The White House hasn’t tried to hide how pleased it’s been with President Barack Obama going it alone and issuing several executive actions angering Republican lawmakers. It’s not so happy now that Congress has put the shoe on the other foot with a unilateral move unwelcome by the administration.
That would be House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress in March. Boehner issued the invite without following the normal protocol of consulting the White House when offering such a platform to a foreign dignitary.
The Republican leader may be guilty of violating a code of courtesy and manners, but Obama’s offense to the legislative branch is more serious. He exceeded his constitutional authority and failed in his responsibility “to take care that the laws be faithfully executed” by going around Congress to rewrite laws on issues such as health care and immigration.
The latest clash comes over foreign policy. Obama opposes a bipartisan bill, cosponsored by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), that would impose new sanctions on Iran if current talks to stop Tehran’s march to acquire nuclear weapons fails.
A nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to international peace generally and specifically to the Middle East, already roiled by bloody sectarian violence and terrorism, and to the one nation in the region with Western, democratic values, Israel.
Netanyahu would offer vital perspective about the Iranian threat. Making the speech is not without political risk to him at home. He’s facing an election in March and one issue is his handling of relations with Israel’s most important ally. It’s no secret that he and Obama don’t get along. The White House has already said Obama won’t meet with Netanyahu when he visits, using the excuse that it doesn’t want to get involved in Israel’s election.
Obama argues that the threat of new sanctions would alarm Iran and cause it to break off talks. That’s strange reasoning given that it was tough sanctions that drove Tehran to the bargaining table. And Iran doesn’t seem concerned about alarming U.S. leaders by loudly proclaiming its “right” to a nuclear program, keeping inspectors away from military and nuclear facilities, working to develop what can only be described as long-range missiles, and announcing construction of two new nuclear plants.
The White is so defensive that Menendez says, “The more I hear from the administration and its quotes, the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Iran.” In a hearing this week, he got an acknowledgement from a White House official that the U.S. goal had gone from stopping Iran’s nuclear arms program to constraining the “breakout” time it would take to reach weapons capability.
The fear is Iran is stringing the talks out while secretly working on its project. The negotiations have been extended twice, and that may happen again when Obama faces with the next deadline in June.
The problem for the president is that he’s been wrong about several big foreign-policy issues. A year ago he famously called ISIS “jayvees”; just months ago he cited as an American success Yemen, where Iranian-backed rebels have now forced out the government, and in his state of the union speech Obama claimed advances against ISIS in Syria that no one else sees.
Making things worse is that the White House won’t commit to submitting any Iran agreement to Congress. Whatever their other differences, there will be no successful Iran policy without the White House and Capitol Hill being on the same page.
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