WASHINGTON — The leader of the House Democrats said Thursday that Republican Speaker John Boehner blundered when he invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress amid sensitive negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program and in the shadow of Israel’s elections.
“If that’s the purpose of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit two weeks before his own election, right in the midst of our negotiations, I just don’t think it’s appropriate and helpful,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters Thursday at her weekly press conference. The March 3 speech, Pelosi suggested, could give Netanyahu a political boost in elections a few weeks later and inflame international talks aimed at stopping Iran’s nuclear program.
“These negotiations have gone on for a long time,” Pelosi added. “They’re delicate.”
She spoke as Netanyahu accepted Boehner’s invitation, saying the speech will give him the chance to “thank President Barack Obama, Congress and the American people for their support of Israel.”
He is in a tough fight to win re-election. Netanyahu’s Likud Party is running behind the main opposition group headed by Yitzhak Herzog’s Labor Party, which has been highlighting rancor in the country’s critical relationship with the United States.
The White House bristled at Boehner’s move as a breach of protocol because he did not first consult the Obama administration. Boehner has said he doesn’t think he’s “poking anyone in the eye.” Netanyahu has cool relations with the White House but broad support in the Republican-controlled Congress.
The issue put the barely-sworn-in House and Senate at odds with Obama, who has vowed to veto any new legislation to impose sanctions on Iran. Obama argues that doing so could jeopardize ongoing negotiations and heighten the risk of a military showdown.
But Boehner is not backing down. He told a private meeting of GOP lawmakers that Congress would pursue further penalties against Iran despite Obama’s warning.
“He expects us to stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal with Iran,” Boehner said. “We’re going to do no such thing.”