Louisiana Rep. Charles Boustany met with Louisiana delegates to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual Policy Conference just before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress.
The Congressional delegation from Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and the Florida panhandle was generally enthusiastic to hear Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu address a joint session of Congress yesterday.
Many Democrats had announced that they would skip the speech, which came about at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican. In particular, many members of the Congressional Black Caucus skipped the speech saying Boehner’s invitation of Netanyahu was done as an insult to President Barack Obama.
The Center for Urban Renewal and Education criticized the CBC, saying the black Christian community welcomed Netanyahu.
At the press conference, Bishop David Richey of the Gulf Coast Christian Center in Mobile said “this is certainly not the time to give even the least of hint that we are not the best of allies with the state of Israel… In order to remain the great nation that we are, some things must remain non-negotiable. I believe our current stand with Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu must be one of those things.”
Of the five Democrats in our region, two — Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana and Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi — did not attend the speech (see story here). The other Democrats, though they attended, were mostly quiet about it on their official websites and social media feeds.
Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, who is close to Obama and friends with Vice President Joe Biden, who skipped the speech, did attend, as did Rep. Gwen Graham, who represents the eastern part of the Florida panhandle.
Only Rep. Terri Sewell, the Alabama delegation’s lone Democrat, spoke about attending the speech. Sewell stated that “Israel is our closest ally in the Middle East and, as a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, it is especially important for me to hear Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assessment of the growing crisis in the region.”
Nevertheless, she rebuked Boehner and his “decision to circumvent the White House. This is not a partisan event,” and she was “deeply concerned” about the speech taking place two weeks before Israel’s election.
“The purpose of this event should be to strengthen the unbreakable bond that ties our two nations, not to highlight any divisions that fall along party lines. I hope that today’s speech does not set a precedent, and that the Speaker works more closely with the Administration to ensure this does not happen again,” Sewell said.
Representatives were given one extra invitation to the speech, and Sewell brought Rabbi Jonathan Miller of Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El. In a post on the way back from Washington, Miller wrote that he was “unhappy about the evolving partisan divide” leading up to the speech and entered the room “with mixed emotions, high expectations and high anxiety.”
Miller called the speech a transformational moment. “Too many times we see our politicians enter the ring to defeat their opponents in order to declare themselves king of the mountain. We are too accustomed to these shenanigans and too cynical in our national makeup or in our expectations of our leaders, here, in Israel or around the world. But there are times that leadership and a clarity of thinking is the only way out of the civilizational abyss that we have created. These moments are rare in human history. And this is one of these moments.”
Before the speech, Rep. Bradley Byrne tweeted a photo of him meeting with South Alabama delegates to AIPAC. Afterward, he stated “Iran is no friend to the United States, Israel, or any of our allies. Once again, I call on President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry to end these dangerous nuclear talks and move forward with new sanctions on Iran.”
Byrne added, “I believe President Obama could learn a thing or two from Prime Minister Netanyahu and the need for a clear strategy to defeat our nation’s enemies. In both his speech to Congress and my visit with him last year in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu demonstrated the ability to articulate a case to the people and build consensus. I wish our President would follow his lead.”
Alabama Rep. Martha Roby, who noted that she met with Netanyahu during a trip to Israel last year, said “None know the threat a nuclear Iran poses better than Israel” and that she was looking forward to his speech.
Freshman Rep. Gary Palmer from the Birmingham area shook hands with Netanyahu as Netanyahu made his way to the podium, and tweeted that he signed a large House poster welcoming him.
“Unlike America, Israel is not bordered by two large oceans and two friendly neighbors,” Palmer said. “There is little hope for diplomacy with Iran succeeding, and any agreement that does not include Iran dismantling its nuclear program is futile. Negotiations are being used as tools by the militant Mullahs of Iran to hide their intentions and buy time.“
Palmer also stated that it was “unfortunate that the Prime Minister’s speech has become politicized, and some Democrats are boycotting the speech. Support for Israel is historically bipartisan, and it should remain as such.”
Alabama Rep. Robert Aderholt said he attended because “I did not want to pass up the opportunity to hear what the leader of one of America’s strongest and most important allies had to say.”
Aderholt stated “any negotiations or deals with Iran must be done in a way that ensures the country remains nuclear free. This Administration seems to be taking a naïve approach to foreign affairs. Therefore, it does not give me much comfort that the best interests of Israel or the United States will be at the forefront of any deal.”
He concluded that “Anyone who treats Israel as if it is expendable must be dealt with from a standpoint that they are not acting in good faith.”
Rep. Mo Brooks, who has been very active with the Alabama-Israel Task Force in north Alabama, said he “yearn(s) for the day the White House reflects Netanyahu’s understanding and resolve on foreign policy matters and threats.”
“Netanyahu gave an excellent portrayal of the dangers associated with Iran obtaining nuclear weapons,” Brooks said. “A nuclear Iran threatens not only Israel, but the peace of the entire world. I pray the American people, and the world, are listening.”
He said Netanyahu’s talk reinforced the need for the U.S. to have a strong military, and Congress needs to “not only reverse sequestration but to also fund national defense at levels that empower America to face that increasingly dangerous world. If Congress errs, we must err on the side of a strong national defense. To do otherwise is folly and risks American lives.”
Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy tweeted that “it was an honor to listen to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.” Before the speech, he stated “The Iranian nuclear threat and ISIS are issues that affect the U.S. and Israel. Israel is frontline on these issues. It’s important for Americans to hear Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s perspective. Israel is one of America’s closest friends and allies. The prime minister deserves our attention.”
Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana said Netanyahu’s speech was “amazing — Churchill-like clarity and strength. I pray we learn from history, not repeat its mistakes.”
On his Twitter feed, Vitter launched a Louisiana Stands with Israel petition.
