Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech Tuesday to a joint session of Congress about Iran was words the American public needed to hear or a political stunt “worthy of an Oscar,” depending on which side of the aisle members of Congress spoke from. Republicans applauded the address that warned of the dangers of a deal on Iran’s nuclear program, while some Democrats denounced the speech, accusing Netanyahu of a condescending tone and saying it was inappropriate for a foreign leader to use the Capitol as a platform to criticize administration policy.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who was visibly upset as Netanyahu was wrapping up, said she was “near tears” hearing the speech. She said she was “saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the P5 +1 nations, and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation,” referring to the negotiations among the U.S., five other countries and Iran.
But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who helped arrange Netanyahu’s visit and took criticism for not consulting the White House about it, said in a statement, “This was a speech the American people needed to hear, plain and simple. It addressed the gravity of the threats we face and why we cannot allow a nuclear Iran, or any semblance of a path to a nuclear Iran. It demonstrated why there is such deep-seated – and bipartisan – concern about the deal that is being made.”
About a fourth of all Democratic lawmakers boycotted the speech, accusing Netanyahu -- among other offenses -- of electioneering since Israel’s elections are in two weeks. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., who is Jewish, was one of the 57 Democrats absent from the House chamber; instead, he viewed it on TV from his office. “I thought it would be political theater and it indeed was worthy of an Oscar,” Cohen said, according to the Guardian.
Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., who is also Jewish and skipped the speech, sarcastically congratulated Netanyahu and Boehner “on a very impressive bit of political theater. Now the prime minister can go home to his campaign and say he lectured Congress and the American people on things that apparently we didn’t know.” He said the speech “was straight out of the Dick Cheney playbook” and “fear-mongering at its ultimate.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Boehner should be commended for arranging the speech. “This is crunch time for the U.S. and Israel regarding the Iranian and growing terrorist threat in the region. Today’s speech was historic. The prime minister got many standing ovations for his speech. The speaker deserves one for making it happen,” he said.