Boehner invites Israeli leader to address Congress on Iran

Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerRyan reminds lawmakers to be on time for votes Juan Williams: GOP fumbles on healthcare The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Ohio) on Wednesday invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress, just a day after President Obama reiterated his threat to veto an Iran sanctions bill during his State of the Union address.

Boehner cast Netanyahu's address, scheduled for Feb. 11, as being intended to rebuke Obama's negotiations with Iran on that country's nuclear program. The Israeli leader and Republicans have repeatedly criticized the talks. 

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Noting Obama's comments in Tuesday's address, Boehner said he would tell his conference at a closed-door meeting Wednesday morning that the president "expects us to stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal with Iran."

"Two words: 'Hell no!' … we’re going to do no such thing," Boehner said. "So today I will announce that I am inviting the prime minister of Israel, a great friend of this country, to address a joint meeting of Congress next month.

At a press conference following that closed-door GOP meeting, Boehner was asked whether the decision to invite Netanyahu was coordinated with the White House or a way to poke the president in the eye.

“I did not consult with the White House,” Boehner told reporters. “The Congress can make this decision on its own. I don't believe I'm poking anyone in the eye. 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 American about how serious the threat is from radical Islamic jihadists and the threat posed by Iran.”

Boehner said it’s unclear if Congress will vote on new Iran sanctions legislation in advance of Netanyahu’s address.

“I do expect to have hearings on an Iran sanctions bill. Timing has yet to be determined,” he said.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration would "reserve judgment on the trip" until they had a chance to speak to the Israeli government, but that the unilateral invitation from Congress "seems to be a departure from the protocol."

He said that the White House had not heard from the Israelis "about this at all," and was only notified by the Speaker's office earlier Wednesday.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the administration was not opposed to Netanyahu speaking, but reiterated that the invitation was a surprise to the 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," Psaki said.
The address would mark Netanyahu's third appearance before Congress and his second during Boehner’s tenure as Speaker.

Boehner aides point out there is bipartisan support for Iran sanctions legislation. And they’re concerned that any concessions Obama offers to curb Iran’s nuclear program “would undermine American security and the security of our allies, especially Israel.”  

But during his speech Wednesday night, Obama warned Congress not to disrupt delicate negotiations with Iran over dismantling its nuclear program.

“There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran,” Obama told lawmakers. “But new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails — alienating America from its allies and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again.  It doesn’t make sense.

“That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress.  The American people expect us to only go to war as a last resort, and I intend to stay true to that wisdom.”

--Rebecca Shabad and Justin Sink contributed to this report, which was updated at 12:41 p.m.