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Netanyahu Takes Center Stage in GOP Battle With Obama

Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday will address a Congress featuring divisions not only over his message, but on the very nature of his trip.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday will address a Congress featuring divisions not only over his likely message, but on the very nature of his trip to the nation's capital.

At least 50 Democrats plan to skip Netanyahu's speech. Many of them feel his appearance is little more than a Republican-led effort to undermine President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, specifically his ongoing nuclear talks with Iran. Netanyahu is expected to deliver a speech that will be critical of the U.S.-led effort to negotiate with a country the prime minister has said threatens Israel's survival, an area where Republicans in Congress also have been critical of the president.

Adding to the controversy, House Speaker John Boehner broke diplomatic protocol by unilaterally extending an invitation for the prime minister to speak without consulting with the White House.

“The unfortunate way that House leaders have unilaterally arranged this, and then heavily politicized it, has demolished the potential constructive value of this Joint Meeting,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in a statement. “They have orchestrated a tawdry and high-handed stunt that has embarrassed not only Israel but the Congress itself.”

Boehner has countered that Congress wants to hear from its trusted ally Israel before the framework for the possible nuclear deal with Iran is due later this month.

House Republicans have lambasted the president for negotiating with Iran, a country they say should not be trusted. Both Republicans and Netanyahu support increased sanctions on Iran, while the president has vowed to veto the stricter measures that could jeopardize the talks.

Obama told Reuters on Monday that Netanyahu’s speech was “a distraction” but it is "not a personal issue." The president said the address is not permanently destructive to the two countries relationship.

Also complicating Netanyahu’s visit are elections being held in Israel on March 17. It is why, the Obama administration has said, the president will not meet with the prime minister in order to avoid the impression he is endorsing Netanyahu ahead of his closely contested re-election campaign.

"As a matter of policy, we think it's a mistake for the prime minister of any country to come to speak before Congress a few weeks before they're about to have an election, it makes it look like we are taking sides," Obama said.

Vice President Joe Biden, who would have been seated behind Netanyahu during his address, will also be among the Democrats skipping out on the speech. He will be in Central America on Tuesday.

The controversy is just the latest bump in what has been a rocky relationship between Netanyahu and President Obama.

The prime minister said in a speech to AIPAC, the largest pro-Israel lobby in the United States, that his address “is not intended to show any disrespect to Obama.” Instead, Netanyahu said he came to the U.S. out of a “moral obligation” to speak out against a possible deal that may not completely dismantle all of Tehran’s nuclear program.

U.S. officials say they are committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“It is the responsibility of the prime minister to make his own decisions about where he wants to go,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday. “But what should not be lost on anybody is the strategy that this president has put in place to deal with Iran’s nuclear program is consistent with achieving our goal of ensuring Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon.”

Here is a list of member of Congress who will not be in attendance when Netanyahu speaks:


Sen Al Franken (D-MN)

Sen Martin Heinrich (D-NM)

Sen Tim Kaine (D-VA)

Sen Patrick Leahy (D-VT)

Sen Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

Sen Brian Schatz (D-HI)

Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)

Sen Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)


Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA)

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)

Rep Corrine Brown (D-FL)

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC)

Rep Joaquin Castro (D-TX)

Rep. Kathleen Clark (D-MA)

Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO)

Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC)

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN)

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI)

Rep Elijah Cummings (D-MD)

Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL)

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR)

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO)

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX)

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD)

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN)

Rep Chaka Fattah (D-PA)

Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH)

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ)

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL)

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH)

Rep Rick Larsen (D-WA)

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA)

Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-IA)

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA)

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN)

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA)

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA)

Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA)

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY)

Rep Gwen Moore (D-WI)

Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX)

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME)

Rep. David Price (D-NC)

Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA)

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)

Rep Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ)

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY)

— List compiled by NBC News' Alex Moe and Frank Thorp V