House Speaker John Boehner is leading a delegation of congressional Republicans to the Middle East this week amid intense international and American partisan debate over a pending nuclear deal with Iran.
The visit, which aides say had been planned for months and was announced before the most rancorous recent exchanges between the Obama administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, comes as diplomats in Switzerland work furiously to hammer out a framework agreement before a self-imposed deadline Tuesday night. A centerpiece of Boehner’s trip is an expected meeting in Israel with Netanyahu, a fellow strident critic of the Obama administration’s push for the Iran deal.
The House Speaker is traveling to Israel just weeks after Netanyahu delivered an address to Congress slamming the Iran negotiations as a threat to Israel’s security. Netanyahu’s speech on Capitol Hill shortly before his re-election contest prompted criticism from some lawmakers, who said he was using the appearance as a political rally. Boehner also invited Netanyahu to make the controversial speech without consulting with the White House, which the Obama administration derided as a breach of protocol.
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In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Boehner said the White House’s treatment of Netanyahu has been “reprehensible.”
“I think that the pressure that they have put on him over the last four or five years have, frankly, pushed him to the point where he had to speak up. I don't blame him at all for speaking up,” he said.
The Israel stop is just one part of a Middle East trip focused on issues in the region, particularly the spread of the terror group ISIL or ISIS.
Boehner’s office said that the House lawmakers visited Iraq on Monday and met with the country’s prime minister and other leaders to discuss “efforts to defeat ISIL and combat Iran’s rising influence.” While there, the Republicans said they pushed for increased U.S. logistical and material support to tribes battling with the terror organization.
The group -- which also includes Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, among others -– earlier visited Amman, Jordan.
Boehner is not the only congressional leader headed to Israel this week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell visited the country over the weekend and met with Netanyahu as well.
- NBC's Luke Russert, Alex Moe and Frank Thorp V contributed