While not illegal, the recent invitation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by Speaker of the House John Boehner to address a joint session of Congress without White House approval just days after the President’s State of the Union speech has sparked controversy. Whereas typically state leaders try to avoid embroiling themselves in the domestic politics of the countries they visit by coordinating with other leaders, Boehner reached out to Israel’s ambassador to pass along the invitation. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has called it a “departure from [the] protocol,” although the administration has said that the President will not meet with Netanyahu during his visit.
The invitation is particularly poignant after the President’s call in the State of the Union for Congress to delay consideration of additional sanctions against Iran while nuclear talks continue. The talks have already been extended twice, and the administration believes that any ramping up of sanctions could have a destabilizing effect on negotiations. Republicans accuse President Obama of having started this tit-for-tat politics as news broke Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom had called several U.S. Senators to ask them on holding off on a sanctions vote.
So far, the administration seems wary of drawing Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu into a domestic fight even as they push for a nuclear deal with Iran. But Netanyahu’s address to Congress is expected to be one that pushes against any potential deal with Iran, which could make domestic support to sign off on any deal, if one does emerge from the talks, quite tenuous.
Regardless of the short-term politics of “who started it,” Washington may be moving back towards partisan gridlock just days after Obama declared, “The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of our Union is strong.”
Did Speaker Boehner disrespect the President by inviting a foreign leader without consulting the White House? Will Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress have an impact on a potential nuclear deal with Iran?
Laura Rozen, Middle East foreign policy reporter covering for Al-Monitor.com in D.C., has been covering Iran nuclear talks
Michael Crowley, senior foreign affairs correspondent for POLITICO