The previous day, Sen. David Vitter urged his colleagues to attend the speech. “The Obama administration’s foreign policy has been severely misguided for years. They’ve proven they’re more interested in talking about progress than actually making concrete plans to stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb,” Vitter said. “Support for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address shouldn’t be controversial. Rather than alienate our greatest ally in the Middle East, we need to send a clear message that the U.S. stands together in support of Israel.”
Last month, Vitter introduced legislation asserting Israel’s right to defend itself as a democratic, Jewish State. His legislation passed unanimously out of the Senate Banking Committee.
Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise said he was honored to serve as part of Netanyahu’s host committee. “As the world could see, the United States Congress is united — Republicans and Democrats — in our unwavering defense of Israel’s right to defend itself as well as our shared interest in preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.”
He added, “A bad deal with Iran will threaten America’s national security as well as the security of Israel, and threatens to kick off a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world.” Scalise appeared on CNN afterward, discussing the speech with Jake Tapper.
Rep. Charles Boustany said it was “important to stand with Israel.” He also met with Louisiana representatives attending AIPAC.
“It’s important to hear from representatives of nations that will be placed in grave danger should these negotiations fail, particularly from our primary friend and ally in the region, Israel. I am continuing to follow these negotiations closely and will work with my colleagues to ensure any potential agreement provides strong protections for Israel and our allies in the Middle East,” Boustany said.
Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves defended Boehner’s invitation of Netanyahu. “The president is welcome to invite whomever he wishes to a meeting at the White House. Congress can invite whomever we wish for a joint session. The U.S. Constitution establishes separate but equal branches. This is a concept that the president struggles with.”
Graves said it was “hands down, the best speech by a head of state in this chamber in 2015,” adding “why do we have to invite a foreign leader to Congress to make so much sense, to express a coherent security strategy and to unite America?”
Graves visited the AIPAC Shabbaton with Pastor Martin Nicholas of Sugar Land First United Methodist Church.
Rep. Ralph Abraham of Louisiana was joined at Netanyahu’s speech by Rabbi Harley Karz-Wagman, Tommy Walhder and Linda Walhder. “Israel is one of America’s strongest allies, and we stand shoulder to shoulder as we deal with the threat of a nuclear Iran together,” Abraham noted.
Louisiana Rep. Mike Fleming told CNS News that he agreed with Netanyahu that “a bad deal is the worst case scenario. No deal is better than a bad deal. And anything that would build upon the model that North Korea was able to establish their nuclear weapons and now ballistic missiles, I think, is an absolute travesty.”
He said the U.S. should be toughening sanctions on Iran, instead of Obama using the lessening of sanctions as a bargaining chip.
Mississippi’s Senators were vocal in support of Netanyahu. Sen. Thad Cochran, chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, said the speech “affirmed the importance of his country’s strategic alliance with the United States and the mutual threats to the security interests of both our nations.”
Cochran is a cosponsor of the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015 (S.269), which would strengthen Congressional oversight of the ongoing P5+1 negotiations with Iran.
“We share common interests in fighting against terrorist activities perpetrated by Islamic radicals and preventing Iran gaining nuclear weapon capabilities,” Cochran said.
Sen. Roger Wicker said Netanyahu “occupies a unique vantage point to address the dangers posed by a nuclear Iran and Islamic extremists. In his historic address, he reminded the world that Iran is a volatile nation with dangerous aims and direct ties to terrorist groups.”
He questioned Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement last week that “We are actually living in a period of less daily threat to Americans,” comparing it to National Intelligence Director James Clapper’s assertion the next day that last year was the most lethal for global terrorism since 1970.
“If the Administration cannot agree on the threats America faces, then how can we be assured that the risk of a nuclear Iran will be confronted in a meaningful way?” Wicker asked. “It is no wonder, then, why Israel and many members of Congress have grave concerns about the ongoing talks regarding Iran’s nuclear program.”
Mississippi Rep. Gregg Harper noted “Iran is the most dangerous state sponsor or terrorism in the world and I appreciate a leader who recognizes the threat that exists.”
Harper asked, “Why does our President insist on making a deal with Iran, a country that seeks to destroy both American and Israel? Iran has proven time and time again that it cannot be trusted.”
Rep. Steven Palazzo spoke on the House floor on March 2, welcoming Netanyahu.
He called it “shortsighted and frankly disheartening” that some were boycotting the talk. “Words like total destruction are being thrown around by (Israel’s) enemies… and yet we do nothing, we say nothing. Sure we negotiate, but we don’t lead.”
Palazzo concluded, “Israel is our greatest ally in the Middle East and we need to continue doing everything in our power to protect our friends.”
Mississippi has a Congressional vacancy, as Rep. Alan Nunnelee died on Feb. 6.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said Netanyahu “provided a stark assessment of the dangerous path the administration has taken us on through its negotiations with Iran. Allowing Iran to retain its nuclear infrastructure even as it does not change its behavior is unacceptable.”
Rubio called on Congress to pass additional sanctions, and to insist that any deal be submitted to Congress for review.
“We must not trade away U.S. and Israeli security for vague commitments from a terrorist-sponsoring regime that has killed Americans and threatens to annihilate Israel,” Rubio said.
Rep. Jeff Miller, who represents the Pensacola area, said U.S. and Israeli citizens “share the common values of personal freedom and individual rights, as well as a desire for a peaceful existence. Israel provides a beacon of hope in a corner of the world marred by darkness, evil and death. It is critical that we provide the support needed to help protect the sovereignty of Israel and the right of its people to defend themselves from terrorism and the threat of a nuclear Iran.”
Reinforcing the alliance needs to be “not just for our own strategic benefit or for the stability brought to an unstable region, but also to show that the world is a brighter place under the light of the freedom provided by our two nations.”