The White House’s Emily Post moment
The White House has now become a stickler for protocol, especially when it comes to relations between the two political branches.
The new persnicketiness arises from House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress in March. The invite is being denounced as a major breach and new low in Washington because he didn’t, as had been the traditional practice with such invitations, coordinate with the White House.
As far as violations of the separation of powers in the Obama era, it’s hard to see how this even comes close to registering. Maybe Emily Post wouldn’t approve, and with a different administration it would be worth honoring every courtesy, but we are far beyond that now.
President Barack Obama has a notoriously piratical attitude toward Congress. He deliberately and gleefully trampled all over its role as the lawmaking branch, and cast aside his own as the executor of the laws. He has distorted the constitutional order to suit his whim, and now his allies are peeved that John Boehner made a wayward speaking invitation?
According to David Rogers of Politico, the speaker’s office had tried to coordinate with the White House on a prior 2011 invitation to Netanyahu and got no response. More to the point: The speaker leads a coequal branch of government.
He can invite or not invite anyone he wants, up to and including the president, who is only invited to give the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress as a matter of tradition. He can invite Phil Robertson or Neil deGrasse Tyson, the archbishop of Canterbury or the pope, just as he pleases.
The speaker shouldn’t have to wait for White House sign-off for his invitations to address the House any more than the White House should coordinate with him whom it invites into the Oval Office.
The invitation kerfuffle is all the more ridiculous because it involves a friend of the United States. David Rogers recounts a tussle over a potential invitation to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987; Democrats played with the idea of having him speak before Congress, before relenting. But Gorbachev represented a committed enemy – albeit one that was changing and on the verge of collapse – while Netanyahu represents an embattled ally.
The context of Netanyahu’s visit is, of course, the nuclear talks with Iran. The administration is in a panic to get a deal with Iran, any deal. At this point, it doesn’t want to hear a discouraging word from anyone, least of all Netanyahu, who is such a powerful communicator. It’s not as though the White House opposes on principle interventions by foreign leaders into our Iran policy.
The same White House huffily standing on protocol over the Netanyahu invitation happily hosted British Prime Minister David Cameron a couple of weeks ago. At a press conference with President Obama, the British leader spoke out against a bill to impose further sanctions against Iran and even called members of Congress to argue against the idea.
The legislation in question is bipartisan, and reasonable enough. Sponsored by Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., it would restore sanctions that have been loosened on Iran in the event there is no deal by the new June deadline for negotiations. And it would steadily tighten them thereafter. The White House is worried that the prospect of more sanctions will destroy its delicate dynamic with Iran, although Iran has continued to extend its tentacles in Yemen, Syria and Iraq without any fear of spooking us.
In a congressional hearing last week, Sen. Menendez lambasted the administration line on the sanctions bill that “sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran.” That is from a leading foreign-policy voice of the president’s own party. At least the unwelcome guest, Bibi Netanyahu, will be more polite.