Bipartisan leaders officially invite Netanyahu to address Congress

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has officially been invited to deliver an address to Congress, according to a letter obtained by The Hill.

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) on Friday sent Netanyahu a formal invitation to speak during a joint meeting of Congress, and the invitation featured the signatures of all four Congressional leaders: Johnson, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).

“We join the State of Israel in your struggle against terror, especially as Hamas continues to hold American and Israeli citizens captive and its leaders jeopardize regional stability,” the letter reads. “For this reason, on behalf of the bipartisan leadership of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate, we would like to invite you to address a Joint Meeting of Congress.”

A source familiar told The Hill the address is expected to take place “as soon as the next eight weeks or soon after August recess.” It would be Netanyahu’s fourth address to a joint meeting of Congress, following speeches in 2015, 2011 and 1996.

The invitation left Washington after weeks of delay from Schumer who, during a high-profile floor speech in March, declared Netanyahu had “lost his way” and called for new elections in Israel, drawing the ire of the longtime Israeli leader, Republicans and some Democrats.

Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish official in U.S. history, and his office on a number of occasions said the Senate leader was supportive of having Netanyahu address Congress, despite his sharp criticism of the Israeli leader, but the New York Democrat did not sign the letter until recently.

Netanyahu’s visit to the Capitol — if it comes to fruition — is certain to spark intense anger among liberals in both chambers who have denounced the conservative leader’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war, especially as the number of humanitarian deaths in the Gaza strip continues to rise.

Those feelings deepened last week after a prosecutor with the International Criminal Court (ICC), which the U.S. is not a party to, filed arrest warrants for Netanyahu and other Israeli and Hamas leaders, alleging that they “bear criminal responsibility” for a list of war crimes.

Some progressives in the House told The Hill last week that they would likely skip the speech if it materialized, taking aim at the Israeli leader’s conduct during the war.

“I think there’ll be a lot of people who wouldn’t go, just given the fact that he is pushing this war into a place that no one wants it to go into just to save his own butt, which makes Israel less safe and the region less safe,” said Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.), who added that he would “probably” boycott the event.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), a Jewish Democrat who called Netanyahu a “menace,” said she “boycotted his last visit. I certainly will not attend this one.”

“It’s not going to help move us forward — it’s a detriment,” she added. “Should he come for any reason, in any venue, I am not going to be there.”

During Netanyahu’s 2015 visit to the Capitol, the Israeli leader used his speech to attack then-President Obama over the Iran nuclear deal, an extraordinary display that was denounced by Obama’s Democratic allies.

The formal invite for Netanyahu to address Congress marks the culmination of a weeks-long discussion over whether the Israeli leader would be given the opportunity to speak to lawmakers in the Capitol.

The idea first cropped up in March, when Johnson said he planned to invite the Israeli leader to deliver an address following Schumer’s controversial comments calling for new elections in the Middle East country.

Johnson said he sent Schumer a draft letter inviting Netanyahu to the Capitol in mid-March. Invitations for foreign leaders to address Congress are typically extended on behalf of congressional leaders. There are not, however, formal procedures for inviting foreign leaders to address Congress, according to the Congressional Research Service.

In late-April, however, the Speaker said Schumer had not yet signed the letter, telling The Hill “it’s been sitting on Chuck Schumer’s desk.” Responding to Johnson’s remarks, Schumer’s office told The Hill that the Democratic leader “intends to join the invitation, the timing is being worked out.”

Johnson upped the pressure on Schumer to sign the letter last week, when he said the House would move ahead with an invitation on its own if the Democratic leader did not join his letter soon.

Schumer again reiterated that he would support having Netanyahu visit the Capitol, telling reporters “I’m discussing that now with the Speaker of the House, and as I’ve always said, our relationship with Israel is ironclad and transcends any one prime minister or president.”

Updated at 4:22 p.m.

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