Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein rushed to meetings on Capitol Hill on Wednesday trying to calm a furor created by Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress next month and quell a Democratic revolt that has dozens threatening a boycott.
It didn’t work.
If anything, Democrats finished the day more frustrated. According to a source in the room, one Jewish Democratic member of Congress even accused Dermer of being insincere when he claimed not to have anticipated the partisan uproar he’d ignite when he skirted protocol and went around the White House and scheduled the speech only with House Speaker John Boehner.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest, meanwhile, dangled the possibility that the White House would have Vice President Joe Biden skip the speech in what the West Wing acknowledges would be a serious snub.
The U.S. and Israeli alliance is rooted in deep defense, security, economic and investment ties, and all sides insisted the U.S. commitment to defend Israel is unaffected by the unseemly dispute of the last two weeks. And with Netanyahu on course to be reelected in March, he and President Barack Obama will need to find a way to talk again.
But the ongoing dispute over the speech seemed likely to make that more difficult than ever.
Biden has to date missed only one speech by a foreign leader at a joint session of Congress, Earnest said. The vice president really likes his ceremonial duties, he added, but might be busy on March 3, when Netanyahu is scheduled to deliver his warning to Congress about U.S. negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. The Obama administration considers the talks an important diplomatic opening that could lead to the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Netanyahu believes Iran has no intention of holding to any deal and U.S. diplomats are being naive.
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