By Mike Lillis - 01/22/15 11:19 AM EST
Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerOvernight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief fears sequestration's return GOP senator: Reid's 'ramblings' are 'bitter, vulgar, incoherent' MORE's (R-Ohio) surprise invitation to have Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu address Congress in March was “inappropriate,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi charged Thursday.
The California Democrat said that, not only did BoehnerJohn BoehnerOvernight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief fears sequestration's return GOP senator: Reid's 'ramblings' are 'bitter, vulgar, incoherent' MORE break congressional protocol by not consulting Democratic leaders about the invitation, but the timing of the speech – coming just a few weeks ahead of Israel's contentious national elections – hints that politics are at play.
“And there are concerns about the fact that this … presentation will take place within two weeks of the election in Israel,” she added. “I don't think that's appropriate for any country, that the head of state would come here within two weeks of his own election in his own country.”
Pelosi said that, in her tenure as minority leader and Speaker, she oversaw congressional invitations to numerous heads of state – including Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia); Nicolas Sarkozy (France); King Abdullah II (Jordan); Angela Merkel (Germany); and Felipe Calderón (Mexico), among others – but never before the top four congressional leaders were apprised.
“It was clear, always, that if you … had a suggestion about a head of state [visiting] that it was something that had to be passed around the four top leaders,” she said.
Pelosi said she would also consult the White House about such visits, after winning approval from top congressional leaders.
Republican campaign operatives were quick to push back against Pelosi's criticisms, noting that the Democratic leader caused a stir of her own in 2007 when, as Speaker, she visited Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to promote direct talks with Damascus – a trip that infuriated the George W. Bush administration, which opposed those talks.
"Pelosi’s comments ring a little hollow," said a GOP operative.
Boehner made waves on Wednesday when he announced that Netanyahu would soon speak before a joint session of Congress – a decision he made without informing Democratic leaders or the White House.
The announcement drew howls from some Democrats because it came just a day after Obama used his State of the Union speech to promote his push for a deal to ease Iran sanctions in exchange for ending their nuclear weapons program. The president vowed to veto any legislation applying tougher sanctions on Iran amidst the negotiations, which Netanyahu has criticized.
Initially, Netanyahu's speech was scheduled for Feb. 11, but it's since been pushed back to March 3. Boehner said Netanyahu sought the postponement so the speech will coincide with his March visit to Washington to attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual conference.
Boehner has defended both the invitation and his decision to extend it unilaterally.
“I don't believe I'm poking anyone in the eye,” he said Wednesday.
Republicans, who have been urging tougher sanctions on Iran, brushed aside Obama's veto threat.
“Iran is a state sponsor of terror with an abysmal human rights record, and yet President Obama is so committed to his negotiations with this regime that he is vowing to veto tougher sanctions,” Boehner said last week. “No White House threat will stop us from doing the right thing to protect the United States and its allies.”
Siding squarely with Obama, Pelosi warned that the congressional push for new sanctions could be a setback to the international negotiations aimed at dismantling Iran's nuclear program.
“We all agree that Iran cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon,” she said. “The problem is this could seriously undermine the delicate diplomacy that is at work.”
This story was updated at 12:31 p.m.