There was a lot of whining inside the beltway last March about whether then-House Speaker John Boehner broke diplomatic protocol by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress without informing the White House. This was during the critical period a few months before the Senate weighed in on President Obama’s Iran nuclear agreement.
The results are in: the Prime Minister’s speech will stand the test of time, while partisan hand-wringing will have nothing to do with the outcome of Iran’s nuclear development. Let’s review the record though to see how the political people in charge behave when something doesn’t go their way.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said it was “doubtful” President Obama would even watch the speech. Obama himself characterized the speech as a “mistake.” Moreover, after the Prime Minister’s remarks, the President dismissed them outright, saying there was “nothing new” in the Israeli leader’s warning about the potential for a nuclear-armed Iran. On down the White House food chain the narrative went.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice said on the Charlie Rose show that by not informing the White House, the speech was "destructive to the fabric of the relationship" between Israel and the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry thought Netanyahu’s address would become a "political football.” Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said there were partisan overtones undermining cooperation between the two countries.
As for Congress, in bizarre comments nobody still understands, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was “moved to tears” during the speech because she thought Obama was being insulted. In all 58, Democrats refused to attend. This is all in the ether now.
What remains are Mr. Netanyahu’s remarks. A Gallup poll released last month indicates the Prime Minister’s address moved the needle on U.S. public opinion on the Iran nuclear agreement. Only 30% of Americans approve while 57% disapprove of the deal. Gallup attributes this, in part, to the Prime Minister informing America about the consequences of a nuclear-armed neighbor threatening Israel, the region, the U.S. and the world.
Netanyahu’s remarks have the potential to go far beyond registering in public opinion polls, as the Iran nuclear agreement is at the forefront of foreign policy issues among leading Republican Presidential candidates. Sens. Cruz and Rubio say they will repeal the Iran nuclear agreement upon taking office if either is elected President. It’s unclear what Donald Trump would do other than saying it’s a bad contract, but the front runner at least establishes significant distance from Hillary Clinton who supports it. And while there is partisan disagreement over whether the deal paves the way for Iran getting the bomb, as the Prime Minister said, it’s hard to say the speech was anything but brilliant politically.
Yet he made it larger than politics. Netanyahu started off by illustrating the cooperation between the two countries ranging from Presidents Truman to Obama. And he made it clear why he was addressing Congress, saying Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons puts the future of his country at stake.
Reminding the American public about modern Persian history, the Prime Minister recounted the events of the 1979 revolution which brought us the belligerent nation we know today. As America is focused on defeating ISIS, he explained how the goals of Iran’s top leaders are really the same as the terrorist army based in Syria: establishing a caliphate, dominating the Middle East, and destroying Israel.
Still, it is stunning the lengths to which a few extreme voices, aided by mainstream media, went in trying to nit-pick the merits of a GOP-led Congress offering a platform to Israel’s top elected official during a critical moment. The alternative would have been for the U.S. House Speaker to seek White House permission to invite a visiting head of state to the floor of his own chamber.
A university professor writing for Reuters said Boehner’s actions were unconstitutional. Citing the Constitution as her rationale, she maintains the President “shall receive ambassadors and other public ministers.” That argument falls flat considering Obama refused to meet with the Israeli Prime Minister while he was in town. Somehow freedom of speech and separation of powers went missing from arguments like this.
The Speaker, as we all know, resigned last year. He caught a lot of grief from his own party, especially on fiscal issues and Obamacare. In this instance, however, he asserted legislative powers enabling the Prime Minister to speak, unfiltered to the American public. And Netanyahu delivered.
Turning to the issue at hand, Americans are left wondering whether Iran gets the bomb, not who is supposed to call who when a visiting head of state has something important to say.
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