At least two US senators, including the chamber's longest-serving lawmaker, will skip Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's speech on the Iranian Nuclear threat to Congress next month two weeks ahead of Israeli elections, deepening a partisan fissure over the address.
In a blunt statement Tuesday, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy accused Republican leaders in the House of Representatives of "unilaterally" arranging and politicizing Netanyahu's planned address before a joint meeting of Congress on March 3, reports AFP.
Leahy, a seven-term senator, said that by scheduling the speech without input from the White House, Republicans "have orchestrated a tawdry and high-handed stunt that has embarrassed not only Israel but the Congress itself."
However, reports have revealed that despite White House claims of having not been informed and criticism of Netanyahu, the White House in fact was informed before Netanyahu accepted the invitation.
Leahy said the unwritten rule of Congress is to speak and act "with one voice" on foreign policy whenever possible, with US national interests the paramount concern and "with caution about the unintended consequences of unilateral actions like this."
"They have diminished that valuable precedent," he claimed.
US Vice President Joe Biden, symbolically the president of the US Senate, is the most high-profile official yet to announce he will not attend Netanyahu's speech.
"The president of the United States heads up our foreign policy, and the idea that the president wasn't even consulted – that is wrong and not a good thing for our country," Sanders said on Monday at the Brookings Institute, whose largest foreign funder is Hamas-backer Qatar.
Sanders added "I may watch it on TV but I'm not going."
US lawmakers have traditionally been united in their support of Israel. But the speech that House Speaker John Boehner invited the prime minister to give, in the midst of crunch negotiations between Iran and world powers over restricting the Islamic republic's nuclear program, has triggered divisions in Congress.
Israeli officials mounted a charm offensive last week, sending Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein up to Capitol Hill to contain the damage, as House members from both sides reportedly considered boycotting the Netanyahu speech.
Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi, in meeting with Edelstein, emphasized the "value all members place on the US-Israel relationship in a non-partisan way," her spokesman said.
"The leader expressed her concern that casting a political apple of discord into the relationship is not the best way forward given the formidable challenges our two countries are facing together," he added.