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Most of delegation to see Israeli PM

Most of New Mexico’s congressional delegation will be in the U.S. House Tuesday when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a controversial speech to a joint session of Congress, but Sen. Martin Heinrich won’t be among them.

The speech to Congress, an idea hatched by Netanyahu and House Speaker John Boehner without consulting the White House, comes in the midst of especially tense relations between Washington and Jerusalem. Netanyahu has criticized the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran on a nuclear deal, with Boehner and most congressional Republicans sympathetic to the Israeli position.

In a show of solidarity with Obama, about two dozen congressional Democrats, including Heinrich, have announced that they will boycott the speech.

“I’m always happy to listen to what Prime Minister Netanyahu has to say,” Heinrich said. “I intend to watch his speech about Iran from my office, but I have strong objections to using the floor of the United State Congress as a stage for his election campaign – or anyone’s for that matter. The U.S.-Israeli alliance is too important to be politically exploited just days before Israeli voters go to the polls.”

The speech has become a politically sensitive issue in part because the Israeli lobby is strong on Capitol Hill and no member of Congress wants to get caught in the cross-hairs of AIPAC, the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The committee’s members are arriving in Washington over the weekend in preparation for next week’s annual conference in Washington and are urging members of the House and Senate to show up for the speech.

Some Democratic senators, such as moderate Tim Kaine of Virginia, along with liberal independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have decided to boycott the speech, noting that it would be more appropriate after Israel’s leadership elections on March 17.

Not surprisingly, Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., plans to attend. So does Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But Udall’s not happy about it.

“Israel is a critical ally in the Middle East, and Sen. Udall will attend the prime minister’s speech,” his spokeswoman, Jennifer Talhelm, told me Friday. “But he believes Speaker Boehner and Prime Minister Netanyahu made a serious mistake by scheduling this speech on a partisan basis and should reschedule through the normal nonpartisan process for a time after the Israeli elections that is less politically charged.”

Rep. Ben Ray Luján, a Democrat and the chairman of the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee, also said he will be there – grudgingly.

“I plan to attend the Prime Minister’s speech,” Lujan said in a statement to the Journal on Friday. “I do, however have concerns with how this speech was scheduled and the timing. Our commitment to Israel must remain bipartisan. The failure to properly consult with the White House and Congressional Democrats needlessly injected partisan politics into this issue.”

“Despite serious misgivings, Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham will attend the speech,” said her spokesman, Gilbert Gallegos.


Former Gov. Gary Johnson is nothing if not tenacious.

The two-term former Republican governor from New Mexico, who has scaled the tallest peaks on all seven continents, recently announced that he will once again run for president in 2016 as a Libertarian.

Johnson sought the White House in 2012 as a Republican only to be mostly stymied in his attempts at to be included in the GOP debates. Johnson ultimately dropped his quest to win the Republican nomination and secured the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination instead.

He received 1 percent of the vote, a paltry number by election standards but still a record for a Libertarian candidate.

Johnson, who is now president and CEO of Washington state-based Cannibas Sativa Inc., is still banging the drum for marijuana legalization. That’s why he was at CPAC – the Conservative Political Action Conference – in suburban Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Johnson debated legalization with Anne Marie Buerkle of the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, who argued against pot as “mind-altering” and “destructive,” as well as problematic for still developing children.

Johnson was viewed as a radical Republican on this issue when he first announced his support for legalization as governor in 1999, but judging by sometimes enthusiastic applause for Johnson’s views at the conservative conference on Thursday, the party has evolved on this issue.

The growing influence of libertarian dogma into conservative circles has certainly helped fuel the shift. At CPAC, Johnson touted pot as a medicinal miracle and a safer alternative to drinking alcohol.

“Having a debate about marijuana legalization is like having a debate about whether the sun is going to come up tomorrow,” Johnson said. “The sun is going to come up. Marijuana is going to be legalized.”

Email: mcoleman@abqjournal.com.

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