Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Rep. Rahm Emanuel are leading a drive to pressure House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert to cancel Wednesday's address to Congress by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki because he condemned Israeli attacks on Lebanon -- putting him at odds with U.S. policy.
Emanuel and Schakowsky, both Illinois Democrats with party leadership positions, were circulating a letter Monday among colleagues stating "with mounting evidence that the Iraqi leadership's goals are not in the best interests of the United States -- nor the Middle East -- Prime Minister Maliki's address is inappropriate.
"We are unaware of any prior instance where a world leader who actively worked against the interests of the United States was afforded such an honor.''
The visit of al-Maliki comes as violence in Israel and Lebanon, triggered by Hezbollah's kidnapping of Israeli soldiers in Israel, has overshadowed the ongoing bloodshed in Iraq and made a complex situation even more complicated.
The Bush White House, in standing with Israel, is not calling for a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah for two reasons: It would leave Hezbollah with missiles to launch another day and Hezbollah would continue to undermine the fragile government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora.
Schakowsky and Emanuel drafted their letter after the New York Times ran a story last week quoting al-Maliki stating that "we call on the world to take quick stands to stop the Israeli aggression."
The protests of Schakowsky and Emanuel to Hastert, an Illinois Republican, come in a larger Mideast context -- growing concern about Iranian threats and the U.S. support of a fledgling Iraqi government, supported by the Bush White House, that is anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic.
Last week Schakowsky, along with Rep. Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican, circulated among their colleagues a letter to Bush asking him to denounce Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani after he accused Jews of masterminding killings in Iraq carried out by Sunni or Shiite insurgents.
A July 13 Associated Press story quoted al-Mashhadani stating "These acts are not the work of Iraqis. I am sure that he who does this is a Jew and the son of a Jew."
The remarks are false and contemptible.
President Bush meets with al-Maliki today in the Oval Office, followed by a news conference.
Al-Maliki will deliver an address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday in the House chamber and also meet with the speaker and other members of Congress.
I asked the White House for comment on the letters and was directed to last Thursday's briefing by Tony Snow, the White House press secretary. Then, he was asked about al-Maliki condemning Israel and if it represented a sharp break with Bush.
Snow said it was not and talked about the need for the United States to bolster the growth of democracy in Iraq.
"You've got to understand that Prime Minister Maliki is running a unity government and he is going to express the opinions of that government."
Opinions are one thing. Blatant falsehoods are another.
Hastert has been to Iraq. Last month, he met al-Maliki as well as his counterpart, the Iraqi speaker, and praised them both.
I called Hastert's office for reaction to the letters from Schakowsky and Emanuel. I was told that Hastert had no intention of canceling the al-Maliki invitation. Hastert's office steered me to Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) if I wanted a further response.
All of a sudden, Cantor? Cantor is the only Jewish Republican in the House. Regarding al-Maliki assertions about Israeli aggression: Cantor said it at least three times in our brief chat. The prime minister was "dead wrong."