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House Democrats Reject Mike Johnson’s Invite for Netanyahu to Address Congress

Despite voting to send Netanyahu’s government billions as it commits war crimes, mainstream Dems criticized the invite.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson arrive for a bipartisan candlelight vigil with members of Congress to commemorate the one month anniversary of the October 7 attacks, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on November 7, 2023.

A growing number of U.S. congressional Democrats pushed back Friday against pressure to endorse House Speaker Mike Johnson’s invitation for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress — even as his government stands accused of genocide in a World Court case and he faces the prospect of an International Criminal Court arrest warrant for alleged crimes against humanity in Gaza.

Opposition to Johnson’s (R-La.) invitation — which the speaker formally announced Thursday — has been mounting following news that ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan applied for warrants to arrest Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and three Hamas leaders for alleged crimes committed on and after October 7 and Friday’s International Court of Justice order for Israel to immediately halt its assault on Rafah.

While there is some question over whether Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will endorse a Netanyahu congressional address — with Johnson telling The Independent on Wednesday that Schumer said he’d sign the invitation letter — mainstream Democrats are joining the chorus of calls from progressive lawmakers and campaigners opposing the prospective speech. Several of the lawmakers spoke to Axios on Friday.

“I think it’s a strange time to invite Netanyahu; it’s a really divisive kind of move,” Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) said, pointing to Khan’s effort to arrest the Israeli leader.

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) said, “I don’t think it’s a good time… let’s not complicate an already complicated situation.”

House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Jim Himes (D-Conn.) asserted that Netanyahu “should be focused on freeing hostages, not on charming legislators.”

Regarding whether Schumer would sign the invitation, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) simply said, “No.”

Pelosi, Himes, and Peters were among the 173 House Democrats who last month voted to approve $26 billion in new U.S. military aid to Israel, in addition to the nearly $4 billion it already gets from Washington each year. Kildee voted against the aid package.

Congressional progressives have voiced opposition to a Netanyhau speech for days, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — who caucuses with Democrats — indicating Wednesday that he would boycott any address by the prime minister and calling the invitation “a terrible idea.”

Sanders told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins: “Look, you have a prime minister who has created the worst humanitarian disaster in modern history. Israel, of course, had the right to defend itself against the Hamas terrorist attack, but what Netanyahu has done is go to war against — all-out war — against the entire Palestinian people, women and children.”

“Five percent of the population is now dead or wounded. Sixty percent of them are women and children. Some 200,000 housing units have been completely destroyed,” he continued. “Every university in Gaza has been bombed. There is now imminent starvation taking place.””So why you would invite somebody who has done such horrific things to the Palestinian people?” Sanders added. “I think it’s a very bad idea.”

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) said earlier this week that “if Netanyahu comes to address Congress, I would be more than glad to show the ICC the way to the House floor to issue that warrant.”

Netanyahu — who faces multiple criminal corruption charges in Israel unrelated to Palestine — has addressed Congress three times. If he does so again he will have spoken before Congress more than any other foreign leader.

Controversy over a potential Netanyahu speech goes beyond Gaza and corruption charges. The prime minister raised eyebrows in 2008 after he said that Israel “benefited” from the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States — which he earlier called a country that “can easily be moved.”

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