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Republicans seek to one-up Obama on foreign affairs

WASHINGTON – Republicans on Wednesday delivered a swift and bold response to President Obama’s exuberant State of the Union address by taking direct aim at the administration’s foreign policy authority.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, invited Israel’s prime minister to address Congress next month on Iran and the controversial role that U.S. sanctions should play in the difficult relationship with the Islamic government in Tehran.

The invitation was a strong signal by Boehner that he intends to challenge Obama on his handling of Iran and the spread of Islamic extremism, where the president’s support has been sometimes tenuous.

In a meeting with his House GOP colleagues, Boehner said that if the president “expects us to stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal with Iran,” he was going to be disappointed: “Two words: ‘Hell no!’ “ Boehner said. “We’re going to do no such thing.”

According to Republican aides, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has a famously strained relationship with Obama, has accepted the offer. He is expected to make the address in February.

The invitation follows Obama’s threat to veto any new congressional sanctions on Iran while his team is negotiating an agreement that would prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Such a move by lawmakers, Obama warned Tuesday, would “all but guarantee that diplomacy fails” and increase the potential for military action.

Obama has been battling with lawmakers, including some members of his own party, to forestall congressional action imposing sanctions before the negotiations are completed.

New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Mark Kirk , R-Ill., have a proposed bill that imposes sanctions if the talks were to fail.

Netanyahu’s visit comes at a delicate time for Obama, who has put the chances of a deal with Iran at only 50 percent. The trip also underscores the high emotions surrounding the Iranian nuclear negotiations, which have caused splits even among some of the president’s traditional allies.

At a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez slammed Obama for not being tough enough on Iran. “I have to be honest with you, the more I hear from the administration and its quotes, the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran.”

Netanyahu, who is the midst of a competitive election, is expected to make the case for taking a harder line on Iran in an effort to wrest concessions from the country’s leaders.

“There is a serious threat that exists in the world, and the president, last night, kind of papered over it,” Boehner said, meeting with reporters Wednesday. “The fact is, is that there needs to be a more serious conversation in America about how serious the threat is from radical Islamic jihadists and the threat posed by Iran.”

The invitation to Netanyahu seemed to be a deviation from normal diplomatic practice, in which the executive branch – and not a legislative leader – would coordinate the visit of a head of state. The White House said Netanyahu’s failure to inform the White House of the trip was a departure from protocol.

Boehner disagreed: “I did not consult with the White House. The Congress can make this decision on its own,” he said. “I don’t believe I’m poking anyone in the eye.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that the administration would reserve judgment on Netanyahu’s visit “until we have an opportunity to speak to the Israelis about their plans for the trip and about what he plans to say.”