Israeli election not a factor in Netanyahu invitation, Boehner team tells 'JPost'

Boehner's press secretary rejects criticism that speech invitation was poorly timed, inappropriately placed.

January 27, 2015 00:53
2 minute read.
US Capitol

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanks Speaker Boehner following his address to a joint meeting of Congress in the Rayburn Room of the US Capitol, May 24, 2011. (photo credit: SPEAKER.GOV)

WASHINGTON – National elections in Israel were not taken into account by House Speaker John Boehner's office before inviting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress last week.

Speaking with The Jerusalem Post, Boehner's press secretary rejected criticism from Democrats that the speech was poorly timed and inappropriately placed. In the March 3 address, Netanyahu is expected to criticize President Barack Obama's approach in negotiations with Iran from the House floor, a mere two weeks before Israel's elections.

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"We believe Congress is an appropriate venue to hear about the issues of day, including the threat posed by Islamic extremism and Iran,” said Michael Steel, the speaker's press secretary. "We are aware of the concerns the administration has expressed, but we are very glad the prime minister is coming."

In the Senate, Republicans and some Democrats are moving ahead with a bill that would trigger sanctions against Iran should negotiations over its nuclear program fail to reach agreement. On multiple occasions, Obama has promised to veto the legislation, which Netanyahu has suggested he supports.

Obama says that passing a bill would derail the nuclear talks. Netanyahu says he supports increasing pressure during the talks in an attempt to squeeze concessions from the Iranians.

Steel rejected concerns that support for Israel and against Iran were becoming partisan issues in Congress, despite diverging approaches in the Senate on the nuclear issue. Earlier on Monday, ten Senate Democrats proposed an alternative path to the "trigger" bill, with no Republican support.

Questioned whether Netanyahu's visit might slow down or hasten a vote in the House, Steel said Boehner had no plans, "at this point," on the floor schedule.

The speaker has "concerns with the concessions the administration has already reportedly given Iran, based on media reports," Steel continued, much in line with members across party lines on Capitol Hill.

But unlike his colleagues in the Senate, including Senators John McCain (R-Arizona), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), Boehner's team would not commit the speaker to a vote that would mandate congressional approval of any future nuclear deal.

Asked whether Congress must approve of such an agreement, and how such approval would be constitutionally supported, Steel replied: "We believe Congress should be involved in any decision with regard to a potential ‘deal’ on Iran’s nuclear program."

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