Majority of Md. Congressional Delegation Plans to Attend Netanyahu Speech

By Lauren Sagl

WASHINGTON–Amid much controversy, the majority of the Maryland congressional delegation still plans to attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on Tuesday.

Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski will attend the speech, as will Reps. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Cockeysville; Steny Hoyer, D- Mechanicsville; John Sarbanes, D-Towson; John Delaney, D-Potomac and Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville.

Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Fort Washington, will not be attend the speech. Reps. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington and Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, have not decided whether they will attend.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, invited Netanyahu to discuss threats posed by a nuclear Iran without first consulting the Obama administration. The speech comes at a time when President Barack Obama is nearing the end of his negotiations with Iran regarding its nuclear program.

“Senator Cardin disagrees with how Speaker Boehner handled the invitation. It was inappropriate,” said Sue Walitsky, communications director for Cardin. “However, Senator Cardin respects the prime minister of Israel and will attend his speech to Congress.”

Ruppersberger echoed Cardin’s sentiments.

“While we have concerns with the way Speaker Boehner extended his invitation to the prime minister, the congressman plans to attend the joint session to hear the substance of his speech,” said Jaime Lennon, director of communications for Ruppersberger. “Politics aside, Israel is our ally and we must give diplomacy every opportunity to ensure a nuclear Iran never becomes a reality.”

Other Democrats have said they do not plan to attend the session, including Edwards. In a tweet, the congresswoman said, “Having heard from many constituents across MD4, I’ve decided not to attend the Joint Meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu. #diplomacyfirst”

However, Hoyer, the minority whip, told reporters weeks ago that, while some representatives did not plan to attend the joint session, Democrats were not planning a boycott.

“It is unfortunate that we have now raised political questions about the politicization either of the Israeli election or the political relationship between Republicans and Democrats on the issue of Israel,” Hoyer said at the time.

Some Republicans, however, believe that the session with Netanyahu will be beneficial for the U.S. and the prevention of a nuclear Iran.

“I look forward to hearing Prime Minister Netanyahu discuss the threats freedom-loving people face in the Middle East,” Harris said. “ I wish the president would take our nation’s security more seriously and stand with Israel, instead of playing political games with the likelihood of a nuclear Iran.”

President Obama does not plan to attend Netanyahu’s speech, saying he does not want to interfere with the upcoming Israeli election. Other senior members of the administration also do not plan to attend, including Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry.

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