US House leader moves toward inviting Netanyahu to address Congress

US House leader moves toward inviting Netanyahu to address Congress

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican leader of the U.S. House of Representatives said on Tuesday he was close to inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address lawmakers even if the Senate’s Democratic leader did not go along.

House Speaker Mike Johnson told reporters at the Capitol he had given Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer until Tuesday to sign a letter inviting Netanyahu to address a joint meeting.

“If not, we’re going to proceed and invite Netanyahu just to the House,” Johnson said.

Schumer confirmed that he was talking to Johnson. “I’m discussing that now with the speaker of the House and, as I’ve always said, our relationship with Israel is ironclad. It transcends any one prime minister or president,” Schumer told reporters at his weekly news conference.

The possible divide between the two parties over the issue underscored the politicization of Israel policy, months before a November presidential election in which Democratic President Joe Biden is running against Republican former President Donald Trump.

Republicans have criticized Biden for holding up a weapons shipment to Israel, although other U.S. arms shipments to the Middle East country remain in the pipeline.

Israel launched an assault on Gaza after Hamas militants attacked Israel in October, killing 1,200 people and taking more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, according to the Gaza health ministry. Malnutrition is widespread and much of the coastal enclave’s population has been left homeless, while much of its infrastructure has been destroyed.

Biden’s handling of the war has sparked protests from many of his fellow Democrats and at college campuses across the U.S. Biden has urged Netanyahu to minimized civilian casualties in Gaza and has opposed a large-scale attack on Gaza’s southernmost city, Rafah.

Netanyahu, who has long aligned himself with U.S. Republicans, in March addressed party members in the Senate via a video link, nearly a week after Schumer gave a Senate speech branding the prime minister an obstacle to peace and urging new elections in Israel.

Addresses to joint meetings of Congress by foreign leaders are a rare honor generally reserved for the closest U.S. allies, or major world figures. Netanyahu has already given such addresses three times, most recently in 2015.

© Reuters. U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) walks towards microphones to make a statement to members of the news media after meeting with President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 27, 2024. REUTERS/Leah Millis/ File Photo

That year, Republican congressional leaders invited Netanyahu to address a joint meeting without consulting Democratic then-President Barack Obama, as Netanyahu joined Republicans in opposition to Obama’s international nuclear deal with Iran.

Netanyahu would be the first foreign leader ever to address joint meetings of Congress four times. He is currently tied at three with Britain’s wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill.

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