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Profiles in Courage: 38 Dems Publicly Break With Netanyahu's War Polemic

02/20/2015 08:20 am ET | Updated Apr 22, 2015

A recent CNN poll found that four out of five Democratic voters oppose the Israeli Prime Minister's planned March 3 tirade to Congress against diplomacy. Thursday morning, twenty-three House Democrats did something about it. They sent a letter calling on House Speaker John Boehner to postpone Netanyahu's scheduled March 3 address until after the Israeli elections two weeks later and until after Congress considers Republican demands to blow up multilateral diplomacy with Iran by passing new sanctions [Israeli government intelligence experts concede that passing new sanctions now would blow up diplomacy] and put the U.S. on the path to yet another Middle East war.

The signers were:

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC);
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN);
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), top Democrat on the House Financial Services committee;
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR);
Rep. André Carson (D-IN);
Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI), top Democrat on Judiciary;
Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL);
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), top Democrat on Transportation and Infrastructure;
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL);
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX);
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA);
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA);
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN);
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA);
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA);
Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX);
Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (NJ);
Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME);
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), First Vice-Chair of the CPC;
Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA);
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ);
Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT);
Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY).

In addition, The Hill reports that so far the following other fourteen Members of Congress who caucus as Democrats have said that they will not attend the speech if it goes forward:

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT);
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT);
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI);
Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), head of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC);
Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), third ranking Democratic leader in the House;
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO);
Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD);
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ); co-chair of the CPC;
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC);
Rep. John Lewis (D-GA);
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY);
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY);
Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA);
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS).

Also on Thursday, Boston Globe reporter Jim O'Sullivan broke the news that Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren had called for Netanyahu's speech to be postponed:

This is a big deal because historically, proposals for moderate action that the right-wing Israeli government might disapprove of have generally had about the same effect on Congressional Democrats as proposals for moderate action that the National Rifle Association might disapprove of. If asked to do the most reasonable, most moderate thing, Congressional Democrats wonder: am I going to get in trouble with the right-wing "Israel lobby" for this? Will right-wing fanatics in my district publicly demand that I be punished? Will deep-pocketed right-wing donors like Sheldon Adelson shovel unlimited cash to my next election opponent? In such a context, these thirty-eight Congressional Democrats who are willing so far to publicly distance themselves from Netanyahu's campaign for war are profiles in courage.

Of course, Congressional courage tends to be substantially greater when the public is engaged and aware. CNN reports that 63 percent of Americans oppose Netanyahu's planned tirade against diplomacy, including 81 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of Independents.

It also helps that Netanyahu and his cronies are being totally crude about their motivations.

Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi gave this defense of Netanyahu's planned speech:

"The Republicans know, as the president has already made clear, that he will veto this legislation. So in order to pass legislation that overcomes the veto, two-thirds are required in the Senate. So if the prime minister can persuade another one or two or another three or four, this could have weight," he said.

Let us pass over for now the question of the alleged propriety of the Israeli Prime Minister publicly lobbying Congress against the president in this way. What is Netanyahu's goal, according to his deputy foreign minister? It's not to pressure Senate Republicans. Netanyahu already has every Senate Republican except for Rand Paul and Jeff Flake eating out of the palm of his hand. To get a two-thirds majority in the Senate, Netanyahu needs to pressure Democrats. Leahy, Sanders and Schatz are surely not on Netanyahu's whip list; if you're willing to publicly say that Netanyahu should stay home, Netanyahu probably sees you as a lost cause. The Senate Democrats most surely on Netanyahu's whip list are the "Menendez 10" who have openly broadcast their potential willingness to undermine the president's diplomacy:

Robert Menendez (D-NJ);
Charles Schumer (D-NY);
Richard Blumenthal (D-CT);
Gary Peters (D-MI);
Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA);
Ben Cardin (D-MD);
Chris Coons (D-DE);
Joe Manchin (D-WV);
Joe Donnelly (D-IN);
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

With 52 Republicans and these ten Democrats, Netanyahu would be within striking distance of a veto-proof Senate majority for war. Without these ten Democrats in his corner, Netanyahu would have nothing to threaten President Obama with. So, to the extent that Netanyahu's speech is not about his re-election campaign, it's about putting pressure on these ten Senate Democrats to undermine the Democratic president.

Of course, it's not about Netanyahu giving these Members of Congress some information that they don't already have. Every Member of Congress has access to U.S. intelligence about Iran's nuclear program, and Netanyahu can share whatever information he wants with them any time he wants. It's about Netanyahu trying to use the media spectacle of his March 3 tirade in Congress against diplomacy to mobilize right-wing voters in these Senators' districts to pressure their Democratic Senators to oppose the Democratic president. According to CNN, the right-wing voters Netanyahu is hoping to mobilize represent no more than 14% of Democrats and only half of Republicans. But Netanyahu is hoping that his army of supporters will make up with intensity what they lack in numbers.

That's why it's crucial for the 81% of Democrats who oppose Netanyahu's planned tirade against diplomacy to not be content with telling pollsters. They must tell their representatives in Congress directly. You can take action here.