WASHINGTON (AP) — Three prominent House Democrats are vowing to skip Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress next month, saying they disapprove of House Speaker John Boehner's decision to invite the Israeli leader without consulting President Barack Obama.
Reps. John Lewis of Georgia, G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon said they won't attend Netanyahu's March 3 speech.
The White House also hinted Thursday that Vice President Joe Biden may not attend Netanyahu's speech, which is expected to focus on Iran. Spokesman Josh Earnest said Biden takes "very seriously" his responsibilities as Senate president, including his ceremonial duty to attend joint sessions of Congress. However, Earnest noted that Biden missed a joint session in 2011 because he was traveling abroad.
Earnest said the vice president's travel schedule for early March has not been finalized.
He told reporters that Obama "does believe it is up to individual members of Congress to make their own decision about whether or not to attend."
Lewis, a hero of the civil rights movement, said Thursday that Boehner's unilateral invitation to Netanyahu was "an affront to the president and the State Department" that cannot be ignored. Butterfield, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Thursday he was "very disappointed that the speaker would cause such a ruckus" among members of Congress. He called the speaker's actions "unprecedented."
Blumenauer, a well-known liberal and advocate of alternative energy, called on Boehner last week to cancel the joint session with Netanyahu. If the speech goes forward, "I will refuse to be part of a reckless act of political grandstanding," Blumenauer said.
The Constitution vests the responsibility for foreign affairs in the president, Blumenauer said, adding that "it's deeply troubling that the speaker is willing to undercut diplomacy in exchange for theatrics on the House floor."