Thursday, July 18, 2024

Speaker Johnson says he plans to invite Netanyahu to address the US Congress

by Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Mike Johnson says he plans to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress, a show of support from Republicans amid growing Democratic criticism of Netanyahu’s leadership.

“I would love to have him come in and address a joint session of Congress,” Johnson said Thursday morning on CNBC. “We’ll certainly extend that invitation.”

Johnson said it would be “a great honor of mine” to invite the Israeli leaderbut “we’re just trying to work out schedules on all this.”

Republicans have rallied around Netanyahu since Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called for new elections in Israel on the Senate floor last week. Schumer, who is Jewish and a strong supporter of Israel, said he believes that the prime minister has “lost his way” and is an obstacle to peace in the region amid the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

A U.S. speech by Netanyahu during the brutal war with Hamas could be seen in the U.S. as highly politicized and would be met with criticism from many Democrats, especially as many on the left flank have been sharply critical of his tactics in the war.

Netanyahu appeared before a joint meeting of Congress in 2015 at the invitation of then-Republican speaker John Boehner during sensitive U.S. talks about Iran’s nuclear program, a move that Democrats criticized as partisan because President Barack Obama’s White House was not initially consulted.

In a statement, Schumer said he would welcome an address by Netanyahu.

“Israel has no stronger ally than the United States and our relationship transcends any one president or any one prime minister,” he said. “I will always welcome the opportunity for the prime minister of Israel to speak to Congress in a bipartisan way.”

Johnson said Wednesday that he had had a lengthy conversation with the prime minister and had “reiterated to him the House Republicans’ strong support for Israel in their efforts there.”

Netanyahu also spoke by video with Senate Republicans at their weekly caucus lunch on Wednesday, telling them in the closed-door meeting that he believes he still has support in the United States and Israel and that he believes Schumer’s remarks were inappropriate.

“We made it clear to the prime minister that in our judgment, the American people overwhelmingly support Israel’s war, that we understand the need to prosecute the war,” Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy said after the video call. “Without conquering Hamas, we cannot have peace.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said that Netanyahu had called him last week and said he wanted to address the GOP conference. “Bipartisan support for Israel seems to be cracking on the political left in this country,” said McConnell, who has been sharply critical of Schumer’s remarks.

Former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, escalated the criticism earlier this week when he said that “any Jewish person that votes for Democrats hates their religion.”

Schumer, the first Jewish majority leader in the Senate and the highest-ranking Jewish official in the U.S., strongly criticized Netanyahu in his 40-minute speech, saying that the prime minister has put himself in a coalition of far-right extremists and “as a result, he has been too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows.”

He warned that the country could become an international pariah amid sustained bombardment of Gaza and that the war could go on forever.

“As a democracy, Israel has the right to choose its own leaders, and we should let the chips fall where they may,” Schumer said. “But the important thing is that Israelis are given a choice.”

Netanyahu had also asked to address Democratic senators separately, but Schumer rejected the request, arguing that such meetings should be bipartisan.

After Netanyahu’s remarks to the Republicans, Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, who is also Jewish, praised Schumer’s speech and said that the majority leader “appears to have shaken up the prime minister.”

“I think he’s nervous,” Schatz said. “I have been here 12 years and I have never seen a prime minister talk to one party or the other.”

The Democratic Party has been increasingly split on the war and President Joe Biden has stepped up public pressure on Netanyahu’s government, arguing that he needs to pay more attention to the civilian death toll in Gaza.

Biden said last week that Schumer “made a good speech” and expressed concerns shared by many Americans. But he did not repeat Schumer’s appeal for Israel to hold elections.

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