Democrats Split on Netanyahu Speech to Congress

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Senior Democrats sharply criticized zionist Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on Tuesday about Iran, underlining the partisan political controversy that his visit to Washington has generated.

With Congress about to take up new Iran legislation, a significant section of the Democratic party, particularly from its liberal wing, took issue with Netanyahu’s call to block a diplomatic agreement with Iran and accused him of not providing an alternative plan.

The question for the Israeli leader is whether he was able to convince enough centrist Democrats about what he believes to be the risks of the diplomatic agreement under discussion. Netanyahu is calculating that his eloquence will overcome the clumsy politics that surrounded his speech.

After being invited to address Congress by Republican leaders, Netanyahu delivered a scathing attack on the Obama administration’s diplomacy with Iran that won rousing applause from many of the Republicans in attendance.

Within hours of the speech, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said Congress would take up a new bill that calls for any final deal with Iran to be approved by the legislature. A new Iran sanctions bill has also been introduced in the Senate, Financial Times reported.

Although the White House has threatened to veto the bills, both enjoy some bipartisan support and could significantly complicate the administration’s diplomatic strategy if they gather enough support to override a veto.

The toughest criticism of the Israeli prime minister came from Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, who described the speech as “an insult to the intelligence of the United States”. Pelosi said she was “saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation.”

Some of the roughly 60 Democratic lawmakers who decided not to attend the speech attacked the Israeli leader in a press conference they held shortly afterwards.

Jan Schakowsky, a Democratic House member from Illinois, said the speech sounded like “an effort to stampede the United States into war once again”. Jim McDermott from Washington state said Netanyahu had used the “old concept” that “if you can make the people afraid, you can make them do anything.”

John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat, likened the Israeli leader’s argument to that of a small child. “He basically said that the only acceptable deal was a perfect deal,” Yarmuth said. “It’s like the child that says, I want to go to Disneyland every day, eat ice cream and drink Coca-Cola every day, and not go to school.”

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