“The typical protocol would suggest that the leader of a country would contact the leader of another country when he’s traveling there,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday. “That certainly is how President Obama’s trips are planned when he travels overseas. This particular event seems to be a departure from that protocol.”
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Netanyahu planned to accept the invitation. But the announcement of the possible visit appeared to be a deliberate snub aimed at the out-of-the-loop Obama.
Boehner announced the invitation Wednesday morning, hours after Obama repeated his call for lawmakers to “hold off” on imposing additional sanctions against Iran in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.
The speaker said the prime minister, a fierce advocate for a harder stance against Iran, would specifically address Congress on the subject.
Boehner invited the Israeli prime minister’s talk to a joint meeting of Congress on Feb. 11 – a critical moment in negotiations toward a March deadline to make progress on a nuclear agreement with Iran. Netanyahu has repeatedly warned against easing sanctions against Iran and supported adopting a tougher approach.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday afternoon, Earnest said the White House was notified just before Boehner’s announcement and still had not heard from the Israelis directly about the prime minister’s plan.
“We’re going to reserve judgment on that until we’ve had an opportunity to speak to the Israelis about what their plans are for the trip and what he plans to say,” Earnest said.
It is no secret that Netanyahu and Obama have had a strained relationship, and Boehner’s invitation appears designed to showcase a hawkish stance toward Iran. Many lawmakers worry too many concessions will be made in the nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers, including the U.S.
“He expects us to stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal with Iran. Two words: 'Hell no,'” Boehner told House Republicans during a closed session Wednesday, according to a person in the room.
Legislation to impose further sanctions on Iran is gaining ground in Congress, and could be next on the Senate’s agenda in coming weeks. Supporters of the bill promoted by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) believe tougher sanctions are needed to push Iran to halt its nuclear program.
The announcement of the possible trip comes a week after a visit from British Prime Minister David Cameron to the White House. Cameron, who sides with Obama on the question of sanctions, acknowledged that he used his time in Washington to call senators to urge them to vote against the any sanctions legislation.
Asked whether it was appropriate for Netanyahu or other foreign leaders to be lobbying Congress, Earnest said the White House was in the dark.
“It’s not entirely clear to me that that’s exactly what they’re planning to do,” he said. “Again, some of that’s because we haven’t heard from them about what exactly they’re planning to do.”