Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the House Democrats, said on Thursday that Republican Speaker John Boehner’s invitation for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to address Congress was “inappropriate”.
Pelosi, a Democrat from California, cited the upcoming Israeli elections, as well as the ongoing nuclear talks between Iran and the West.
"If that's the purpose of Prime Minister Netanyahu's visit two weeks before his own election, right in the midst of our negotiations, I just don't think it's appropriate and helpful," she told reporters Thursday at her weekly press conference, according to The Associated Press (AP).
The March 3 speech, Pelosi suggested, could give Netanyahu a political boost in elections a few weeks later and inflame international talks aimed at stopping Iran's nuclear program.
"These negotiations have gone on for a long time," Pelosi added. "They're delicate."
She spoke as Netanyahu accepted Boehner's invitation, saying the speech will give him the chance to "thank President Barack Obama, Congress and the American people for their support of Israel."
The White House gave an icy response on Wednesday to news that Netanyahu was invited to address Congress, saying it was a departure from diplomatic protocol.
"We haven't heard from the Israelis directly about the trip at all," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. "The typical protocol would suggest that the leader of a country would contact the leader of another country when he is traveling there… So this particular event seems to be a departure from that protocol."
On Thursday, the White House made clear that neither President Barack Obama nor Secretary of State John Kerry would meet Netanyahu while he is in Washington, explaining that American policy is not to meet foreign leaders on dates that are close to national elections in their countries.
Politico said on Wednesday that the invitation to Netanyahu to address the United States Congress was extended by Boehner without consulting the White House or the State Department. Instead, Boehner’s and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s staff coordinated with Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States.
The issue put the barely-sworn-in House and Senate at odds with Obama, who has vowed to veto any new legislation to impose sanctions on Iran. Obama argues that doing so could jeopardize ongoing negotiations and heighten the risk of a military showdown.
But Boehner is not backing down. He told a private meeting of GOP lawmakers that Congress would pursue further penalties against Iran despite Obama's warning.
"He expects us to stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal with Iran," Boehner said, according to AP. "We're going to do no such thing."