Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress on Tuesday brought at least one lawmaker to near tears, and it wasn't for a good reason.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that "as one who values the U.S.-Israel relationship and loves Israel," she was "near tears" throughout the speech because of Netanyahu's rhetoric. She was "saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the P5 +1 nations, and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation."
In a highly anticipated and controversial speech, Netanyahu delivered a biting warning against the emerging nuclear deal between U.S. and Iranian officials. "My friends, for over a year we've been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well, this is a bad deal. It is a very bad deal," he said. "We are better off without it."
Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., agreed with Pelosi's remarks, telling reporters Tuesday afternoon that Netanyahu's tone throughout the speech was "condescending," as if Congress and the Obama administration are not aware of the dangers posed by a nuclear Iran. The speech, he said, "was straight out of the Dick Cheney playbook" and "fear-mongering at its ultimate."
Netanyahu suggested that the diplomacy that the Obama administration and Democrats are pushing as a solution is not working. "At a time when many hope that Iran will join the community of nations, Iran is busy gobbling up the nations," he said. "We must all stand together to stop Iran's march of conquest, subjugation and terror."
U.S. and its five negotiating partners hope to reach an agreement with Iran by March 31. All sides involved want to keep the nation from gaining the capability to acquire a nuclear weapon, but the U.S. and Israel don't agree on how to do that. Netanyahu said Tuesday that the deal taking shape gives too many concessions to Iran and threatens Israel's national security. The international monitors that negotiators want to dispatch to Iran's nuclear program sites would track violations, Netanyahu said, but they wouldn't be able to stop them.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, disagreed with the prime minister on that.
"I believe the prime minister thinks that inspectors, no matter how intrusive and how careful they are, may not be able to locate all the nuclear facilities Iran has under way. Well, if the inspectors can't locate them, how can he bomb all of them?" said Doggett, referring to Netanyahu's consideration of using military action against Iran.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said that he believes "we should do whatever is necessary to ensure that Iran never acquires nuclear weapon capability." He pointed to legislation he has introduced that would tighten U.S. sanctions against Iran and push it closer to compromise. In his remarks, Netanyahu warned the Obama administration against lifting sanctions as negotiations continue.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, agrees with Netanyahu on the value of sanctions, and said more should come. "Allowing Iran to retain its nuclear infrastructure even as it does not change its behavior is unacceptable," he said.
President Obama, who was on a conference call with European leaders during Netanyahu's appearance but read a transcript of his remarks, said harsh sanctions, something the Israeli prime minister backs, have been shown to be ineffective, and "military action would not be as successful as the deal that we have put forward," according to a press pool report.
Obama said Netanyahu's preferred alternative to the current negotiations—no deal at all—would result in Iran "once again pursuing its nuclear program without us having any insight into what they're doing, and without constraint." He said the prime minister didn't offer anything new in his speech, which resembled a previous one he'd given in opposition to the interim deal with Iran in November 2013. On how to "prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, which would make it far more dangerous and would give it scope for even greater action in the region, the prime minister didn't offer any viable alternatives," Obama said, according to the pool report.
Hours after Netanyahu's speech, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the Senate will take up legislation next week that would subject any Iran nuclear deal to congressional approval, despite a presidential veto threat. The bill, sponsored by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., would give Congress 60 days to approve, disapprove, or take no action on an eventual deal with Iran, which is expected in the next three weeks. The bill would also require Obama to assess whether Iran is complying with the deal every 90 days and report to Congress.
"I think everyone in America should want the House and the Senate to weigh in on this most important agreement that may be reached, and I'm glad we're going to have the opportunity to do so," Corker told reporters Tuesday.
The legislation was co-sponsored by five Democrats, including Foreign Relations Ranking Member Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., a White House ally who also sits on the committee. Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, who caucuses with Democrats, also signed on to the bill. But the White House issued a veto threat for the bill just a day later.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., wouldn't say Tuesday whether his caucus would allow the Senate to move forward with Corker's legislation, arguing that he would like to see a deal—if there is one—first.
The Corker bill does not include any additional sanctions on Iran. Menendez had worked with Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., on sanctions legislation earlier this year, but held off on bringing it to the floor at the request of the administration, while the negotiations with Iran continue. However, McConnell said, he will bring the Corker bill to the floor under an open amendment process, meaning that members could ultimately attach the sanctions legislation as well.
After Netanyahu's speech Tuesday, Corker said the prime minister's speech "crystallized a lot of thinking." "I can't imagine anyone who runs the United States Senate wouldn't want to look at the deal."
Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., said that Netanyahu was "justified" in coming to Congress, but House Speaker John Boehner wasn't in the way that he got the prime minister here. In January, Boehner invited Netanyahu to address Congress without consulting the Obama administration, a move that congressional Democrats saw as an attack on the president.
Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking to reporters in Geneva on Monday, had indirectly warned Netanyahu against sharing sensitive information about the ongoing negotiations during his speech. Israel said that Netanyahu didn't cross any lines in his remarks, and "knows better" than that.
"I was skeptical about this deal going in," Israel said. "I'm just as skeptical going out."
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said that Netanyahu "made a very effective case about the dangers of Iran."
"The worst outcome is a bad agreement and I think it's a little too premature to judge an agreement because we haven't completed negotiations, but I thought he made a very effective point about how we should evaluate an agreement with Iran."
Marina Koren and Sarah Mimms contributed to this article
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
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