Boehner/Netanyahu Spectacle Injects Politics into U.S.-Israel Relations

By McArthur, Shirl | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 2015 | Go to article overview

Boehner/Netanyahu Spectacle Injects Politics into U.S.-Israel Relations


McArthur, Shirl, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


On Jan. 21, the day after President Barack Obama's State of the Union address to Congress, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) delivered a direct slap to Obama by announcing that he had invited Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to address Congress, with the obvious goal of convincing Congress to scuttle the six-nation (P5+1) negotiations with Iran by passing new sanctions and other punitive measures.

Boehner did not give the White House advance notice of the invitation and indicated that he intends to challenge Obama on Iran and other foreign policy issues. Netanyahu gave his speech on March 3, during AIPAC's annual meeting to lobby for pro-Israel, and generally anti-U.S., legislation, and only two weeks before Israel's March 17 general elections.

The blatantly political move by both Boehner and Netanyahu was seen as such by most members of Congress as well as by political observers. Many Democrats, as well as some Republicans, decried the fact that Boehner seemed to be injecting partisanship into what generally had been non-partisan, blind congressional support for just about anything Israel wanted. As a result, 51 Democratic and 1 Republican representative and 8 Democratic senators announced that they would not be attending the Boehner/Netanyahu event (see box). Even among those attending, many Democrats decried the speech, both the way it came about and what it contained. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said she was insulted and "saddened" by the insult to the U.S. and by the "condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran."

Underlining how partisan the issue had become, several Republican members of Congress spoke on the House and Senate floors applauding the invitation. On Feb. 12 Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced S.Res. 76 "welcoming the Prime Minister of Israel to the U.S. for his address to a joint meeting of Congress." The measure passed by voice vote on Feb. 26 with 51 co-sponsors including Cornyn, all Republicans. On the other side, on Feb. 19, 23 Democratic representatives signed a letter to Boehner, originated by Reps. Steve Cohen (TN) and Keith Ellison (MN), urging him to postpone the speech. The letter noted that "this appears to be an attempt to promote new sanctions legislation against Iran that could undermine critical negotiations," and that the invitation "enlists a foreign leader to influence a presidential policy initiative."

In the end Netanyahu's extravaganza may have backfired. Injecting partisan politics into the issue of how to deal with Iran's nuclear program has made it more difficult for the AIPAC-promoted measures aimed at scuttling the negotiations (see below) to gain enough Democratic support to pass the Senate, and almost impossible to override a likely presidential veto.

AIPAC Pulls Out All Stops to Scuttle Negotiations With Iran

After Netanyahu's speech AIPAC members swarmed over congressional offices to lobby for measures designed to scuttle any agreement with Iran. Their focus was on S. 269, introduced Jan. 27 by leading Iran hawks Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), which would impose new Iran sanctions if no deal is reached, and S. 615, introduced Feb. 27 by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). Both bills would require congressional approval of any deal and impose congressional conditions on the implementation of any agreement.

S. 269, the "Nuclear Weapons Free Iran" bill, is long and complicated. Essentially it would require the president to submit to Congress the text of any agreement and a "verification assessment report." However, even if there is an agreement, there is also a provision prohibiting the president from exercising any waiver or any other action to limit the application of sanctions "until the date that is 30 days of continuous session of Congress after the president transmits these comprehensive solution and assessment reports." Since Congress rarely is in session for 30 continuous days, this means that, even with an agreement, no new sanctions could be waived until mid-November. …

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