Posts Tagged Dick Durbin
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday turned down an invitation to meet privately with Senate Democrats next week during his visit to Washington, saying the session “could compound the misperception of partisanship” surrounding his trip.
Angering the White House and Democrats, Netanyahu accepted an invitation from Republican leaders to address a joint meeting of Congress on March 3 and speak about Iran. The GOP leaders did not consult with the Obama administration, which the White House called a breach of protocol.
Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on Monday invited Netanyahu to meet in a closed-door session with Democrats during his visit. He declined the invitation on Tuesday and expressed regret about the politically fraught tone of his trip.
“I regret that the invitation to address the special joint session of Congress has been perceived by some to be political or partisan,” Netanyahu wrote. “I can assure you that my sole intention in accepting it was to voice Israel’s grave concerns about a potential nuclear agreement with Iran that could threaten the survival of my country.”
Netanyahu said to meet with Democrats “at this time could compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit.”
More than a half dozen House and Senate Democrats have said they will skip the speech, calling it an affront to President Barack Obama and the administration as they engage in high-level negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Vice President Joe Biden will be traveling and has no plans to attend the speech.
Obama has no plans to meet with Netanyahu, with the administration saying such a session would break with past practices of engaging with world leaders close to elections. Israel’s elections are set for March 17.
Durbin said in a statement that he regretted that Netanyahu could not meet with the Democrats.
“We offered the Prime Minister an opportunity to balance the politically divisive invitation from Speaker (John) Boehner with a private meeting with Democrats who are committed to keeping the bipartisan support of Israel strong,” Durbin said. “His refusal to meet is disappointing to those of us who have stood by Israel for decades.”
Elsewhere National Security Advisor Susan Rice in an interview Tuesday with journalist Charlie Rose on PBS, said US relations with Israel have always had a bipartisan nature. But the invitation for the speech now breaks that tradition and adds a political component, she said.
“What has happened over the last several weeks by virtue of the invitation that was issued by the Speaker and the acceptance of it by Prime Minister Netanyahu two weeks in advance of his election is that on both sides there has now been injected a degree of partisanship,” Rice said.
“Which is not only unfortunate, I think it is destructive of the fabric of the relationship,” Rice added.
“It has always been bipartisan. We need to keep it that way. We want it that way. I think Israel wants its that way, the American people want it that way.”
Rice declined to say if she thought Netanyahu intended to influence the election in his country by making the speech.
“When it becomes injected with politics that’s a problem,” she added, however.
“The point is we want the relationship between the US and Israel to be unquestionably strong, immutable, regardless of political seasons in either country,” Rice said.
In yet another sign that Congress will leave town next week without addressing the influx of young migrants at the southern border, a senior White House official acknowledged there are major doubts that lawmakers will approve President Barack Obama’s request for emergency funding to deal with the crisis.
“Alarming if Congress leaves for the August recess without acting,” the official told reporters ahead of the visit of three Central American presidents to the White House on Friday.
The official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, conceded that demands, mainly from Republicans, to change immigration policy enacted in a 2008 law could scuttle efforts to pass Obama’s $3.7 billion funding bill by the end of next week, when members of Congress leave Washington until after Labor Day.
The law entices unaccompanied minors from Central America by granting special legal status in U.S. immigration courts.
“If it is an impediment to getting resources, then that is a problem,” the official said of calls to change the 2008 law.
House Speaker John Boehner called on Obama to get more engaged.
“This is a problem of the President’s own making. And then he tries to say he wants to solve the problem so that we can stop this influx, but then he changes his mind,” he said Thursday. “We’ve got a President that’s AWOL. And the President ought to get engaged in this if he actually wants something to happen.”
The 2008 law was an effort to combat human trafficking. A leading bipartisan proposal to change it, advanced by Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, is not supported by the administration, a senior White House official said.
Making things more complicated is resistance by congressional Democrats to changing the law.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who authored it, said she’s received draft language from the administration with suggested changes. She said she’s looking at them but doubts there’s any way they can happen before the recess.
“This bill is very complicated and we have to know what we’re doing and I think the important thing is to get the supplemental,” the California Democrat said.
As for House Republicans who signal they won’t pass any bill until the law is changed, Feinstein cautioned, “I think that’s a big mistake,” noting there is also money in the bill to battle wildfires in the West.
Sen. Richard Durbin, one of many powerful Democratic opponents of changing the law, said that the Senate Democratic caucus was at first split on the issue but now the “overwhelming majority” thinks it would be a mistake to make changes.
Asked if the administration is pushing aggressively, if at all anymore, to make the changes that they say they want, Durbin pointed to the draft changes that Feinstein received.
“Many of us are very wary of that,” he said. “First we think the President has all the authority he needs, number one, and number two, when the door is cracked open we think Cornyn and Cuellar and (Ted) Cruz and the whole gang of anti-immigrant opponents are going to walk through it.”
Other senior White House officials said Obama will encourage the Central American leaders from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to do more to disrupt human smuggling networks in their countries.
The presidents of those countries are seeking financial assistance in return. But that money could also be in jeopardy as officials at the briefing noted the supplemental bill offers $295 million to Central America to deal with the crisis.