Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty to 2018 Parkland school massacre

Michigan GOP defends Boehner for Netanyahu invite

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Michigan’s Republican members of Congress praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address Tuesday and defended House Speaker John Boehner from Democratic criticism about not clearing the speech with the White House beforehand.

In his Tuesday speech, Netanyahu heavily criticized a deal under negotiation with Iran between the United States and other major economies, arguing it is a bad agreement that would “pave the way” to Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon. He said the deal would not be a “farewell to arms” but a “farewell to arms control” and could turn the Middle East into a “nuclear tinderbox.”

President Barack Obama has made reaching the framework for an international agreement with Iran a high priority in the hope of curbing the Islamic republic’s nuclear ambitions.

Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, said she got to the speech early to get an aisle seat — the first time in 13 years in Congress she tried to do it. She shook hands with Netanyahu on the way in.

“I told him: Please stay strong, we stand with you,” said Miller, vice chair of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Netanyahu thanked her and said “God bless you,” she said.

Miller said Boehner’s decision to invite Netanyahu was proven right by the speech and the strong turnout of senators and representatives. More than 50 Democratic senators and House members, including Detroit Democrat John Conyers Jr., said before the speech they wouldn’t attend the address.

“It is difficult to know what deal the administration is negotiating because it is all being done in secret,” Miller said. “I am very proud of Speaker Boehner and Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

A bad deal is worse than no deal, she said.

In an interview, Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, praised Netanyahu’s remarks, but said he was still disappointed in how the prime minister was invited.

“It was a strong speech. He outlined his concerns about the nuclear threat from Iran. I think it’s pretty widely shared by everybody in Congress — we understand the seriousness of the issue, and we need to do everything we can to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” Peters told The Detroit News.

“There’s no question it was handled poorly, and it’s unfortunate Speaker Boehner has injected partisanship into an issue that traditionally has not been partisan in Congress. ... I think Speaker Boehner was thinking about perhaps his own politics that was not in the best interest of the U.S.-Israeli relationship.”

But Michigan’s senior Republican, Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph, said he hopes the speech makes it more likely that Congress will vote on any deal the Obama administration reaches with Iran.

“You shouldn’t ignore the will of Congress,” Upton said. “They are not telling us a word of what’s going on.”

Upton said he “thought it was frankly embarrassing that no one in the cabinet was there. ... I thought he (Netanyahu) laid it out pretty well.”

Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, told The Detroit News in an interview that his decision to boycott the speech was about protocol not about policy.

“The protocol was so unusual. Never has an international figure come to the Congress and the president didn’t even know about it,” Conyers said.

Before the speech, some Michigan Democrats criticized the House speaker for putting Obama in an awkward position by not informing him of the speech invitation. Obama said he would not meet with the Israeli prime minister because an election in Israel is less than two weeks away.

Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, said she “profoundly” disagrees with Boehner’s decision “without first coordinating with the White House. Speaker Boehner’s actions are not only disrespectful to President Barack Obama but violate established protocols.”

Before the speech, Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, said in a statement the “way the invitation was extended was not appropriate, it did not follow protocol and was not good diplomacy. We need to go and listen to the message. What I’m worried about is he’s got a very serious message to deliver. I am concerned about a nuclear Iran as much as anyone, and the political sideshow that has developed is going to detract from the message he is delivering.”

Michigan Republicans stood up for Boehner and subsequently for Netanyahu’s stern message that the emerging deal with Iran would lock in place the Middle East nation’s nuclear advancements and threaten the survival of Israel.

“I share the prime minister’s deep concern over the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran and the grave threat it would pose to the security of Israel, our nation, and our allies around the world,” said Rep. Dave Trott, the Birmingham Republican who is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Like the prime minister, I remain skeptical about the administration’s attempt to forge a nuclear deal with Iran. With the next deadline in the Iran negotiations only weeks away, it was important for Congress and the American people to hear directly from the Israeli leader about his nation’s concerns over its security.”

Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, said the speech “clearly articulated the grave threat posed by a nuclear Iran. ... At moments like this, party politics must take a backseat to the safety and security of our people.”

Many Michigan members sat next to each other. Michigan’s two senators — Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing and Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township — sat next to each other in the second row, while Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, sat next to Miller.

The only Michigan member who said he was boycotting the speech is Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, who said it was not based on policy but protocol.

“Speaker Boehner extended the invitation without consulting President Obama or bipartisan Congressional leadership. The speech was scheduled just in advance of a highly-contested election in Israel in which Prime Minister Netanyahu is competing and during highly-sensitive international negotiations regarding Iran. In short, the address was poorly-timed and inappropriately executed,” Conyers said.

Also in attendance were notables, including New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Nobel Lauerate Elie Wiesel along with a Michigan rabbi invited by Stabenow.

DShepardson@detroitnews.com