If you think John Boehner was doing his new BFF Benjamin Netanyahu a huge favor, well, of course that was obviously the case. By getting the chance to thunder against an Iran nuclear deal — and getting standing O’s from a mostly adoring, mostly Republican crowd in the United States Congress — Bibi was handed his best shot at avoiding election defeat back home.
But Netanyahu also provided a big political service to his buddy, Speaker Boehner. You have got to give a lot of credit to Boehner. He managed to maneuver events so that when he suffered a big humiliation later the same day that Netanyahu spoke, it was pretty much overlooked.
The first order of business: Let the Israeli prime minister dominate the news by sticking it to President Barack Obama. Next, allow the president and his fellow Democrats to jam it to the speaker by forcing him to cave on his party’s fool’s errand of trying to somehow make Obama back down on executive orders that would allow millions of illegal immigrants to stay in the country. Their weapon was a threat to withhold funding for Homeland Security. As threats go, it was empty.
Anyway, immigration is all tied up in a legal jumble right now, but that didn’t stop the hardliners in Boehner’s party from insisting that they stand up to the White House, even though they’d suffer certain political disaster by allowing funding to run out at the agency that oversees various anti-terrorism operations. That’s when Boehner decided to make his move and cut his losses. While the TV bloviators were still polluting the air with their nonstop predictable post-Netanyahu commentary, GOP leaders in the House passed the legislation funding Homeland Security, giving up on the immigration fight and getting rolled by the president. It would have been a major embarrassment, but few were paying attention. They were too busy talking about the grand meaning of the address Netanyahu had given to Congress, going behind the back of Barack Obama to do it.
Of course, the meaning isn’t all that grand. In fact, it was kind of petty. Bibi wasn’t playing to the folks in Washington, not really. The Israeli election to determine whether he remains prime minister is just two weeks away. This was his chance to be perceived by the voters back home as a fighter for his country against the bad American officials negotiating a suspect nuclear deal with the Iranians, who want to destroy Israel. At least that was the political strategy.
Since these shenanigans offered them an opportunity to make life miserable for Obama, the GOP leaders (particularly Boehner) were eager to cooperate. Would that undermine American interests as the secretary of state was negotiating with his Iranian counterpart in Switzerland? Oh well, it’s politics. And from the Israeli perspective, was it worth risking a serious disruption in relations with the United States? Oh well, it’s politics.
At the end of the day, Boehner still will have to deal with his arch-conservative members, who are hopping mad at him for giving up, as opposed to going down in flames with them over Homeland Security and immigration. But they’ll have other opportunities to court disaster later this year, most notably when the national borrowing authority runs out. They’re already plotting to risk the nation’s sovereign credit still again if they don’t get their way. In the meantime, there also are rumblings that they’re so angry at Boehner, they might want to depose him as speaker.
Frankly, that would require cooperation from the Democrats … just about all the D’s teaming up with their enemies on the far-right. It ain’t gonna happen.
Pity. It’s not well-known, but the Constitution doesn’t require a speaker of the House to be a member of the House. However, he or she must be a U.S. citizen. Otherwise, Benjamin Netanyahu might be a possibility. He certainly seems at home in Congress. And he might need a job.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years ay CNN.