“Boehner snubs [White House], invites Netanyahu to address Congress.” These words, or words remarkably similar, headlined newspapers all around the United States on January 21, 2015. Without consulting President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress in opposition to the White House’s overtures to Iran with respect to its nuclear program. Speaker Boehner extended the invitation in apparent response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address, in which he informed Congress that any further economic sanctions bill against Iran at that time would be detrimental to ongoing diplomatic negotiations and would be vetoed. Prime Minister Netanyahu accepted the offer and addressed a joint session of Congress.
Questions were immediately raised about the unprecedented breach of diplomatic protocol, as invitations to foreign leaders to address Congress are usually made in consultation with the White House and State Department. Some went so far as to question whether the invitation was unconstitutional. According to Article II, Section 3, of the United States Constitution, the President of the United States “shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers” from foreign governments. Critics of the invitation argued that Prime Minister Netanyahu, appearing as the official representative of his country, should be classified as a “public minister.” According to Stanford University Professor Jack Rakove, the Founding Fathers empowered the President with this role for a specific reason—to facilitate negotiations with foreign powers regarding complex issues on behalf of the United States. In this regard, while Congress is tasked with declaring war, “the [P]resident is charged with making peace—and ‘peace [was] attended with intricate and secret negotiations.’ ” This decision, enshrined in the Constitution, demonstrated the Founding Fathers’ desire to have the President in charge of “delicate” negotiations with foreign governments that required discretion. While Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu did not precipitate a constitutional crisis, it did raise the question of which branch of government, the executive or the legislative, should control this important aspect of foreign policy.