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Boehner, Netanyahu blindside Obama with speech to Congress

The Hill logo The Hill 1/22/2015 Justin Sink, Scott Wong
Boehner, Netanyahu blindside Obama with speech to Congress © Provided by The Hill Boehner, Netanyahu blindside Obama with speech to Congress

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is coming to Washington. And he and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) want the world to know it’s not at President Obama’s invitation.

Boehner announced Wednesday that the Israeli leader will speak to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 11 to talk about the Obama administration’s efforts to negotiate a deal with Tehran that would lift sanctions in exchange for putting an end to Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Republicans have joined Netanyahu in criticizing Obama’s effort on Iran, and GOP leadership is clearly hoping he will do so again while visiting Capitol Hill.

Boehner invited Netanyahu to make the trip and speech without consulting the White House or State Department, which Obama’s team said was a break from typical protocol. And he made the announcement a day after Obama gave a State of the Union address to Congress in which he threatened to veto new sanction legislation against Iran.

While the White House insisted it was not annoyed by the news — and was reserving judgment until it had the chance to speak directly to Israel — the incident had the makings of another high-profile foreign policy breach between the two allies under this administration.

“Certainly, traditionally, we would learn about the plans of a leader to come to the United States, separately from learning about it from the Speaker of the House, which is how we learned of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plans to come and speak to a joint session,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

The rocky relationship between Netanyahu and the Obama administration is no secret.

Last fall, an unnamed administration official called Netanyahu a “chickenshit” in an interview with The Atlantic and suggested the Israeli leader was too politically self-interested.

The White House also rejected a request by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to meet with Vice President Biden, national security adviser Susan Rice and Secretary of State John Kerry. Ya’alon had reportedly called Kerry “messianic” in his pursuit of a peace plan.

And the administration upset Israel earlier this year when it harshly condemned the bombing of a United Nations school in Gaza and temporarily blocked flights into Israel’s main airport during the latest eruption of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians. 

White House press secretary Josh Earnest insisted that Obama and Netanyahu spoke regularly and would continue to work collaboratively.

For Republicans, Boehner’s invitation was a chance to snatch headlines from the White House and put a spotlight on an issue that divides Democrats.

Netanyahu, for his part, has an interest in showing independence from Obama ahead of Israel’s March 17 elections. Polls indicate the contest could be close, and the Israeli leader will benefit among his center-right base if he can signal distance from the president.

Boehner denied that the move was intended to antagonize the White House.

“I don’t believe I’m poking anyone in the eye,” Boehner said. “There is a serious threat that exists in the world, and the president last night kind of papered over it. The fact is there needs to be a more serious conversation in America about how serious the threat is from radical Islamic jihadists and the threat posed by Iran.”

 

Rebecca Shabad contributed.

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