Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has reportedly declined an invitation to meet with U.S. Senate Democrats during his trip to Washington next week, Reuters reported late Tuesday.
The invitation was extended on Monday by Senators Richard Durbin and Dianne Feinstein, who explained they invited Netanyahu to a closed-door meeting with Democrats "to maintain Israel's dialog with both political parties in Congress".
In a response letter to the two senators, obtained by Reuters, Netanyahu wrote, “Though I greatly appreciate your kind invitation to meet with Democratic Senators, I believe that doing so at this time could compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit.”
Durbin and Feinstein’s invitation to the closed-door meeting was made after weeks of quarreling between Democrats and Republicans over Netanyahu’s Congress speech.
The invitation to Netanyahu to address Congress was extended by House Speaker John Boehner, who did so without consulting the White House or the Democrats, and later explained he felt it was important to do an end-run around White House "interference".
Democrats were outraged, with Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy saying he would not attend the speech and accusing Republican leaders in the House of Representatives of "unilaterally" arranging and politicizing Netanyahu's planned address.
Other lawmakers threatened to boycott the speech as well. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said there would be no organized "boycott" of Netanyahu's speech, but she suggested some lawmakers might “be too busy to attend”.
The speech has also stoked tensions between Washington and Jerusalem, as the White House made clear that neither President Barack Obama nor Secretary of State John Kerry would meet with Netanyahu while he is in Washington, citing the proximity of his visit to the elections in Israel.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki has indicated that Kerry will “probably be out of town” during Netanyahu’s speech, and Vice President Joe Biden has also announced that he will be travelling abroad and would not be attending the speech.