Delegation split on attending Netanyahu speech

At least two members of Minnesota’s Congressional delegation say they won’t attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress on March 3.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum said yesterday that she wouldn’t attend the event. Today, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison followed suit saying he’s concerned that House Republicans and Netanyahu scheduled the speech to undercut President Obama’s negotiations with Iran.

“Rep. Ellison will not be attending the address in March if it goes forward,” said Ellison’s spokesman Mike Casca. “The timing of the Speaker's invitation is clearly designed to scuttle the P5+1 talks on Iran's nuclear program.”

Netanyahu’s speech has caused plenty of controversy as Democrats accuse Republican House Speaker John Boehner of playing politics with foreign affairs by inviting Netanyahu to speak without consulting The White House.

Netanyahu issued a series of statements on his Twitter feed today defending his decision to speak before Congress.

"I intend to speak in the U.S. Congress because Congress might have an important role on a nuclear deal with Iran," Netanyahu wrote. "I must fulfill my obligation to speak up on a matter that affects the very survival of my country."

Several Republicans say Netanyahu's speech is important and timely. Here's a statement from Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer:

“With the Iranian nuclear deal approaching, U.S. allied Yemen falling to terrorists, the horrific violence by ISIL threatening regional security and Israeli and US interests, it’s absolutely necessary for Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress on the dire situation in the Middle East. It is imperative for Members of Congress to have open ears and an open mind for us to properly address these threats and their global impact.

We must be able to listen to a world leader address the grave circumstances facing an ally in such trying times, regardless of political differences.”

And a statement from Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline's spokesman, Troy Young:

“Israel is one of America’s greatest allies and Congressman Kline plans on attending the joint session of Congress to hear Prime Minister Netanyahu lay out his beliefs why Islamist terrorists and Iran are posing threats to our national security and the freedom we enjoy."

Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen’s spokesman said Paulsen will attend because he tries to attend every joint session of Congress. A spokesman for DFL U.S.Rep. Rick Nolan said Nolan will also attend the speech.

Several other members of Minnesota’s delegation were noncommittal. A spokeswoman for DFL U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson said Netanyahu’s speech is on the schedule but it hasn’t been confirmed whether he’ll attend the event.

A spokesman for Sen. Al Franken said he didn’t have an answer on whether Franken is going.  A spokesman for DFL U.S. Rep. Tim Walz said

he wasn't able to contact Walz yet to determine whether Walz will attend the speech.

Walz plans on attending the speech if it occurs.

Officials with DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar didn’t return messages discussing Klobuchar's plans. 

A spokeswoman for Klobuchar says they’re checking their schedule and don’t know whether Klobuchar will attend the speech.

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