Senators in both parties squared off with the Obama administration Wednesday about whether the threat of new sanctions would scuttle nuclear talks with Iran as House Speaker John Boehner, without consulting the White House, invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress.
Boehner’s move to bring him before a joint meeting of Congress likely increases the chances of a congressional collision with the White House. Boehner said he did not consult with the White House about inviting Netanyahu.
“Congress can make this decision on its own. I don’t believe I am poking anyone in the eye,” the speaker said. “There is a serious threat that exists in the world. And the president last night kind of papered over it.”
The White House said the invitation was a breach of typical diplomatic protocol. Spokesman Josh Earnest, traveling with the president to Idaho, told reporters the administration would “reserve judgment until we have an opportunity to speak to the Israelis about their plans for the trip and about what he plans to say.”
The invitation was a coordinated effort involving Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-Ky.), with staff discussions beginning last year, according to a senior Republican aide.
At a heated hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker vigorously pushed legislation that would allow Congress to take an up–down vote on any agreement that the Obama administration and its international partners reach with Iran to prevent it from being able to develop a nuclear weapon.
Ranking Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey reiterated his support for legislation he’s drafted with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) that would ramp up sanctions against Iran if a deal is not reached by July 6. The bill does not impose any new sanctions during the remaining timeline for negotiations, but if there’s no deal, the sanctions that were eased during the talks would be reinstated and then Iran would face new punitive measures in the months thereafter.
“The Iranians are playing for time. … After 18 months of stalling, Iran needs to know that there will be consequences for failure,” Menendez said.