Commentary Magazine


Topic: Shelley Berkley

Berkley Probe Could Cost Dems the Senate

This fall, Democrats are defending far more Senate seats than the Republicans, making the retention of their slender hold on the upper house highly questionable. Any opportunity to knock off a GOP incumbent is a matter of life for the Democrats’ hopes of keeping at least half of Congress in their possession. That has made the battle for Nevada’s Senate seat one of the most watched races in the country, especially because challenger Rep. Shelley Berkley has been widely seen as a formidable threat to the future of Republican incumbent Dean Heller.

So the news that the House Ethics Committee has voted unanimously to launch an investigation of the charge she used her political clout to help her husband’s business is especially damaging not just to her ambitions but to the Democrats’ hopes of remaining in charge of the Senate next year. Given the snail’s pace at which the committee generally works, which makes it unlikely she could be cleared before November, this could be a fatal blow to her candidacy and make it that much harder for her fellow Nevadan Harry Reid to hold on to the post of majority leader. But while the political effects of this case may gladden conservatives, this is not a case of venality as much as it is one that raises questions about whether it is possible for a member of Congress to have a spouse involved in any business that interacts with the government.

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This fall, Democrats are defending far more Senate seats than the Republicans, making the retention of their slender hold on the upper house highly questionable. Any opportunity to knock off a GOP incumbent is a matter of life for the Democrats’ hopes of keeping at least half of Congress in their possession. That has made the battle for Nevada’s Senate seat one of the most watched races in the country, especially because challenger Rep. Shelley Berkley has been widely seen as a formidable threat to the future of Republican incumbent Dean Heller.

So the news that the House Ethics Committee has voted unanimously to launch an investigation of the charge she used her political clout to help her husband’s business is especially damaging not just to her ambitions but to the Democrats’ hopes of remaining in charge of the Senate next year. Given the snail’s pace at which the committee generally works, which makes it unlikely she could be cleared before November, this could be a fatal blow to her candidacy and make it that much harder for her fellow Nevadan Harry Reid to hold on to the post of majority leader. But while the political effects of this case may gladden conservatives, this is not a case of venality as much as it is one that raises questions about whether it is possible for a member of Congress to have a spouse involved in any business that interacts with the government.

The issue, which was the subject of a New York Times feature last September, involves the federal decertification of a hospital transplant center in Nevada due to organizational disarray that is believed to have led to a patient’s death. Berkley is accused of materially aiding the financial interests of her husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner, who operates a chain of dialysis centers in Nevada as well as a nephrology practice at the hospital in question. While it can be argued that Berkley should have recused herself from any involvement in the issue of federal regulation of this business, the Democratic congresswoman wasn’t the only member to intervene. The entire Nevada delegation including Heller (who replaced John Ensign in the Senate after he resigned in disgrace last year) spoke up in order to keep the state’s only transplant unit as well as the dialysis centers.

Were she not married to Lehrner, no one would give a second thought to Berkley’s involvement in the issue. But her efforts to oppose budget cuts which would have affected his business and which were opposed by a political action committee he heads does raise ethical questions.

Berkley, who also has a well-earned reputation as one of the most ardent supporters of Israel in the Congress, can be said to have profited by her actions — or at least her husband did. But that is not the same thing as having stolen taxpayer dollars for double-billing or directing government business to a shady or bankrupt business (think the Obama administration’s federal loan guarantees to Solyndra). While conflict of interest regulations are there for a reason, the open nature of her advocacy for this cause means there was no criminal conspiracy or criminal intent. Those eager to make political hay about this should remember that being the champion of doctors who serve kidney patients in need is not quite the same thing as throwing your weight around on behalf of some oil contractor or other special interest.

This means that while Berkley may not be a victim, she is certainly no villain. Whatever the ultimate ruling of the House committee, the damage to Berkley probably cannot be undone. This should serve as a warning to all members of the House and the Senate as well as to those thinking about going into public service that if they have a spouse involved in business they should probably think about finding another line of work. Such lines may have to be drawn for the sake of preventing real cases of corruption, but this also means that more good people will be driven out of public life. And that’s not good for either party.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Peter Berkowitz makes mincemeat of an E.J. Dionne column. “Dionne continues to insist, contrary to the evidence, that the Tea Party is a small and inconsequential movement. He leaves unchallenged my main claim that many highly educated Americans misunderstand the Tea Party’s central commitment to limited government because the political science and history departments at the distinguished colleges and universities that credential them are failing to teach the principles of American constitutional government (I do not dispute Dionne’s assurance that he was well trained by his college teachers). And while insisting on the importance of a thoughtful conservatism, he seems to be unaware of its existence.” Ouch.

