Johnson Inviting Bibi While Still Reading His Own Onboarding Papers

House Speaker Mike Johnson is speaking to the press outside of his office in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., on February 13. . (Photo by Aaron Schwartz/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
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Speaker Mike Johnson is now saying he will invite Prime Minister Netanyahu to address the U.S. Congress, dramatically upping the ante in wire crossing between U.S. and Israeli politics. Just after crying foul over Chuck Schumer saying Israel should hold new elections at the end of the Gaza War, Netanyahu yesterday did a GOP-only Zoom session with Republican senators. But here’s the thing. Johnson can’t actually do that. A joint session requires both houses of Congress to agree. So he needs Chuck Schumer’s sign off. What he can do is hold a House-only speech.

Republicans may be thinking they’re going to jam Schumer and President Biden with this. In other words, force Schumer to either back down and demoralize his own party by agreeing to a joint session or putting him in the position of saying no to and bumming out pro-Israel Democrats and swing voters. But I don’t think Schumer’s going to get pushed on this. He’s already staked himself to a far more audacious position and doesn’t seem to be backing down from it. More importantly, I’m not sure Johnson entirely gets this — either the procedural niceties or the politics. It’s hard to go from a semi-backbencher to Speaker overnight. I think he hasn’t thought through all the moving parts of this because frankly he’s super green.

It was a very bold move for Netanyahu to address that joint session back in 2015. But it was a real joint session. Republicans controlled both houses of Congress. Now they don’t. Does Netanyahu really want to show up and do a House only thing? I suspect it’s highly likely lots of Democrats wouldn’t even show up. So it would likely degenerate into a kind of MAGA rally. It’s not the same look. Showing up for a kind of jury-rigged fake joint session plays very differently. It highlights his fractured standing in the U.S. rather than his strength and support. I mean, would he settle for getting invited to sit in on one of the Hunter Biden hearings with James Comer? How far is he willing to go with this and what scraps will he take? Yet another dimension of this — and not that our politics makes a bunch of consistency — but the GOP cudgel right now is not interfering with another democracy’s politics. There’s a least a bit of channel conflict.

In any case, just keep an eye on this. It’s high stakes for both sides. It’s inherently unpredictable because it takes place during ongoing warfare in Gaza and two different national elections. But my bet is that Johnson hasn’t actually thought through the moving parts or the politics of it, which has happened numerous times over the last few months. I think this become clear fairly soon.

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