Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the opening session of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, Monday, Oct. 14, 2013. Israel’s prime minister says he is making a “real effort” to reach peace with the Palestinians, but is giving no signs of progress in recently relaunched negotiations. In a speech to parliament on Monday, Netanyahu vowed to maintain a hard line in the negotiations. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit) AP Photo/Ariel Schalit\n
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"I think it's an affront to the president and the State Department what the speaker did."
WASHINGTON (TheBlaze/AP) -- Two prominent House Democrats have indicated they will skip Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress next month, saying they disapprove of House Speaker John Boehner's decision to invite the Israeli leader without consulting the White House. They join one other member, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who said last week that he will not attend.
Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a hero of the civil rights movement, and Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said they won't attend Netanyahu's March 3 speech.
"I think it's an affront to the president and the State Department what the speaker did," by not consulting the White House, Lewis said in an interview. But Lewis' office insisted to TheBlaze that he was not boycotting the speech, even though he was not planning to attend.
Butterfield said he was "very disappointed that the speaker would cause such a ruckus" among members of Congress. He called the speaker's actions "unprecedented."
Butterfield also criticized Netanyahu, saying that by accepting Boehner's invitation without talking to President Barack Obama, the prime minister had "politicized" his visit to the United States.
Last week, Blumenauer wrote in an op-ed for the Huffington Post saying that he wouldn't go. He cited arguments used by other Democrats that the planned March 3 speech to Congress is just two weeks away from Israeli's election, and that the U.S. should not be seen as favoring any one candidate that close to the vote.
"There's still time for Speaker Boehner to reconsider his ill-advised effort," Blumenauer wrote. "Wait until Israelis have cast their ballots, and find out if the time on the clock for negotiations runs out."
"I will not participate in a calculated slight from the speaker and the House leadership to attack necessary diplomacy," he added.
The flap over Boehner's invitation has led to speculation that many more Democrats might skip the March 3 speech. So far, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has indicated that she isn't pushing Democrats very hard to show up.
Today, Pelosi told reporters that decisions to attend these joint sessions are usually up to individual members, and said her intention is still to go at this point.
"I'm seriously considering going. As of now, it is my intention to go," she said. But she added, "It is still my hope that the event will not take place."
She also added, "It is really sad that it has come to this."
Netanyahu's speech is expected to focus largely on Iran - and its nuclear program - amid delicate negotiations involving the United States, other Western powers and Tehran. Netanyahu's acceptance of Boehner's invitation has infuriated the White House and many congressional Democrats.
Butterfield and Lewis both said their decisions to skip the speech were personal and were not part of an organized boycott.
"I can emphatically say it is not an organized effort," Butterfield said, adding: "The only thing I can control is my attendance."
Despite his disappointment, Butterfield said he expected the flap over Netanyahu's speech to blow over fairly quickly and have no long-term effect on Israeli-U.S. relations.
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