would have you believe that they are not all that surprised that he’ll make a historic swing through the Capitol Building to deliver a precedent-setting address to a joint session of Congress. Even though that same precious protocol that a was supposedly violated when a co-equal branch of government exercised its prerogative to invite whomever it wanted to speak before Congress, the White House doesn’t mind that breach so much this time because their powers of clairvoyance provided them the foresight to see this development coming.
It’s so silly that it’s simply embarrassing. House Republican leadership has cleverly demonstrated that the White House’s only objection to Netanyahu speaking before Congress were his political differences with President Obama. It was petty, it was childish, and its vindictive nature has been exposed. In the meantime, however, Obama did his party no favors.