Vice President Joe Biden will not be in attendance when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint session of Congress next month, his office confirmed Friday.
Biden is the latest and most prominent Democrat to announce he will be absent from the speech that has stoked a political furor in Washington. Biden's office said he will be traveling abroad on a pre-planned trip, the details of which have not been released.
The announcement comes a day after two prominent House Democrats said they would be skipping the speech in protest, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi suggested scheduling conflicts could lead to poor attendance in the House chamber.
Democrats are upset that Netanyahu would address Congress in what's expected to be a push for further sanctions on Iran, ignoring pleas from the White House to hold off on such action while members of the United Nations Security Council are still negotiating with that country. Netanyahu and many Republicans believe such talks will be fruitless, and that further sanctions are the best option to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
Further upsetting Democrats is the way in which the invitation was extended, without consultation with the White House, State Department or Democratic leaders on the Hill. "I think it's an affront to the president and the State Department what the speaker did," Rep. John Lewis told the Associated Press on Thursday, announcing that he would skip the speech. Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G.K. Butterfield and Rep. Earl Blumenauer also plan to be absent in protest.
Just prior to the announcement from those members of her caucus, Pelosi said Democrats would not officially boycott the speech. She did note that busy congressional schedules often make members unable to attend such events. "I don't think anybody should use the word 'boycott,' " Pelosi said. "When these heads of state come, people are here doing their work, they're trying to pass legislation, they're meeting with their constituents and the rest. It's not a high-priority item for them."
Pelosi and others said they were still holding out hope that House Speaker John Boehner would cancel the speech, which has become so politically charged that Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer met with seven Jewish Democrats earlier this week in an attempt to allay tensions. "I'm hoping this doesn't take place," Pelosi said, before adding that she does plan to be in attendance.