Republicans may be good at winning elections, but they’re awful at actually governing.
Case in point? Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner recently invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress, despite the fact that Congress isn’t empowered to conduct foreign policy; that responsibility actually falls to the President of the United States.
Republicans and Netanyahu likely wanted to shift the focus to derailing international diplomacy, but they’ve instead been forced to explain who’s responsible for this fiasco.
The fact that Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer talked to Jeffrey Goldberg late last week and tried to pin this mess on House GOP leaders – a dubious argument, to be sure – was itself evidence of just how messy this has become.
Last week, even Robert Kagan, a leading neoconservative and no ally of the Obama White House, made a detailed case against the Netanyahu/GOP partnership and urged the Israeli prime minister to cancel his speech to Congress.
Hoping to undo some of the damage, Netanyahu reportedly worked the phones last week, reaching out to Democratic leaders to calm the waters, but Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid told the Israeli leader what he already knew: by going around the White House to partner with Republicans, Netanyahu has done real damage.
There’s an interesting debate underway about whose screw-up was more severe: Boehner’s or Netanyahu’s. To my mind, it’s a close call – on the one hand, the Speaker took deliberate steps to undermine American foreign policy at a delicate time, siding with a foreign government over his own president, while arguably taking steps to intervene in a foreign election. On the other hand, the Prime Minister needlessly undermined his frayed relationship with the White House, risked damaging Israel’s standing in the U.S., and probably strengthened the diplomatic talks he hoped to ruin.
It was of interest to see former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican from the Reagan and Bush eras, speak out yesterday about the protocol breach: “[T]he executive branch of government really has the primary power and responsibility and authority to conduct the nation’s foreign policy. It’s not in the Congress, it’s in the executive branch. So our foreign policy benefits when there’s cooperation and so does the issue of U.S.-Israeli relations.”
Indeed, the beneficiary of this little debacle is President Obama, whose hand has been strengthened, at least for now, while Team Boehner and Team Netanyahu argue over whose actions were more misguided.