NPR makes the case (another one) for its own defunding. You see, “zombies and vampires are malleable metaphors; they’ve symbolized anxieties over wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, environmental holocaust, and technological disaster.” And you, fellow taxpayer, are funding this stuff.

She must make even Democrats shudder. Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “Everything was going great and all of a sudden secret money from God knows where — because they won’t disclose it — is pouring in.”

It sure makes that whole “race is narrowing!” storyline seem silly. “With Election Day eight days away, Republican candidates hold a nine-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, October 24, 2010. It’s the second week in a row the gap between the parties has been that wide. Forty-nine percent (49%) of respondents say they would vote for their district’s Republican congressional candidate, while 40% would opt for his or her Democratic opponent. Even more worrisome for Democrats, however, is the finding that among the voters who are most closely following the midterm elections Republicans hold a 56% to 38% lead.”

Joe Sestak makes it competitive, but Pat Toomey is once again back in the lead in the Pennsylvania Senate race.

Rep. Shelley Berkley makes for a lively interview (h/t JTA). A sample: “[W]hile she faults President George W. Bush for many things during his presidency, she believes the Republican president was more personally committed to Israel than Obama. It’s this sort of blunt talk that impresses folks like [Gary] Bauer. … ‘I think she’s a leader in this regard,” says Bauer. … ‘There are other people on Capitol Hill that will privately say to their constituents, ‘Of course I’m with Israel and I’m talking to the White House behind the scenes’ to get the policy better. But she’s been willing to say it publicly. This is the way you can tell when a political figure really feels something in their heart.’ Because of her prominence on Israel, Berkley’s own constituents occasionally seem to forget how liberal she is.” Because liberals don’t bother with Israel these days?

Obama’s low standing, along with his unpopular agenda, makes Democratic candidates nervous — and suddenly declare their independence. If only they had voted that way, they might not be in such trouble.

Peter Berkowitz makes mincemeat of an E.J. Dionne column. “Dionne continues to insist, contrary to the evidence, that the Tea Party is a small and inconsequential movement. He leaves unchallenged my main claim that many highly educated Americans misunderstand the Tea Party’s central commitment to limited government because the political science and history departments at the distinguished colleges and universities that credential them are failing to teach the principles of American constitutional government (I do not dispute Dionne’s assurance that he was well trained by his college teachers). And while insisting on the importance of a thoughtful conservatism, he seems to be unaware of its existence.” Ouch.

NPR makes the case (another one) for its own defunding. You see, “zombies and vampires are malleable metaphors; they’ve symbolized anxieties over wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, environmental holocaust, and technological disaster.” And you, fellow taxpayer, are funding this stuff.

She must make even Democrats shudder. Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “Everything was going great and all of a sudden secret money from God knows where — because they won’t disclose it — is pouring in.”

It sure makes that whole “race is narrowing!” storyline seem silly. “With Election Day eight days away, Republican candidates hold a nine-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, October 24, 2010. It’s the second week in a row the gap between the parties has been that wide. Forty-nine percent (49%) of respondents say they would vote for their district’s Republican congressional candidate, while 40% would opt for his or her Democratic opponent. Even more worrisome for Democrats, however, is the finding that among the voters who are most closely following the midterm elections Republicans hold a 56% to 38% lead.”

Joe Sestak makes it competitive, but Pat Toomey is once again back in the lead in the Pennsylvania Senate race.

Rep. Shelley Berkley makes for a lively interview (h/t JTA). A sample: “[W]hile she faults President George W. Bush for many things during his presidency, she believes the Republican president was more personally committed to Israel than Obama. It’s this sort of blunt talk that impresses folks like [Gary] Bauer. … ‘I think she’s a leader in this regard,” says Bauer. … ‘There are other people on Capitol Hill that will privately say to their constituents, ‘Of course I’m with Israel and I’m talking to the White House behind the scenes’ to get the policy better. But she’s been willing to say it publicly. This is the way you can tell when a political figure really feels something in their heart.’ Because of her prominence on Israel, Berkley’s own constituents occasionally seem to forget how liberal she is.” Because liberals don’t bother with Israel these days?

Obama’s low standing, along with his unpopular agenda, makes Democratic candidates nervous — and suddenly declare their independence. If only they had voted that way, they might not be in such trouble.

