As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a warm welcome from a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, freshman Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) skipped out on the speech, sitting quietly at his Senate desk shuffling through papers and newspapers.
Earlier this year, Paul proposed eliminating all U.S. aid to Israel, but his office and other Republican senators said Paul’s decision to remain on the Senate floor during the address concerned a dispute with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) over amendments Paul proposed to the Patriot Act extension.
Paul, a tea-party-backed senator who opposes the Patriot Act, has said he wants to “drag out” the process of renewing key provisions of the counter-terrorism law which expire Friday. Reid had hoped to recess the Senate during the speech and count that toward the cloture clock, but Paul stayed on the Senate floor, kept the chamber open, and was able to stop the cloture clock.
Paul spokeswoman Moira Bagley flatly denied Paul’s absence was related to Israel funding, pointing out that her boss had heard Netanyahu speak Monday night while attending the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference.
“This is about the PATRIOT Act and Reid not yet keeping his agreement on amendments,” Bagley said.
Still, Paul’s decision to engage in a likely futile procedural exercise rather than attend Netanyahu’s speech was telling. Earlier this year, Paul came under fire from both Democrats and Republicans after proposing cutting all U.S. foreign aid, including the $3 billion the country spends on military assistance for Israel each year.