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White House Says Biden's Attendance at Netanyahu Speech 'Contingent on His Schedule

srael's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures while addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 24, 2011. House Speaker House John Boehner of Ohio, right, and Vice President Joe Biden listen behind. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The White House was clear last month that President Barack Obama would not meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will be in Washington to address a joint session of Congress on March 3. The White House also isn’t clear on whether Vice President Joe Biden will attend the speech to Congress.

Biden, as vice president, is also the president of the U.S. Senate, with limited duties such as swearing in members, casting a tie-breaking votes if needed, and attending speeches to a joint session of Congress.

srael's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures while addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 24, 2011. House Speaker House John Boehner of Ohio, right, and Vice President Joe Biden listen behind. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures while addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 24, 2011. House Speaker House John Boehner of Ohio, right, and Vice President Joe Biden listen behind. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Whether he attends Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress is “going to be contingent on his schedule,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday.

“The vice president takes his responsibilities as president of the United States Senate very seriously,” Earnest said. “That includes even his ceremonial responsibilities, for any of you who have seen the president dig in with gusto has he swears in new members of Congress. I think the ratings for C-Span have gone through the roof.”

Earnest said that Biden has only missed one joint session of Congress, in March 2011 when then-Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard spoke to members. Biden was out of the country.

“As it relates to the speech that Prime Minister Netanyahu has planned for the first week of March, I can tell you the vice president’s schedule for that week has not yet been set,” Earnest said.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) last month invited Netanyahu to speak to a joint session. The White House said the speaker’s invitation violated protocol. Because the March 3 speech is in close proximity to the March 17 Israeli elections, the White House says Obama is not meeting with Netanyahu to avoid appearance that the United States is trying to influence the election.

Earnest was later asked if the vice president’s presence at the Netanyahu speech could be seen as trying to influence the election.

“We’ll see, is the best answer I can give you there,” Earnest said. “We are still working through exactly what the vice president’s schedule is going to look like that first week in March, and certainly as we consider the vice president’s attendance, that’s one of the factors that will weigh on that decision.”

Earnest also had no advice for House Democrats who have said they will not attend.

“Certainly individual members of Congress will have to make their own decision,’ Earnest said. “Some of which, I’m sure, will be driven by their schedule. Some of it will be driven by their own views about what has transpired over the last several weeks as it related to this speech.”

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