U.S. House Speaker John Boehner has invited Israel's prime minister to address Congress next month — and he did so without consulting the White House first, setting up a potential confrontation with President Barack Obama.
Boehner's announcement, made late Tuesday, shortly after Obama's State of the Union address, is in line with a Republican call for tougher U.S. economic sanctions on Iran as the U.S. and other world powers try to negotiate a deal with Tehran to keep it from manufacturing nuclear weapons.
In his address Tuesday, Obama asked Congress to hold off on placing more restrictions on Iran while the nuclear talks are proceeding.
New sanctions now "will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails, alienating America from its allies, making it harder to maintain sanctions and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again," he said. "It does not make sense. And that is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress."
But Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu, a staunch foe of Iran, has often voiced his fear that the U.S. might yield too many concessions to Tehran during the months-long negotiations.
"I have invited the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, to address a joint session of Congress on the grave threats of radical Islam and the threat that Iran poses, not only to the Middle East but frankly to the world,” Boehner said. The address would be delivered February 11.
Asked whether he had consulted with the White House before issuing the invitation, Boehner said he had not. "The Congress can make this decision on its own," he said. "There is a serious threat that exists in the world, and the president last night kind of papered over it.”
Boehner said Obama expected Congress "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."
At a Senate hearing Wednesday on Iran’s nuclear program, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey also voiced impatience with the administration's diplomatic approach and expressed skepticism about Iran's intentions.
But Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday quoted an unidentified Israeli intelligence official as saying adding sanctions now "would be like throwing a grenade into the process."
Kerry said the same people pushing for more sanctions against Iran at this point were the same ones who called the interim agreement with Iran a disaster.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Boehner's invitation to Netanyahu "seems to be a departure" from normal protocol in which a foreign head of state would contact his counterpart when he is traveling to another country. A State Department official also indicated this invitation was a departure from protocol.
The Israeli prime minister has addressed Congress twice, in 1996 and 2011. Next month's visit would come just weeks before Israeli elections in March and could give him a boost.