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Democrats debate a Bibi blowoff

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s joint address is nearly six weeks away, but a broad array of congressional Democrats are already signaling they have no intentions of showing up for the speech.

What they haven’t quite agreed on is what, if anything, they will be doing instead.

An incipient effort to organize a semi-official alternative to Netanyahu’s visit has been slow in coming together, lawmakers said, in the latest sign of the continued divide with the Democratic Party on how to handle the politics surrounding Israel’s war with Hamas.

“Those of us that don’t want to be a prop for Benjamin Netanyahu have consensus — we agree that this is political, it’s inappropriate, and we want this war to end and we’re not sure that Netanyahu does,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), who’s skipping the speech. “Beyond that you start to get into some disagreements. So the counterprogramming gets into some of those fault lines.”

Meetings but no plan: Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the former Democratic whip, told our friends at the Playbook Deep Dive podcast that he’s planning to skip the July 24 address and that he was having discussions this week about some potential “alternative meetings.”

“This guy’s getting away with some horrible stuff … and it doesn’t make sense to me” to attend, said Clyburn, who also skipped Netanyahu’s 2015 joint address. “There may be other folks who may want to have some alternative meetings on this. Irrespective of that, if I’m the only one, I won’t be attending.”

Prominent progressives said there’s not yet consensus on what those alternatives might be.

“We’re still figuring out our approach to it,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.) in a brief interview. “I’m certainly going to be part of the contingent of members that will either be boycotting or responding in some way. I think that, frankly, his presence and his potential address in Congress at this time is one of the darkest days that I’ve seen here.”

Added Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), “I’m not solid on what I’m going to do. … I just don’t want to see him here. So, like, I haven’t even moved past that.”

Rep. Greg Casar (D-Texas), another progressive planning to skip, said not to read too much into the lack of planning: “Things around here usually get planned a little bit closer to the actual date.”

Big names aren’t sure: Boycotts of a controversial joint address are nothing new, with some progressives opting out of speeches by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israeli President Isaac Herzog last year (not to mention the scores of Dems who passed on attending Netanyahu’s 2015 speech). What would be more novel is organizing an event or series of events specifically designed to draw attention away from the main attraction in the House chamber.

While those discussions continue, some prominent Democrats yet aren’t saying whether they plan to go. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told us this week that he hasn’t made up his mind yet on whether he will attend. Asked what factors he’s considering, Durbin replied, “The totality of circumstances.”

Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was also noncommittal Thursday on whether she’d attend. She quipped in response, “Do you think he’ll be the prime minister? We’ll see.”

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) will skip, per their spokespeople, joining Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has loudly denounced the visit. Sens. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), also critical of Netanyahu’s approach to the Gaza war, are still making up their minds, aides said.

There appears to be no formal encouragement for members to attend from the two top Democratic leaders, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, who signed the letter inviting Netanyahu to speak.

Said Jeffries Friday, “As is the case with respect to any joint address to Congress, every individual member will make a decision as to whether they will participate or not participate.”