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Top Republican leaders took to public and private channels Thursday to expose a coordinated campaign by the Obama administration to attack Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his acceptance of an invitation to speak before Congress, according to conversations with multiple lawmakers and leading pro-Israel insiders.
The statements, many of which were obtained by the Washington Free Beacon in conversations with leaders in Congress, come in the aftermath of a widely cited New York Times report in which Obama administration officials accused Netanyahu of breaking diplomatic protocol by agreeing to speak before receiving approval from the White House.
However, the paper of record was quickly forced to issue a correction reversing its previously published timeline that claimed Netanyahu went behind the White House’s back. As the correction notes, Netanyahu did not accept the invitation until after the White House was informed.
Several leading congressional offices that spoke to the Free Beacon in recent days indicated they support Netanyahu’s address, a sentiment that was echoed on Thursday afternoon by the Senate’s second most powerful member, Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas).
Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), a vocal administration opponent, told the Free Beacon that Obama “is more interested in undermining a close ally than in addressing the common threat we face, which is a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic of Iran.”
The controversy over Netanyahu’s appearance—which has prompted some Democrats to boycott the speech—was manufactured by the White House and its media allies, Cruz said.
“There is growing evidence that, as the New York Times correction demonstrates, this was never an issue of protocol—Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office followed protocol by accepting the invitation only after the White House was notified,” Cruz said. “The real issue is the president’s reluctance to hear a dissenting voice challenging his assumption that the Iranians are negotiating in good faith over their nuclear program.”
Cornyn took to the Senate floor Thursday afternoon to reveal that a majority of his colleagues have signed onto a letter welcoming Netanyahu and reiterating support for him in light of efforts by some lawmakers to boycott the speech.
“I hope the rest of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join me in welcoming the prime minister to Washington so we can continue to work together as he details in graphic detail like no one else can do the threat of a nuclear Iran,” Cornyn said. “During this time of such great instability and danger in the Middle East, the United States cannot afford to waver in our commitment to one of our closest and most important allies.”
Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.), one of the leading backers of a bill to impose new sanctions on Iran, said that now is not the time for Congress to waver in its support of Israel.
“At a time when the civilized world faces Islamic extremist threats not just from the [Islamic State], but also from a nuclear Iran and its terror proxies, the United States should speak with one voice and stand with our allies,” Kirk said.
The statements of support among Republicans also come despite thinly sourced reports in left-wing anti-Netanyahu media outlets claiming Republican displeasure with the prime minister.
An official timeline of how the speech came to be contradicts the New York Times story and comments by Obama administration officials.
Discussions about inviting Netanyahu to speak about Iran began nearly a year ago and were initiated by House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) and his Senate counterpart, Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), according to Boehner’s office.
Boehner called Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer in early January to extend the invitation and gauge Netanyahu’s interest. On Jan. 20, Boehner and McConnell formally extended the invitation to Netanyahu and informed the White House the following day.
Netanyahu only agreed to speak after Congress and the White House were informed about the invite.
Still, several Democratic allies of the White House have promised to boycott the speech.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D., Ore.) told CNN he is offended that Netanyahu wants to speak about the dangers of a nuclear Iran at the same time the White House is conducting diplomacy with it.
“It's inappropriate to have a deliberate effort by the speaker and Prime Minister Netanyahu to sabotage the negotiating that we have with Iran,” Blumenauer said.
Lawmakers such as Cruz and Rep. Lee Zeldin (R., N.Y.), Congress’ sole Jewish Republican, said it is offensive and inappropriate for their colleagues to boycott a speech by the leader of America’s closest ally.
“It is an unnecessary reckless act of foolishness to skip out on this joint session of Congress,” Zeldin told the Free Beacon. “It’s a critical hour and there really should be no questions where they belong. It’s very telling as to who has their priorities misplaced when looking around that room and seeing who decides to skip out for all the wrong reasons.”
Cruz went on to call Democratic opposition to Netanyahu “profoundly irresponsible," telling the Free Beacon that “no friend of Israel would work to undermine, much less actually boycott, the elected leader of Israel in this time of peril.”
Zeldin also blamed the White House for fueling the controversy, which has dominated the narrative in Washington, D.C., for weeks.
“The president is all politics all the time,” Zeldin said. “He’ll stick his chest out to a friend while going out of his way to reduce his negotiating ability with an enemy to a position of equality or weakness. It’s time for the White House to have a refresher course on who our friends are and who our enemies are.”
Rep. Tim Walberg (R., Mich.), a member of the Israel Allies Caucus, said it is completely appropriate for Netanyahu to brief Congress on the Iranian threat as negotiations with Tehran reach their deadline.
“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a real and consequential understanding of the dangers in allowing Iran to procure a nuclear missile,” Walberg said. “With both Israel and the United States’ safety and security at stake, the speaker did the right thing by inviting the prime minister to address Congress.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) came out late Thursday with a direct appeal to his Democratic colleagues.
“You have your right to voice your concerns, but don’t do this to an ally; don’t do this to a nation that is as threatened today as it has ever been at any time in its existence,” Rubio said in a statement. “Don’t do this to a people that are in the crosshairs of multiple terrorist groups with the capability of attacking them.
Christians United for Israel (CUFI) launched on Thursday a campaign urging its members to demand that their member of Congress attend Netanyahu’s speech. More than 10,000 CUFI members acted on the alert in less than five hours, according to the group.
“The spectacle of Democrats boycotting Netanyahu's speech is a new low for Washington. Our elected officials have a sacred duty to listen to all views on this critical issue—including those with which they may disagree—before making up their minds. Whether they like the fact that Netanyahu was invited or not, they should stop acting like peevish children and listen for a change,” CUFI executive director David Brog said.