Sen. Patrick Leahy, Key Democrat, Won't Attend Netanyahu's Congress Speech

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Sen. Patrick Leahy during a May 2012 hearing in Washington. The Vermont Democrat said he would not attend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's planned March 3 speech to Congress.Credit: AP

Senator Patrick Leahy, a key U.S. Senate Democrat and the chamber's most senior member, said Tuesday that he would not attend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's planned speech to Congress.

The seven-term senator from Vermont called the speech, arranged by House Speaker John Boehner and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, is “a tawdry and high-handed stunt that has embarrassed not only Israel but the Congress itself."

Leahy joins an increasingly long list of lawmakers who are planning to boycott the speech. According to The Hill news website, more than a dozen congressional Democrats are planning to skip the address. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent, announced on Monday he won't attend.

The speech has created a diplomatic brouhaha in Washington, with many observers calling it a breach of diplomatic protocol because the invitation was not coordinated with President Barack Obama.

"The president of the United States heads up our foreign policy and the idea that the president wasn't even consulted - that is wrong and not a good thing for our country," USA Today quoted Sanders as saying at a Monday appearance at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

"I am not going. I may watch it on TV, but I'm not going."

Leahy said that by unilaterally scheduling the speech without the White House’s input, House Republican leaders “demolished the potential constructive value of this joint meeting," Politico reported.