As Democrats Pan Netanyahu Visit, GOP Lays Out Welcome Mat

Nearly every Senate Republican signed a resolution welcoming the Israeli prime minister to America.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's Policy Conference at the Walter Washington Convention Center March 4. (National Journal)

As Democrats have grown increasingly vocal in their opposition to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington next month, Senate Republicans are laying out the welcome mat.

"During this time of such great instability and danger in the Middle East, the United States should be unequivocal about our commitment to one of our closest and most important allies," Sen. John Cornyn said in a statement on Thursday. "I hope all my colleagues will join me in welcoming Prime Minister Netanyahu to Washington so we can continue to work together to advance our common security interests."

In one of the chamber's final acts before members recess for a week, Cornyn introduced a resolution welcoming Netanyahu to the United States. It was signed by 51 of the chamber's Republican members and, initially, not a single Democrat. Cornyn said he would circulate a Dear Colleague letter to urge all senators to sign onto the resolution.

The Republicans' gesture comes as Democrats in the House and Senate have grown increasingly critical of Netanyahu's visit, which comes at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner and without consultation with the Obama administration. Several Democrats, particularly Congressional Black Caucus members, have talked about boycotting the speech, and the White House announced that Vice President Biden will not be able to attend due to a trip to South America. Netanyahu's trip has also become a huge source of controversy in Israel, as his visit comes just weeks before he is up for reelection.

Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., has been particularly outspoken on the matter, even making jokes at Netanyahu's expense during the National Press Club Foundation dinner last week that left some Republican members squirming in their seats. "I cannot think of any reason as to why someone who differs with my president should be coming to my country, my Congress, in order to—especially, when it's preceding an election in a foreign country, as friendly as she might be," Rangel said this week.

All but three Senate Republicans—Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, and Lindsey Graham—have signed onto the Netanyahu resolution.

Graham is expected to sign. The Republican has spoken at length of his support for Netanyahu's visit, and during a visit to Jerusalem in December he promised the prime minister that the Republican Congress would "have his back." When asked about members boycotting the speech, Graham said, "I want to hear from Bibi. You may not agree with me, but you should want to hear from him too. I think it's a mistake."

A Flake spokesperson said he "is looking forward to the speech, but didn't see the need to sign onto the resolution."

Corker's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.