The press has blown a gasket the past few days crowing about the breach of protocol related to Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress. The charge, and it’s not without merit, is that “Ambassadors and other public ministers” must be received by the president, as stated in Article Two, Section Three of the Constitution. As head of state, the argument goes, it’s the president’s right to meet with other heads of state. By inviting Netanyahu to speak and bypassing the White House, critics contend that Speaker Boehner ignored the Constitution.
The Constitution is rather vague on this issue. The language of the relevant section states that presidents “shall receive ambassadors and other public ministers.” In the context of how Article Two is framed, Section Three lists what might be considered duties of the president rather than prerogatives (which are dealt with in the previous section). In this sense, while protocol may have been violated by not clearing Netanyahu’s visit with the White House, the refusal of the president to meet with the head of a foreign nation could also be construed as a violation of constitutional duty. As read, the president is required in his symbolic capacity as our leader to meet with foreign heads of state. He might refuse, but such action can only be interpreted as a diplomatic statement, and an antagonistic one at that.