POLITICS

Latino lawmakers divided over Netanyahu speech to Congress

Sen. Robert Menendez is not joining fellow Democrats who are boycotting the speech Tuesday morning by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the U.S. Congress.

Not only does the New Jersey senator plan to be there, but – in a very high-profile show of support for Netanyahu and his controversial appearance – Menendez plans to be part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers who will escort the prime minister into the Congressional chambers.

In contrast, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, says he strongly supports Israel, but will most definitely not be at the speech, which he called “a political stunt” in an op-ed that appeared in the Huffington Post.

Like many of the nearly 50 Democrats in the Senate and the House who are skipping Netanyahu’s speech – which arose from an invitation by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio – Gutierrez expressed opposition to what he terms the political agenda swirling around the prime minister’s visit, and underlying defiance of President Barack Obama.

The Obama administration is concerned that Netanyahu’s speech will complicate negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, a foreign policy initiative that Israel opposes vehemently. Republicans, Gutierrez suggests, want to shame Obama, and give a boost to Netanyahu as he faces re-election.

“So why jeopardize (U.S.-Israel relations) … by accepting an invitation by one political party in the U.S. as it attempts to paint the other party as weak on Israel?” Gutierrez asked.“Why help them as they paint our duly elected President and Commander in Chief – duly elected twice – as weakly American, pro-Muslim or anti-Israel?”

Menendez, who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has defended the speech and his support for it.

"I may agree with some Democrats that the political timing of Prime Minister Netanyahu's invitation to speak to Congress tomorrow may have been unfortunate,” Menendez said in a speech Monday to the pro-Israeli American Israel Public Affairs Committee, “and that we must work fervently to keep the U.S.-Israel relationship a strong bipartisan endeavor, but I take issue with those who say the prime minister's visit to the United States is ‘destructive to U.S.-Israel relations.’”

He continued, "The U.S.-Israel relationship and security of the Israeli people is much more important than any one person or any speech to Congress."

Republican senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida hailed Netanyahu having the opportunity to speak.

“If a candidate tells you they will stand up for Israel – fantastic,” Cruz said. “When have you stood up and fought [for] it? If a candidate tells you they oppose a nuclear Iran – fantastic. When have you stood up and fought against it?”

Last week, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Rubio said: “Around the world, because of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy, our allies no longer trust us and our enemies no longer fear us. The Obama administration treats the ayatollah of Iran with more respect than the prime minister of Israel.”

Rubio, who also sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, characterized the administration’s approach to Iran and its nuclear threat as “the Obamacare of the second term.”

Then he tweeted: “We shouldn’t be treating the Ayatollah of Iran with more respect than @IsraeliPM. #StandWithIsrael” and “Today I asked my colleagues to #standwithIsrael and not boycott speech by @IsraeliPM @netanyahu.”

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