Timing for Netanyahu address to Congress uncertain after floated date is ruled out

A date for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress remains uncertain after one date initially floated was ruled out because it fell on a Jewish holiday.

A US congressional leadership aide initially said Monday that Netanyahu was scheduled to speak on June 13, which falls on Shavuot. It also coincides with President Joe Biden’s visit to Italy for a Group of 7 summit.

House Speaker Mike Johnson said congressional leaders are looking at various options for Netanyahu to address Congress in light of the scheduling issue.

“We are trying to get this done in the next couple of weeks, and there is a sense of urgency on our side and the prime minister’s, so I hope we can get it done,” the Louisiana Republican told reporters Monday evening.

Johnson added, “We have a couple different options we are looking at — his staff and mine — so we will figure it out.”

A source familiar with the planning of the visit said Netanyahu is likely to come to Washington in July to address Congress.

The top four congressional Republican and Democratic leaders extended the invitation to Netanyahu last week, but it wasn’t clear at the time whether the prime minister’s visit to Washington would also include a meeting at the White House.

Scheduling the speech while Biden is on another continent would have skirted that question. Biden is planning to attend a summit of Group of 7 leaders in Puglia, Italy, which runs from June 13 to 15. The dates have been set for several months.

Biden and Netanyahu have spoken by phone regularly since the October 7 attacks by Hamas that set off the current grinding conflict in Gaza, and they last met in person when the president flew to Tel Aviv in the days immediately following the attack.

The leaders’ relationship, however, has become strained over Israel’s war plans and over efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering in the Palestinian enclave.

The decision this year to invite Netanyahu to speak to a joint meeting of Congress was not met with unanimous approval among Democrats, some of whom have vowed to boycott the speech. The war in Gaza has divided Democrats; many in the party say Netanyahu has become an obstacle to peace.

Even Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called earlier this year for new elections in Israel, with the implication Netanyahu leave power. But the New York Democrat nonetheless signed on to the letter inviting the prime minister to speak to Congress.

“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,” stated the letter from Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Johnson and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.

Last week, Biden laid out an Israeli proposal to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas in exchange for a ceasefire, hoping to break a logjam in the stalled negotiations.

The move, which was unusual in the level of detail being revealed about another government’s proposal, seemed designed to put Netanyahu on the spot to either support the framework or reject what Biden said was the Israeli government’s own plan.

Israel has declined to formally endorse the proposal, however, and Netanyahu told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that “the claim that we agreed to a ceasefire without our conditions being met is not true.” He appeared to be referring to the permanent ceasefire outlined in the second phase of the Israeli proposal.

Speaking to reporters Monday, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby repeated Biden’s assertion that the proposal the president spelled out was an Israeli plan.

“We’re comfortable that it represents fairly and honestly an Israeli proposal – a very forward-leaning Israeli proposal, and we’re confident that Hamas needs to take it,” he said.

This headline and story have been updated with additional developments.

CNN’s MJ Lee contributed to this report.

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