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By Emma Dumain, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Twenty-three House Democrats have signed onto a letter calling on Speaker John Boehner to postpone Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s scheduled March 3 address to a joint session of Congress.

The lawmakers argue that while they are loyal allies of Israel, the timing of the planned visit — two weeks before the Middle East nation’s elections — betrays a political agenda on the part of the GOP.

“The timing of this invitation and lack of coordination with the White House indicate that this is not an ordinary diplomatic visit,” the members write. “Rather this appears to be an attempt to promote new sanctions legislation against Iran that could undermine critical negotiations.

“At the State of the Union President Obama made it clear that he will veto new Iran sanctions legislation,” the lawmakers continue. “The invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu enlists a foreign leader to influence a presidential policy initiative. We should be able to disagree on foreign policy within our American political system and without undermining the presidency.”

They write that “this places Israel, a close and valued ally, in the middle of a policy debate between Congress and the White House. We should not turn our diplomatic friendship into a partisan issue.”

The letter to Boehner was spearheaded by Financial Services ranking member Maxine Waters of California, Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairman Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee.

The co-signers represent the more progressive contingent of the House Democratic Caucus, among them Reps. Barbara Lee of California, Luis V. Gutierrez of Illinois and Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, along with CPC First Vice-Chairman Mark Pocan of Wisconsin.

Along with Waters, ranking members who signed their names to the letter include Reps. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the top Democrat on Judiciary, and Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon, who holds the caucus’s senior slot on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Waters, Lee and several others — Andre Carson of Indiana, Danny K. Davis of Illinois, Hank Johnson of Georgia, Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas and New Jersey Democrats Donald M. Payne Jr. and Bonnie Watson Coleman — are also members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which has accused the GOP of showing disrespect for the president in extending the Netanyahu invite without White House involvement.

The remaining Democratic lawmakers who lent their signatures to the letter are Reps. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Betty McCollum of Minnesota, Jim McDermott of Washington, Peter Welch of Vermont, Chellie Pingree of Maine, Mark Takano of California, John Yarmuth of Kentucky and Beto O’Rourke of Texas.

Here’s the full text of the letter:

Dear Mr. Speaker:

We write to urge you to postpone your invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress in March. Israel is a valued ally and Israeli Prime Ministers have a long history of addressing Congress. As members of Congress who support Israel, we share concern that it appears that you are using a foreign leader as a political tool against the President. We very much appreciate that Prime Minister Netanyahu has twice had the honor of speaking before a joint session.

However, at this time your invitation is contrary to the standards by which our Congress operates and has the potential to harm U.S. foreign policy.

The timing of this invitation and lack of coordination with the White House indicate that this is not an ordinary diplomatic visit. Rather this appears to be an attempt to promote new sanctions legislation against Iran that could undermine critical negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran. At the State of the Union President Obama made it clear that he will veto new Iran sanctions legislation. The invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu enlists a foreign leader to influence a Presidential policy initiative. We should be able to disagree on foreign policy within our American political system and without undermining the presidency.

Aside from being improper, this places Israel, a close and valued ally, in the middle of a policy debate between Congress and the White House. We should not turn our diplomatic friendship into a partisan issue. Beyond threatening our diplomatic priorities, the timing of this invitation offers the Congressional platform to elevate a candidate in a foreign election.

A visit from Israel’s Prime Minister would normally be an occasion for bipartisan cooperation and support. Our relationship with Israel is too important to use as a pawn in political gamesmanship. We strongly urge you to postpone this invitation until Israelis have cast their ballots and the deadline for diplomatic negotiations with Iran has passed. When the Israeli Prime Minister visits us outside the specter of partisan politics, we will be delighted and honored to greet him or her on the Floor of the House.

Photo: World Economic Forum via Flickr

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