ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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US House Speaker McCarthy: If Biden doesn’t invite Netanyahu to DC soon, I will

Visiting Israel, top Republican congressman says president has waited ‘too long’ to extend invitation to Israeli leader, a ‘dear friend’

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks in the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 30, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)
US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks in the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 30, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

In Israel on Sunday, Speaker of the US House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy said that if US President Joe Biden does not invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit the White House soon, he will invite the Israeli leader to meet with Congress.

The Republican lawmaker landed in Israel on Sunday for a two-day visit that will include an address to the Knesset on Monday.

In an interview with the Israel Hayom newspaper, McCarthy addressed Biden’s ongoing refusal to welcome Netanyahu to Washington, amid disagreements over the government’s planned judicial overhaul.

“If [an invitation to the White House] doesn’t happen, I’ll invite the prime minister to come meet with the House. He’s a dear friend, as a prime minister of a country that we have our closest ties with,” McCarthy told the newspaper.

The speaker of the House said that Biden has already waited “too long now. He should invite him soon.”

McCarthy joked that Biden had also not been speaking with him for the past few months, and therefore Netanyahu “might be in good company if he treats me the same way.”

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (center) and Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana (left) arrive for a meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 30, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

Netanyahu has been angling for an invite to the White House since he returned to office in late December. But US-Israel ties have been somewhat strained both due to the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul legislation, as well as comments made by the far-right elements of Netanyahu’s government.

Just hours after the prime minister announced a pause in the overhaul legislation in order to allow for talks, Biden told reporters that he still would not be inviting Netanyahu to Washington “in the near term.”

While Barack Obama was president, Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress in 2015, bypassing Obama, in what was widely seen as an unprecedented broadside against the sitting US leader.

The move by Netanyahu — during which he spoke out forcefully against Obama’s attempts to broker a nuclear deal with Iran — colored relations between the two leaders for the remainder of Obama’s term, and was seen as severely damaging to Israel’s ties with the Democratic party. Analysts suggested it was unlikely that Netanyahu would repeat such a move at this point in time.

While Netanyahu and his Likud party have long been seen as more allied with Republican than Democratic lawmakers, the prime minister has worked since returning to office to buck the notion that he has strained ties with the party currently controlling the White House.

Then-US vice president Joe Biden shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, March 9, 2010. (Ariel Schalit/AP/File)

And while prominent Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — considered a 2024 contender — visited Israel last week and met with Netanyahu, the Prime Minister’s Office issued no statements or photographs from the meeting.

National Security Adviser Tzahi Hanegbi acknowledged Friday that Netanyahu’s White House invitation has likely not come because of the judicial overhaul, but stressed that US-Israel ties remain strong.

“It is clear to me that if there was no legal reform, Netanyahu would already have visited the White House,” Hanegbi told Channel 12.

McCarthy landed in Israel on Sunday — at the head of a group of 20 bipartisan members of Congress — before heading to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The Republican, who will become only the second US House speaker to address the Knesset plenum, was greeted at Ben Gurion Airport by his Israeli counterpart Amir Ohana of the Likud party.

Only one other House speaker has given a speech in the Knesset plenum — Newt Gingrich in 1998.

McCarthy made his first stop in Jordan before flying to Israel. He will hold a press conference on Monday afternoon after the Knesset session marking 75 years since Israel’s independence.

Lazar Berman and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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