Washington (CNN)A group of 23 House Democrats is urging House Speaker John Boehner to postpone his invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is scheduled to address a joint meeting of Congress on March 3.
Small group of House Dems press Boehner to postpone Netanyahu speech
Three progressive House Democrats -- Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Rep. Maxine Waters of California and Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee -- have been circulating a letter to fellow Democrats for weeks, but on the final letter delivered on Thursday they secured support from just a small fraction of the 188 House Democrats. Those who signed are among the most liberal members of the Democratic caucus.
"The timing of this invitation and lack of coordination with the White House indicate that this is not an ordinary diplomatic visit. Rather this appears to be an attempt to promote new sanctions legislation against Iran that could undermine critical negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran," the letter states.
Congressional Democrats have tried to focus their ire on Boehner, who invited Netanyahu before consulting first with the White House. The letter does not say these members are planning to boycott the speech, but some of those who signed on -- such as Ellison and Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer -- have already announced they won't attend if Netanyahu does speak on the House floor.
The speech presents a dilemma for congressional Democrats. Most emphasize they are strong supporters of Israel, but feel it's inappropriate for a foreign leader to deliver such a high profile address just two weeks before an election in his home country.
Iran sanctions legislation has passed the House with an overwhelming bipartisan vote in the last Congress, but many Democrats say the negotiations could be put at risk if sanctions were pursued now. The low number of members willing to go on the record on the speech signals that the majority of Democrats, although critical of Boehner's invitation and the timing, will likely attend.
Boehner's office says plans for the speech are moving forward.
"Support for the State of Israel in Congress has always been bipartisan, and it should remain so," Boehner's spokesman Michael Steel told CNN.
Earlier this month Israeli officials acknowledged that they were considering changing the plans for the speech before Congress, and discussed the possibility of relocating it to another venue in Washington, D.C. But soon after those discussions surfaced Netanyahu announced in a televised event he remained committed to coming to the U.S. Capitol, and that he planned to discuss his concerns with the U.S. negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.