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Some Democrats Mull Skipping Netanyahu Address

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Image: US-POLITICS-ISRAEL-DIPLOMACY-FILES
(FILES) This January 5, 2015 file photo shows Israeli Prime Minister and leader of the ruling rightwing Likud party, Benjamin Netanyahu as he flashes the sign of victory as he gives a speech during a campaign meeting for the 20th Knesset in Tel Aviv. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been invited to address a joint meeting of the US Congress next month to discuss security issues including violent extremism, House Speaker John Boehner announced January 21, 2015. "In this time of challenge, I am asking the prime minister to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life," Boehner said in a statement. Netanyahu has addressed the US Congress twice before, in 1996 and 2011. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZJACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty ImagesJACK GUEZ / AFP - Getty Images

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Some high-profile Democrats still aren’t saying if they’ll attend a March 3 congressional address by Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu amid a partisan debate over whether the speech represents a breach of protocol.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and Dick Durbin of Illinois both told reporters Wednesday that they’re considering skipping the speech, accusing Republicans and Netanyahu of using the address for political gain.

"I've heard some colleagues are very concerned by it, and I'm troubled by it," Durbin said. "I just think it's a serious mistake by the Speaker and by the Prime Minister."

House Speaker John Boehner extended the invitation to Netanyahu without consulting the White House, which administration officials say was a breach of long-standing protocol. President Barack Obama will not meet with the prime minister while he is in the United States because of the visit’s close proximity to the Israeli election.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday that Vice President Joe Biden’s schedule is not yet set for the week of the speech.

At the Capitol, Feinstein said that she’s concerned that the speech will not only be seen as bad form within the United States but that it could be bad for Israel.

"My concern is that it's obviously political and it uses the backdrop of the United States House of Representatives and the Senate, and the House, two weeks before a political campaign and violates all the protocol that's always existed in terms of working this out with the President," Feinstein told reporters. "And I don't think that helps Israel."

Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer was on the Hill Wednesday morning meeting with a handful of Jewish House Democrats. And Israeli Speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein met separately with House leaders from both sides of the aisle.

Other Democrats have confirmed that they will attend the address, although some say that’s not an indication that they support Boehner’s move to invite the prime minister unilaterally.

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has called Boehner’s invite to Netanyahu “not appropriate” and said it “could send the wrong message in terms of giving diplomacy a chance” in regards to Iran.

But her spokesman told NBC News: “The Leader attends every Joint Meeting and, of course, will attend should this speech take place.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has also said he would attend, but said the decision not to is a "personal decision."

Republicans have criticized the suggestion that Democrats might pass on attending the speech.

"I want to hear from Bibi. You may not agree with me, but you should want to hear from him too," Sen Lindsay Graham (R-SC) said when asked about senators possibly boycotting the speech, "I think it's a mistake."

- Carrie Dann contributed

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