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Washington • Sen. Orrin Hatch held a prime seat Tuesday for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to a joint meeting of Congress, taking a perch normally reserved for the vice president on the dais.
Hatch, who is the Senate president pro tempore, led the progression of senators into the House chamber before Netanyahu's address, then took the seat behind the Israeli leader because Vice President Joe Biden declined to attend.
House Speaker John Boehner's invitation to Netanyahu to address Congress irked the White House, which wasn't notified that the prime minister who is up for re-election in two weeks was asked to speak, and his remarks came on the same day Secretary of State John Kerry was negotiating the framework of a deal with Iran to halt an expansion of its nuclear program.
President Barack Obama said Tuesday that it was important not to politicize the U.S. relationship with Israel, and that "We have a system of government in which foreign policy runs through the executive branch and the president, not through other channels."
Netanyahu said that he knew his speech was the "subject of much controversy" but that wasn't his intention and he wasn't attempting to be political.
Hatch took the Senate floor this week to say that Netanyahu's speech was "far from a political stunt" and provided an opportunity to demonstrate America's "unyielding resolve" to stand with Israel against Iran's development of nuclear weapons.
"To demonstrate our solidarity with Israel, Congress should complement the prime minister's address with the threat of sanctions that properly secure both of our countries against the Iranian threat," Hatch said.
The Utah Republican is the most senior member of his party in the Senate and was elected to the post of pro tempore in January.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, also attended the address and said Israel is one of the only countries in the world that so strongly shares America's values of freedom and security.
"Anything less than a deal that prevents Iran from having a future nuclear weapon is unacceptable, and I urge President Obama and Secretary Kerry in the strongest terms to reject any agreement that will jeopardize the safety of the United States and our allies," Lee said.