Utah Senator takes seat normally held by V.P.

Posted at 6:23 PM, Mar 03, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-03 20:23:18-05

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch wasn't breaking any rules by sitting in the chair directly behind Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an address to a Joint meeting of Congress. In fact, as President Pro-Tempore of the U.S. Senate, Hatch is supposed to take the seat when the Vice President can't attend such a function.

But Hatch's presence was the primary visual cue that something was different about this address.

Tangent: The Vice President of the United States is the President of the U.S. Senate, which gives him an equal role, officially speaking, to the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. The role of a House Speaker has evolved into a position of power arguably only second to the President in American government, while the Vice President only performs a ceremonial role in the Senate except in the rare case of a tie vote, at which point the Vice President has a vote to break the tie.

Vice President Joe Biden did not attend Netanyahu's address, instead continuing a trip Central America. The White House did not go so far as to say this was a rebuke of Congress or of Netanyahu, but the presence of Hatch instead of Biden was a clear signal the White House considered Netanyahu's invitation a breach of protocol.

Rep. David Price, a Democrat from North Carolina who did not attend the speech called it a "...dangerous precedent whereby congressional leaders from one party can invite a foreign politician to publicly oppose the positions of the sitting president on the house floor."

But Orrin Hatch was clear in a Monday speech on the Senate floor that he supported the Netanyahu visit, saying the Obama administration's policy of negotiating with Iran over nuclear energy is showing weakness against a dangerous and unreliable actor on the world stage.

"This administration has pursued a policy of conciliation that does nothing to curb this growing threat," Hatch said.