U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is skipping town on March 3, and avoiding the proverbial ‘tempest in a teapot’ he fears will occur when Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addresses a rare joint session of Congress.
It is the role of the vice president, as president of the Senate to attend joint meetings of the Congress. But Biden did miss one other session, however, in 2011, according to the White House.
Biden’s office confirmed to NBC News on Friday that he will be traveling abroad at the time of Netanyahu’s speech, but could not say where or why. As NBC News journalist Steve Benen observed, “It’s hardly unreasonable to wonder if this is the diplomatic equivalent if ‘I’m washing my hair – somewhere.’”
“We are not ready to announce details of his trip yet, and normally our office wouldn’t announce this early, but the planning process has been underway for a while,” a spokesperson for the office explained to Politico.com.
Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she was “seriously considering going” and that it was her “intention to go” although she was still her “hope that the event will not take place. There’s serious unease.”
Three other prominent House Democrats – Reps. John Lewis of Georgia, G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon – plan to skip the session.
Last Wednesday seven Jewish Democrats met with Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer to discuss the controversy, caused in part because the speech was arranged with Dermer by GOP House Speaker John Boehner several months ago, without consulting the White House.
The proximity of the session to Israel’s national elections is also a concern – but far more threatening to the White House, apparently, is the proximity of the speech to the deadline in talks with world leaders for an agreement with Iran on its nuclear development program.
Israel’s prime minister has openly opposed the wide-ranging agreement being discussed by the U.S. and world leaders with Iran, which grants Tehran far more flexibility with its uranium enrichment activities than reasonable or safe, according to military experts.