Two Senate Democrats Invite Netanyahu to Separate Meeting

Two U.S. Senate Democrats who criticized the circumstances surrounding Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress next week are inviting the Israeli prime minister to address their caucus in a closed-door session.

Senators Richard Durbin of Illinois and Dianne Feinstein of California said in a letter to Netanyahu that Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s unilateral invitation to address lawmakers “threatens to undermine the important bipartisan approach toward Israel.”

“It sacrifices deep and well-established cooperation on Israel for short-term partisan points -- something that should never be done with Israeli security and which we feel could have lasting repercussions,” Durbin and Feinstein wrote.

Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev had no immediate comment on the invitation.

The Obama administration has criticized Netanyahu’s scheduled March 3 address to Congress -- booked at Boehner’s invitation without consulting the White House -- as a breach of protocol. Some congressional Democrats, including Durbin and Feinstein, are considering not attending the speech. Durbin is the second-ranking Senate Democrat and Feinstein is the fourth most senior Democrat in the chamber.

Netanyahu has said he will warn about a “bad” nuclear deal that President Barack Obama is negotiating with Iran, which would further strain a troubled relationship between the two leaders.

‘Wholly Appropriate’

“To maintain Israel’s dialogue with both political parties in Congress, we invite you to a closed-door meeting with Democratic senators during your upcoming visit to Washington,” Durbin and Feinstein wrote Monday. “We believe such a venue would be a wholly appropriate opportunity to discuss the range of issues that face our two countries.”

Twenty-three House Democrats urged Boehner in a letter last week to postpone the speech. They said the speaker was “using a foreign leader as a political tool against” Obama.

The House Democrats’ letter questioned whether Boehner was using Netanyahu’s appearance to persuade lawmakers to back new sanctions against Iran despite a veto threat from Obama.

Some lawmakers have said they’re planning not to attend the speech. They include Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, the assistant House Democratic leader and the highest-ranking black member of congressional leadership, according to a senior House Democratic leadership aide.

In addition, Democratic Representatives Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, John Lewis of Georgia and G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina have said they plan to skip the event. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California has said she’s deciding whether to attend.

Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses