Republicans defy Obama with invitation to Israeli prime minister

Benjamin Netanyahu asked to address Congress after president warns on Iran sanctions

Emboldened: President Barack Obama after his State of the Union address. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Emboldened: President Barack Obama after his State of the Union address. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters


Republicans have invited Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress about Iran, defying President Barack Obama’s warnings not to interfere with US diplomatic efforts to curb Tehran’s nuclear plans.

The invitation to the Israeli leader came less than a day after Mr Obama warned his opponents in his State of the Union speech not to let sanctions jeopardise negotiations with Iran on a nuclear deal.

John Boehner, Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, confirmed that he had invited Mr Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on February 11th. Mr Boehner said he had asked him to speak about “the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose”, drawing a rebuke from the White House.

Mr Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, said the invitation was a breach of normal diplomatic protocol, but added that the White House was reserving judgment until it had spoken to the Israelis about how Mr Netanyahu might respond.

The US president is battling Republicans and some senators in his own Democratic party over the US administration’s involvement in negotiations with five other world powers who are pressing Iran to cut back its nuclear programme in return for lifting economic sanctions.

Veto warning

New penalties would all “but guarantee that diplomacy fails, alienating America from its allies, and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear programme again,” he told Congress. “It doesn’t make sense. That is why I will veto any new sanctions Bill that threatens to undo this progress.”

Mr Boehner said that he did not consult Mr Obama before sending the invitation to Mr Netanyahu, but that he didn’t believe he was “poking anyone in the eye” by circumventing the White House.

He described the threat from Iran and Islamic extremists as “serious” and said that Mr Obama had “papered over it” in his speech.

An emboldened president used his sixth State of the Union address to float economic policies at odds with those of the Republicans and threaten vetoes against their proposals on financial regulation, immigration and healthcare.

The defiant speech was seen as a rallying call to Democrats, setting up the debate for the next presidential election.

“The shadow of crisis has passed,” he said, marking what he sees as the start of a post-recession era.

Liberal proposals

Among the measures he is seeking are paid sick leave, tax credits for childcare and two years of free community college education.

“Tonight we turn the page,” the president said, using rhetoric more typically used in an inaugural address and avoiding the prescriptive policy wish list that tends to dominate State of the Union speeches.

Addressing a Congress controlled by Republicans for the first time in his presidency, Mr Obama said that expanding opportunity for all Americans would work “as long as politics don’t get in the way”.

The ambitious goals are unlikely to be approved by Republicans, who sat poker-faced as Mr Obama outlined his policy hopes.

His speech ignored the uphill struggle he faces to pass his policy measures after the Republican wins in November’s elections gave the party majority control of Congress for the first time in eight years.

“He hasn’t adjusted to the new reality at all,” said Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine.