Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left a partisan Congress roiling in the wake of his controversial speech on Tuesday, with Republicans and Democrats largely split on how the dramatic address was received.
Progressive Democrats slammed the Israeli leader’s address and Republicans felt vindicated and emboldened by a speech that brought nearly every member of Congress to their feet and drew whoops of approval from a packed gallery.
READ: 58 members of Congress skipped Netanyahu’s speech
Netanyahu sought to rally members of Congress and public opinion against the pending Iran nuclear deal under negotiation, but his hawkish rhetoric and break from diplomatic protocol rankled some Democrats.
Others, though, suggested he may have moved the needle.
Rep. Steve Israel, a member of the House Democratic leadership, called Netanyahu “very persuasive” and said he could not support the deal “as it’s been described up to now.”
“He changed minds,” Israel said. “The question is, how many minds did he change? But I thought he did a very effective job.”
And Netanyahu’s emphasis on a prospective 10-year limited time frame for rigorous restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program appeared to have an effect on Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a prominent California Democrat and leader on foreign policy issues.
“Ten years isn’t a long time,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California told CNN. “My preference would be that it be a longer deal and we be able to guarantee a longer period of breakout. But that’s just me.”
On Sunday, Feinstein had accused Netanyahu of arrogance and claimed he didn’t speak for all Jewish people.
But the strongest and most visceral negative reaction from a Democrat who attended the speech came from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who said she was “near tears” as she listened to the Israeli prime minister.
Pelosi, traditionally a strong supporter of Israel, saw her caucus’s support for the nation face scrutiny because of the partisan circus surrounding the prime minister’s visit. Republican House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu without informing the White House.
“As one who values the U.S. – Israel relationship, and loves Israel, I was near tears throughout the prime minister’s speech – saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the P5 +1 nations, and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation,” Pelosi said in a statement Tuesday.
Those comments were at odds with Republicans who lauded Netanyahu’s courage – many on Tuesday comparing Netanyahu to the famed British prime minister Winston Churchill who warned of the consequences of appeasing Adolf Hitler.
“Is it excessive to compare what is happening now to Munich 1938? I think we are reliving history,” said Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. “If this deal is signed, the inevitable consequence will be that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, also a Republican, lauded Netanyahu’s speech as “historic.”
“Every member on the House floor felt the prime minister’s passion and resolve to confront this challenge,” Royce said in a statement.
While most members of the Congressional Black Caucus decided to skip Netanyahu’s speech because of the prime minister’s White House snub, Rep. Charlie Rangel, a member of the caucus, ultimately decided to attend, hoping to “not extend the controversy.”
As questions continued to swirl about the long-term impact Netanyahu’s visit and the fiasco that ensued would have on U.S.-Israeli relations, most lawmakers were quick to say they were confident or at least hopeful relations would remain strong.
Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said he didn’t think there would be “any long-term damage.”
Durbin, who is close to Obama, hesitated to attend Netanyahu’s address but ultimately decided to “out of respect for Israel.”
But Rangel said Netanyahu’s visit “shattered” protocol and said it was “unbelievable” that Netanyahu came out and condemned a deal that is still largely under wraps.
“It’s remarkable that it could be described as not political,” Rangel said in an interview. “It’s remarkable how you can condemn an agreement that’s secret.”
Netanyahu faced even more blistering criticism from some of the 58 Democrats who opted out of Netanyahu’s address to Congress, instead watching the address on T.V. – many with pro-Israel supporters from their districts – only to slam Netanyahu’s speech as fear mongering.
Rep. John Yarmuth, one of those 58, led a press conference Tuesday calling out Netanyahu for taking a page “straight out of the Dick Cheney playbook.”
And while Netanyahu addressed only parts of the nuclear deal that is reportedly on the table, he caught the attention of lawmakers as he described a bad deal – the kind of deal that lawmakers, U.S. officials and Obama have repeatedly vowed to leave at the table.
The leading Democratic proponent of ratcheting up sanctions on Iran, New Jersey’s Sen. Robert Menendez, called Netanyahu’s speech “very effective.”
“The value of his speech is that what many of us have been saying about the challenges of a deal with Iran and the nature of a deal with Iran, he had the Congress listening,” Menendez said after the speech. “That crystallized for people what I and others have been saying for some time.”
CNN’s Ted Barrett, Deirdre Walsh, Betsy Klein and Alexandra Jaffe contributed to this report.