Tomorrow night’s appearance before a joint session of Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu raises four important questions:
Should Speaker John Boehner have invited the Israeli Prime Minister to speak without consulting with President Obama first?
No. As a matter of law, the Speaker had the authority to extend this invitation to the Israeli Prime Minister without consulting with the President. As a matter of policy, however, this was a bad practice.
The Constitution assigns to each branch of government distinct responsibilities in the conduct of foreign affairs. The President negotiates treaties but the Senate must advise and consent by a two-thirds vote to any treaty negotiated by the President. The Senate also confirms the President’s appointees to head the State Department and the other major national security agencies. Budgetary outlays, including foreign aid and military expenditures, must be approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The President has the constitutional authority to “receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers.” By virtue of this constitutional authority, as well as the President’s power to negotiate treaties for submission to the Senate and his general “executive Power” under the Constitution, the day-to-day, face-to-face diplomacy of the United States is the province of the president. The Speaker’s invitation, extended to a foreign head of government without consultation with President Obama, diminished that authority. A Republican president will some day rue this precedent.
Should Prime Minister Netanyahu have accepted Speaker Boehner’s invitation?
No. By accepting the invitation, the Prime Minister unwisely projected himself into U.S. politics in an unacceptable fashion. As the overseas funds flowing into the Clinton Foundation demonstrate, foreign governments and foreign interests continually attempt to influence domestic U.S. opinion and politics. One of the underappreciated facts of American political life is the extent to which the lobbying dollars flowing into Washington come from foreign sources.
Moreover, initial reporting by the New York Times proved inaccurate. Mr. Netanyahu accepted the Speaker’s invitation only after the President had been informed of it. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister’s acceptance of the Speaker’s invitation crossed a line that should not have been crossed. There is a particular salience to a joint appearance before Congress.
Given the Speaker’s invitation and the Prime Minister’s acceptance of that invitation, was the President’s refusal to meet with the Prime Minister appropriate?
No. Speaker Boehner’s invitation, extended without first consulting with the President, diminished the Presidency. Mr. Obama’s snubbing of the Israeli Prime Minister diminished the Presidency further. A gracious response by President Obama would have looked strong. The President’s peevish refusal to meet with Mr. Netanyahu, as well as the President’s continuing efforts to degrade Mr. Netanyahu, have done just the opposite.
Should the Vice-President, in his constitutional capacity as “President of the Senate,” boycott the Prime Minister’s speech to Congress tomorrow night?
No. Mr. Biden, a steadfast supporter of the Jewish state, should instead announce that he will, in his constitutional capacity, preside over the Senate on this occasion – even as he could legitimately express his reservations about the precedent being set. Such a response would help channel the public debate where it should go: the merits of the criticism of the Obama Administration’s approach to the negotiations with Iran.
As a matter of substance, Prime Minister Netanyahu is right to be skeptical of the course being pursued by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. The President and Secretary of State appear determined to reach an agreement with Iran, even if it is a bad agreement. President Obama seems to have decided to sign an executive agreement with Iran without submitting a treaty to the Senate. The President’s refusal to utilize the constitutional treaty-making process suggests that he is committed to an agreement with Iran that cannot muster the two-thirds support of the Senate.
Mr. Netanyahu’s reservations about the President’s course in the negotiations with Iran is shared by many serious commentators on foreign affairs. These skeptics include Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel. If, as seems likely, President Obama continues in his insistence that he can unilaterally make a deal with Iran, that course will confirm the idea that President Obama and Secretary Kerry prefer to make a bad deal with Iran for the sake of making a deal.
Image Credit: “05-24-11 at 10-33-24” by Speaker John Boehner. CC by NC 2.0 via Flickr.