Americans are taking sides in a very public, international feud between President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is set to deliver a controversial speech to Congress on Tuesday pushing for tougher sanctions on Iran.
At the heart of the dispute is Speaker Boehner's decision to invite Mr. Netanyahu to speak without consulting the White House, widely seen as a snub to the president.
Nearly half of Americans believe it was wrong of Boehner to extend the invitation, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey that found that 48 percent of registered voters disapprove of congressional Republicans' move to invite Netanyahu to address Congress without notifying Obama first. Some 30 percent say the invitation was OK, and another 22 percent said they didn't know enough to judge.
As with most everything else, it turns out Republicans and Democrats are divided on the issue. Some 47 percent of Republicans say they support inviting foreign leaders to address Congress without first notifying the president, while only 12 percent of Democrats feel the same, according to the WSJ/NBC poll.
Of course, there's more than protocol at stake here. Netanyahu is expected to deliver a speech criticizing a nuclear deal Obama has been pursuing with Iran for years. The White House views the visit as undermining the administration's foreign policy. For his part, Boehner says it’s important to hear what Netanyahu has to say about the threats Iran poses to the world.
As such, the move has strained already-tense relations between both the White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill, as well as between Obama and Netanyahu.
How bad have relations become? About 30 congressional Democrats, many of whom are members of the Congressional Black Caucus, plan to boycott the speech. And Obama won't be meeting with Netanyahu during his visit.
The Israeli prime minister's visit comes just weeks before Israel's elections and many critics accuse Netanyahu of using the visit to bolster his standing with voters at home.
“Bibi is facing an existential threat to his career, and Boehner is staging for him the ultimate campaign rally, 6,000 miles away from home,” writes Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic, using the Israeli prime minister’s nickname.
Despite the tension in Washington over the Israeli prime minister's visit, however– not since third grade has a wayward invitation caused so much drama – Americans have a more positive view of Netanyahu than they did before.
He's now seen positively by 30 percent of US voters, up from just 24 percent last August, according to the WSJ/NBC poll. That's driven by the fact that 49 percent of Republicans now say they have a positive view of the prime minister, a 13-point increase from August. Democrats' views of the Israeli leader are largely unchanged, at 12 percent from 13 percent last August.
A new Gallup poll also shows Netanyahu's rating up from 2012. According to its poll, some 45 percent of Americans view the Israeli prime minister favorably, up from 35 percent in 2012. Some 24 percent view him unfavorably.
Here's the party line breakdown: Sixty percent of Republicans view Netanyahu positively and 18 percent view him negatively, compared to an even 31 percent favorable and 31 percent unfavorable standing among Democrats.
“Despite Americans’ support for Israel and a long history of close ties between the two countries, Netanyahu has found himself in a major political controversy by coming to Washington to address Congress against the wishes of the White House,” Gallup’s Andrew Dugan wrote. “But the political tension felt in the nation’s capital has not hurt Netanyahu’s image with the American public at large.”