The Cable

GOP Sandwich Planned for Netanyahu Speech

Benjamin Netanyahu is set to be sandwiched between two Republicans during his joint address to Congress on March 3, according to a top GOP aide, creating another optics problem for the Israeli prime minister as he tries to rebut allegations that he’s participating in a partisan stunt to embarrass the White House.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as he is watched by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner (R) before a joint session of Congress May 24, 2011 at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as he is watched by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner (R) before a joint session of Congress May 24, 2011 at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to be sandwiched between two Republicans during his joint address to Congress on March 3, according to a top GOP aide. The move poses another optics problem for the Israeli leader as he tries to rebut allegations that he’s participating in a partisan stunt to undermine the White House.

On Friday, Joe Biden’s office confirmed that the vice president would not attend the planned address due to foreign travel, but it was “not ready to announce details of his trip yet.”

Now, in Biden’s absence, Netanyahu will be flanked by House Speaker John Boehner and the senior Republican senator from Utah, according to Boehner spokesman Michael Steel. As a result, the live video feed and photographs of the speaker’s rostrum beamed around the world will feature no Democrats. “As a matter of protocol, [Biden] would be replaced by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Orrin Hatch,” Steel said.

Israeli officials have sought to downplay allegations that the Netanyahu government broke diplomatic protocol by failing to notify the White House about the speech ahead of Boehner’s announcement. On Friday, a senior Israeli official suggested that Republicans misled Netanyahu into believing the invitation was supported by Democrats. “It appears that the speaker of Congress made a move, in which we trusted, but which it ultimately became clear was a one sided move and not a move by both sides,” Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told Tel Aviv Radio.

Still, for many, the incident has confirmed suspicions that Netanyahu favors the Republican Party — a notion that took off during the 2012 presidential race when the Israeli prime minister appeared to favor Mitt Romney’s bid for the presidency.

Already, three prominent Democrats have promised to boycott the speech because they disapprove of Boehner’s decision to invite Netanyahu without informing or consulting the White House. That group includes Reps. John Lewis of Georgia, G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon. “There are going to be some empty seats there for sure,” said a Democratic consultant involved in pro-Israel policy.

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John Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013. @john_hudson

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