Massive "demand for tickets" to Netanyahu speech, Boehner says

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the White House has "attacked" him and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Netanyahu's planned address to Congress Tuesday in which he is expected to criticize international negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.

"The demand for seats in the House, the demand for tickets, I've never seen anything like it. Everybody wants to be there," Boehner said. "What I do wonder is why the White House feels threatened because the Congress wants to support Israel and wants to hear what a trusted ally has to say. It has been, frankly, remarkable to me, the extent to which, over the last five or six weeks, the White House has attacked the Prime Minister, attacked me, for wanting to hear from one of our closest allies."

In January, Boehner invited Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress to talk about the Iran nuclear negotiations. He did so without consulting the White House, which some argue is a violation of protocol. The White House has said President Obama will not meet with Netanyahu while he is here, citing a precedent that U.S. officials have a longstanding practice of not meeting with foreign leaders so close to their elections. Israel's elections take place on March 17.

Additionally, after Netanyahu declined Senate Democrats' request to meet privately ahead of the speech, prominent congressional Democrats have been vowing to skip his appearance in their chamber. Vice President Joe Biden may also not attend.

The speaker said the strained relationship between Netanyahu and Mr. Obama "is no secret here in this town" but that the White House has "certainly made it worse over the last five or six weeks."

Boehner also defended the invitation, arguing that Congress has every right to invite a foreign leader to speak.

"The threat coming from Iran and the Iranians having a nuclear weapon is a threat to the region. It's a threat to the United States. And it's a threat to the rest of the world. This is a serious issue," he said.

"We're not going to resolve this issue by sticking our heads in the sand," Boehner added. "The prime minister can talk about this threat, I believe, better than anyone. And the United States Congress wants to hear from him. And so do the American people."

In a separate interview on "Face the Nation," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said she was "very concerned" about the speech, citing Netanyahu's 2011 address to Congress to discuss a peace plan for the region.

"I went to the speech in 2011. I didn't believe it was helpful then, and I don't believe its going to be helpful now," Feinstein said, though she said that she will attend and listen respectfully, if not "jump up and down" the way she is expecting many of her fellow lawmakers to respond.

She said that she hopes Netanyahu will discuss what would happen if there is no deal or if the U.S. backs out of the agreement but other world powers decide to move forward.

"What happens then to sanctions if we were to put on additional sanctions and the rest of the nations would not abide by them?" she said. "If he throws out the gauntlet again i'd like to know what they intend to do if there is not an agreement."

Boehner argued that the president did not say enough about the Iranians during his State of the Union address in January, and furthermore, he does not believe that the talks will succeed in rolling back Iran's nuclear program.

"From what we've all heard, what they've leaked out about these negotiations, it just doesn't strike me that the deal is going to be good enough," he said.

Former Arkansas Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee, who was recently in Israel, said in a separate interview that he hopes Israel has not become a mere political football.

"There's some Washington politics involved in this. But let's hope and pray it doesn't spill over into a strained relationship with the one reliable ally that we have, basically, between Africa and Asia, and a very important one," he said.

He also rejected the idea that Netanyahu is using the speech to bolster his political profile back home ahead of Israel's elections later this month, citing in part a conversation with the prime minister during his recent visit.

"I feel like I know this country. I know many of the people in government, many of the people on the streets of Israel. And the fact is that they're separating the issue of the election from the existential threat that they face from the possibility of the Iranians having a nuclear weapon," Huckabee said. "Israel is the canary in the coalmine. Something happens to Israel, and that's not the end of it...we need to recognize the valuable strategic role that Israel plays in our own safety. This isn't just about Israel. This is about the safety of the United States."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.