Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California says that inviting Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress during an Israeli election period is “highly inappropriate” and that imposing new sanctions on Iran at this time is “reckless and dangerous.”
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Feinstein’s statement to Haaretz comes against the backdrop of the growing backlash against Netanyahu’s upcoming March 3 speech to Congress, which is already causing some Democratic lawmakers to rethink their support for the Iran sanctions bill proposed by Democratic Senator Robert Menendez from New Jersey and Republican Senator Mark Kirk from Illinois.
According to journalist Laura Rozen of Al-Monitor, Menendez is trying to salvage what remains of Democratic support for his bill by proposing that any vote would be postponed till March 26, the target date by which Iran and Washington are to reach an agreement in principle on Iran’s nuclear program.
The liberal Feinstein, who is not one of the 12 Democratic co-sponsors of the Kirk-Menendez bill, said in a statement to Haaretz: "Inviting Prime Minister Netanyahu without consulting the administration is clearly a breach of protocol and an unwelcome injection of partisan politics into our foreign policy. It puts the United States in the middle of Israel’s election, which is highly inappropriate.”
Feinstein added “I also believe imposing additional sanctions on Iran in the midst of negotiations — which is what Netanyahu will reportedly discuss — would collapse the negotiations and ruin a historic diplomatic opportunity. Imposing sanctions now is reckless and dangerous.”
The backlash against the Boehner-Netanyahu gambit reached fever pitch on Saturday, embraced by not only editorial and op-eds in liberal leaning news organizations such as the New York Times and Boston Globe, but even traditionally Netanyahu-adoring channels such Fox News. In a scathing attack on both Netanyahu and Boehner, Fox’s Chris Wallace described the move as “wicked,” “dicey politics” and “an egregious snub” of the American president, while anchorman Shepard Smith wondered “Do they think we’re morons over there?”
New York Times columnist David Brooks, who was criticized earlier this month for his laudatory column on Netanyahu entitled “The Age of Bibi,” said on PBS that Netanyahu’s invitation was “unwise” and “bad for Israel.” His liberal counterpart Mark Shields went much further: He described the Netanyahu speech as “irresponsible” and “sordid."
The new controversy promises to garner significant media attention on this Thursday’s meeting of the Senate Banking Committee, which is slated to vote on the Kirk-Menendez bill. The deliberations may cast new light on whether Republicans plan to push ahead with a Senate vote on the sanctions bill despite dwindling Democratic support or whether they will agree to postpone, as Menendez is proposing.
If they go forward, as Republican Senator Lindsey Graham promised Netanyahu during his last visit to Israel, the Republicans risk losing Democratic support and turning the bill into a completely partisan matter. They would also be conceding the possibility that they would be unable to garner the 67-vote majority needed to override the presidential veto that Obama has promised.
But if the Republicans agree to wait it out until late March or early April, they are risking a vote that will take place after an agreement in principle between Washington and Tehran is reached. That could prove to be an exercise in futility with no real impact and could also be seen by the American public as a direct sabotage of a deal which, according to most polls, a majority of Americans support.