Congressional Republicans haven’t had many victories in their lasting conflict with President Obama, but Tuesday brought one. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s somber, provocative speech to Congress checked all the boxes.
It called into question the efficacy of any deal the administration might strike with Iran over its nuclear program; it likely renewed momentum for another round of Iranian sanctions on the Hill; it positioned the GOP politically as the party more worried about Israeli security, and, despite the White House’s best efforts, made the president appear petty and churlish.
Obama, in an interview with Reuters, had dismissed the speech as a “distraction,” and aides made sure everyone knew he would be too busy to watch it. But if the president didn’t cast an eye at a TV, he might have been the only person in Washington not to. And that’s the problem.
For weeks, the White House has worked steadily to write the speech off as a thinly veiled Republican ploy to undermine the delicate negotiations with Iran. But network coverage treated it for what it was: the head of state of a critical ally delivering a controversial address on American soil. That served the interests of both House Speaker John Boehner, who was the impetus behind the speech, and Netanyahu, elevating both of them while key Democrats such as Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren stayed offstage.