Rich Lowry: The White House’s Emily Post moment

  • By Rich Lowry
  • Wednesday, January 28, 2015 4:20pm
  • Opinion

The White House has now become a stickler for protocol, especially when it comes to relations between the two political branches.

The new persnicketiness arises from House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress in March. The invite is being denounced as a major breach and new low in Washington because he didn’t, as had been the traditional practice with such invitations, coordinate with the White House.

As far as violations of the separation of powers in the Obama era, it’s hard to see how this even comes close to registering. Maybe Emily Post wouldn’t approve, and with a different administration it would be worth honoring every courtesy, but we are far beyond that now.

President Barack Obama has a notoriously piratical attitude toward Congress. He deliberately and gleefully trampled all over its role as the lawmaking branch, and cast aside his own as the executor of the laws. He has distorted the constitutional order to suit his whim, and now his allies are peeved that John Boehner made a wayward speaking invitation?

According to David Rogers of Politico, the speaker’s office had tried to coordinate with the White House on a prior 2011 invitation to Netanyahu and got no response. More to the point: The speaker leads a coequal branch of government.

He can invite or not invite anyone he wants, up to and including the president, who is only invited to give the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress as a matter of tradition. He can invite Phil Robertson or Neil deGrasse Tyson, the archbishop of Canterbury or the pope, just as he pleases.

The speaker shouldn’t have to wait for White House sign-off for his invitations to address the House any more than the White House should coordinate with him whom it invites into the Oval Office.

The invitation kerfuffle is all the more ridiculous because it involves a friend of the United States. David Rogers recounts a tussle over a potential invitation to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987; Democrats played with the idea of having him speak before Congress, before relenting. But Gorbachev represented a committed enemy — albeit one that was changing and on the verge of collapse — while Netanyahu represents an embattled ally.

The context of Netanyahu’s visit is, of course, the nuclear talks with Iran. The administration is in a panic to get a deal with Iran, any deal. At this point, it doesn’t want to hear a discouraging word from anyone, least of all Netanyahu, who is such a powerful communicator. It’s not as though the White House opposes on principle interventions by foreign leaders into our Iran policy.

The same White House huffily standing on protocol over the Netanyahu invitation happily hosted British Prime Minister David Cameron a couple of weeks ago. At a press conference with President Obama, the British leader spoke out against a bill to impose further sanctions against Iran and even called members of Congress to argue against the idea.

The legislation in question is bipartisan, and reasonable enough. Sponsored by Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., it would restore sanctions that have been loosened on Iran in the event there is no deal by the new June deadline for negotiations. And it would steadily tighten them thereafter. The White House is worried that the prospect of more sanctions will destroy its delicate dynamic with Iran, although Iran has continued to extend its tentacles in Yemen, Syria and Iraq without any fear of spooking us.

In a congressional hearing last week, Sen. Menendez lambasted the administration line on the sanctions bill that “sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran.” That is from a leading foreign-policy voice of the president’s own party. At least the unwelcome guest, Bibi Netanyahu, will be more polite.

Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail:

More in Opinion

Dr. Jay Butler, former chief medical officer for the State of Alaska, is seen in this undated photo. (Courtesy photo)
Alaska Voices: Feeling grateful this Thanksgiving for the COVID vaccines

The COVID vaccines remain our strongest tool in combating the pandemic and helping us return to our lives and the things we love and cherish.

A resident casts their vote in the regular municipal election Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020 at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Voices of the Peninsula: All votes matter

In the beginning, only property-holding white men could vote.

Cristen San Roman. (Photo provided)
Point of View: Is management of Cook Inlet catered to special interest groups?

If these fish are so at risk, why is BOEM able to move forward with lease sale 258?

Homer Foundation
Point of View: Grateful for the hidden ‘good’

Gratitude: Noun The state of being grateful; thankfulness. The state or quality… Continue reading

Homer High School Principal Douglas Waclawski. (Photo provided)
Point of View: What is Homer High School about?

What I consider Homer High’s strength is that we are a place for learning.

UAA Chancellor Sean Parnell. (courtesy photo)
Alaska Voices: Invent your future at UAA

At UAA we’re providing the tools to help students of all ages and skills chart a new course forward.

A registered nurse prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at the pop-up clinic on the Spit on May 27. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Alaska Voices: Vaccination is the still best protection from COVID-19

The Alaska State Medical Association encourages you to protect yourselves and your community from preventable illness by getting recommended vaccines.

(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
The sad diminishment of Rep. Don Young

Young seems afraid to demand his party leader defend the dignity of the institution he loves.

A “Vote Here” sign is seen at the City of Kenai building on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Clarion file)
Alaska Voices: Restore our strong campaign donation limits

Without campaign spending limits, the ideal of one person, one vote is no longer really true.

The Final Redistricting Map approved for the Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna area is seen on Nov. 9, 2021. (Map via
Alaska Voices: The Alaska Redistricting Board’s last-minute gerrymandering failed Alaska

Our Constitution outlines rules for a redistricting process designed to uphold public trust.

This photo shows the trans-Alaska pipeline and pump station north of Fairbanks. (AP Photo/Al Grillo)
Alaska Voices: The permanent fund has been taking care of Alaskans for 45 years

It’s the largest sovereign wealth fund in the nation, the pride of Alaska and this month we celebrate its 45th anniversary.

Dr. Tom Hennessy, MD, MPH (Courtesy)
Voices of the Peninsula: Don’t take medical advice from politicians, athletes or social media

Evidence leads to consensus among medical doctors: Vaccines are the best way to prevent infection.