U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City chose not to join fellow Democrats in boycotting Tuesday’s controversial speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“As a Member of Congress,” Cleaver said in a statement, “I feel it is my duty to attend and listen respectfully.”
More than 50 Democrats planned to skip Netanyahu’s speech before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday because they said his appearance undermined President Barack Obama. They are upset that House Speaker John Boehner, the Ohio Republican, invited Netanyhu to speak without clearing it with the White House. The speech also came at a politically sensitive time as Netanyahu faces re-election in Israel.
Many of those who chose to skip Netanyahu’s speech Tuesday are members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including chairman Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a civil rights icon.
Cleaver, who previously served as chairman of the caucus, said in a statement Tuesday that he decided to attend Netanyahu’s speech “after much consideration” because it was the civil thing to do.
“This event has added more heat than light to the already acrimonious atmosphere in the halls of Congress,” said Cleaver, a minister who often writes “Dear Colleague” letters to other lawmakers, urging them to tone down bipartisan rancor.
“As a proponent of civility,” he said Tuesday, “I can only note that a disrespectful act in response to an act of disrespect does not yield respect.”
Missouri’s two Senators, Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Roy Blunt, missed Netanyahu’s speech Tuesday because they were attending the funeral of Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich, a GOP candidate for governor who died in an apparent suicide last week.
Blunt tweeted on Tuesday that he was disappointed to miss the speech, “but I’m glad to join so many Missourians as we celebrate Tom.”