Bibi & Boehner blow it: How they strengthened the White House's hand

The speaker and Israeli prime minister had the perfect plan to subvert diplomacy with Iran. It failed spectacularly

Published January 29, 2015 8:26PM (EST)

                          (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
(AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

John Boehner and the Republican Party had what it thought would be a fun idea to tweak the president, assert congressional authority, give U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East a rightward shove, and earn "the Republican Senator from Israel" another term. (Those last two items being one and the same.) He would invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before Congress shortly before his election, without consulting the White House. That would offer Netanyahu the chance to show off his influence in American politics ahead of Israeli elections and put pressure on fence-sitting lawmakers to pass a new round of Iran sanctions that threatens to unravel nuclear negotiations at its most critical stage.

This plan has not gone over very well.

The only real shove that the invitation has produced is one in the other direction: getting certain Democrats, who were either actively pushing or considering voting for the Kirk-Menendez Iran sanctions bill, to lay off. Earlier this week, Sen. Menendez -- crazy Bob Menendez! -- and fellow Democrats sent a letter to the White House saying they would hold off voting on sanctions for a couple more months to let negotiations play out. The bill advanced out of the Senate Banking Committee today but, at least until the end of March, won't have the votes to get through the Senate.

The New York Times reports today that Netanyahu's acceptance of Boehner's invitation was just what it needed to persuade enough Democratic senators to hold off on sanctions:

The decision by the Israeli prime minister to accept an unusual invitation from House Republicans to address a joint meeting of Congress has had the unintended effect of helping the president rally Democrats as his administration negotiates a delicate nuclear deal with Iran.

For months, the issue of imposing sanctions on Iran split many Democrats from the president, as they feared his posture was emboldening the government in Tehran to further develop itsnuclear program. But Mr. Netanyahu’s planned speech, a provocation of the president that many Democrats found distasteful and undiplomatic, has helped shift the political dynamic.

“For the prime minister to accept made it extremely political, knowing how the invitation played out,” said Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia and a frequent critic of the White House. Mr. Manchin was one of 10 Democrats who signed a letter agreeing not to vote on a sanctions bill until after the March 24 deadline to have a framework of an agreement in place with the Iranians.

Now we're in a position where the administration's hand is strengthened and Netanyahu looks somewhat incompetent back home. (John Boehner also looks incompetent, but that's not news.) Given all the criticism he's getting, Netanyahu could cancel the speech, but such an admission of failure might make his problems even worse.

The whole thing made the White House mad, really mad. It is not difficult to understand why. Whether it was a breach of protocol or not, it is understandable why the White House would be mad at the Republican Party and Benjamin Netanyahu for working behind its back to sabotage the administration's top foreign policy objective in such acute, indiscreet fashion. It would be weird to not expect an administration to get mad at such a thing. It's a provocative move! People were provoked. This is not complicated.

One of the more delightful hate-reads on this day comes from a reliable source of delightful hate-reads: Jennifer Rubin's "Right Turn" blog at the Washington Post. She feigns incredulity at why the White House is so upset after being directly taunted. The White House is "unhinged," writes Jennifer Rubin, a hilariously insane propaganda machine. The author of this opening paragraph is calling another entity "unhinged":

At first blush, it might seem that the White House has become unhinged over a now-rescheduled appearance by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before a joint session of Congress. After days of whining that Netanyahu’s appearance was not cleared with the White House, U.S. officials have taken to the press to anonymously screech and moan, accusing the Israeli ambassador — gasp! — of furthering the prime minister’s interests at the expense of his relations with the administration. (This is rich, considering the president’s hot-mike comment about Netanyahu and a senior official’s recent use of a barnyard epithet to criticize Netanyahu). In a separate New York Times article (one was not enough to assist the White House propaganda machine!), the Netanyahu speech is portrayed as helping the White House round up opposition to the Menendez-Kirk sanctions. The kicker is a quote from the president of the notoriously anti-Israel J Street  – which the Times originally falsely labeled as “a Democratic-aligned pro-Israel group” and later changed to “Israeli advocacy group” after a spate of mocking tweets on Wednesday night — piling on the anti-Netanyahu criticism. (This would be akin to identifying Vladimir Putin as a pro-peace voice on Ukraine or the Saudi king as a defender of human rights.) The latter is ludicrous. The Menendez-Kirk bill was introduced this week and is set to be marked up in the Senate Banking Committee soon. For the first time, 10 Democrats have promised to vote for the conditional sanctions at a specified time (after March 24).

Yup, it's the White House that's unhinged. What's their problem?? Because Jennifer Rubin is doing fine! She is fine with things!! No problems here! Steady as a rock, la la la!!!>#!#$!

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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Benjamin Netanyahu Congress Editor's Picks Hacks Iran Iran Sanctions Israel Jennifer Rubin John Boehner