A few minutes after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrapped up a speech to Congress about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Indiana Republican Rep. Jackie Walorski yelled, “Wooh, baby! That was awesome!”
In a cramped, dark room in the basement of the Capitol, sentiments were very different. About a dozen liberal House Democrats—most of whom boycotted the prime minister’s speech—assembled to tear into Netanyahu’s address and Speaker John Boehner’s decision to invite him without the White House’s imprimatur.
Rep. Jared Huffman of California, who attended the speech, accused the prime minister of trying to push the United States into war.
“This is a prime minister who’s never seen a war he didn’t want our country to fight,” Huffman said, adding that diplomats negotiating with Iran shouldn’t be distracted by Netanyahu’s address.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a liberal Illinois Democrat, suggested Netanyahu’s credibility is suspect because he also backed the 2003 war in Iraq.
“What I heard today felt to me like an effort to stampede the United States into war once again,” she said.
Another Democrat compared Netanyahu to George W. Bush’s former vice president. “This speech was straight out of the Dick Cheney playbook,” said Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth. “It was fear-mongering at its ultimate.”
Yarmuth also said that Netanyahu’s requests were akin to those of a small child looking to visit an amusement park.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu basically said that the only acceptable deal was a perfect deal, or an ideal deal,” Yarmuth said. “It’s like the child that says, I want to go to Disneyland every day, eat ice cream and drink Coca-Cola every day, and not go to school.”
Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer, sporting his trademark brightly colored bicycle lapel pin and bowtie, criticized Netanyahu for neglecting to discuss the Palestinian peace process in his address. He also said the Israeli prime minister is too pessimistic about the possibility of healthier U.S./Iran relations.
“All of my friends who visited Iran as private citizens are struck by how friendly and outgoing Iranians are,” he said.
The Republicans in the House chamber (and many of the Democrats) couldn’t have given Netanyahu’s speech a warmer welcome. But for the progressive Democrats who sat the event out and then assembled in the Capitol basement, the day felt like the run-up to the Iraq war all over again.