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RE: Here’s That Bipartisan Alliance

A complete video of the press conference yesterday on the flotilla can be viewed here. Especially noteworthy are the two Democrats who forcefully rebut the Obama approach to both that incident and the Middle East more generally. Rep. Eliot Engels (D-N.Y.) demanded that we block any UN investigation into the flotilla and reaffirmed that Israel is fully competent to conduct its own investigation. He also revealed that some of the flotilla activists have applied to enter the U.S. to spew their venom, and that he will be presenting a petition signed by thousands of New Yorkers calling for the State Department to block these individuals’ entry. And he implores the administration to keep its eye on the ball — the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

The remarks of Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) included these observations:

The UN is once again seeking to condemn Israel for defending its citizens against Hamas terrorists. This is the same UN that gives the green light for Israel’s enemies to attack the Jewish state, and then condemns Israel for any retaliation against its terrorist attackers or acts of self-defense to protect its families. It happened last year with the deeply-flawed and disturbingly-biased Goldstone Report, and we are here to say it must not happen again. … Turkey is a perfect example of the blatant hypocrisy on display. While they criticize Israel in the UN, Turkey continues to occupy Cyprus, denies the Armenian Genocide and warmly welcomes Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the genocidal Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. …

All of this is taking place while North Korea goes unpunished in the UN for a flagrant act of war against South Korea. And the Iranian regime stands on the precipice of developing a nuclear weapon. Either of these despotic regimes could kill millions with access to nuclear weapons and murderous ambitions.

Nicely said, Congresswoman! You can’t miss the vast gulf between the language and position of Berkley and Engel, on one hand, and the White House, on the other. It seems there are at least some Democrats who should be signing on to the King resolution, then, right? Or is there something wrong with insisting that the U.S. get out of the Human Rights Council and start reciting a bill of particulars against Iran, Hamas, and Turkey?

Engel and Berkley are among the strongest Democratic supporters of Israel in Congress. They don’t much care about ruffling the White House’s feathers and they don’t put partisan loyalty above principle. It is a standard that Jewish groups should expect of those who fancy themselves as friends of Israel. Instead of making it easier for lawmakers to capitulate to and enable the Obama assault on Israel, Jewish leaders should be making it harder. You don’t do that by dancing on egg shells or praising Obama’s straddling. You do it by being candid and forceful, both in private and in public — and by reminding lawmakers that these days there’s no benefit (either to their own political fortunes or to the U.S.-Israel relationship) to be gained by running interference for this administration.

A complete video of the press conference yesterday on the flotilla can be viewed here. Especially noteworthy are the two Democrats who forcefully rebut the Obama approach to both that incident and the Middle East more generally. Rep. Eliot Engels (D-N.Y.) demanded that we block any UN investigation into the flotilla and reaffirmed that Israel is fully competent to conduct its own investigation. He also revealed that some of the flotilla activists have applied to enter the U.S. to spew their venom, and that he will be presenting a petition signed by thousands of New Yorkers calling for the State Department to block these individuals’ entry. And he implores the administration to keep its eye on the ball — the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

The remarks of Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) included these observations:

The UN is once again seeking to condemn Israel for defending its citizens against Hamas terrorists. This is the same UN that gives the green light for Israel’s enemies to attack the Jewish state, and then condemns Israel for any retaliation against its terrorist attackers or acts of self-defense to protect its families. It happened last year with the deeply-flawed and disturbingly-biased Goldstone Report, and we are here to say it must not happen again. … Turkey is a perfect example of the blatant hypocrisy on display. While they criticize Israel in the UN, Turkey continues to occupy Cyprus, denies the Armenian Genocide and warmly welcomes Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the genocidal Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. …

All of this is taking place while North Korea goes unpunished in the UN for a flagrant act of war against South Korea. And the Iranian regime stands on the precipice of developing a nuclear weapon. Either of these despotic regimes could kill millions with access to nuclear weapons and murderous ambitions.

Nicely said, Congresswoman! You can’t miss the vast gulf between the language and position of Berkley and Engel, on one hand, and the White House, on the other. It seems there are at least some Democrats who should be signing on to the King resolution, then, right? Or is there something wrong with insisting that the U.S. get out of the Human Rights Council and start reciting a bill of particulars against Iran, Hamas, and Turkey?

Engel and Berkley are among the strongest Democratic supporters of Israel in Congress. They don’t much care about ruffling the White House’s feathers and they don’t put partisan loyalty above principle. It is a standard that Jewish groups should expect of those who fancy themselves as friends of Israel. Instead of making it easier for lawmakers to capitulate to and enable the Obama assault on Israel, Jewish leaders should be making it harder. You don’t do that by dancing on egg shells or praising Obama’s straddling. You do it by being candid and forceful, both in private and in public — and by reminding lawmakers that these days there’s no benefit (either to their own political fortunes or to the U.S.-Israel relationship) to be gained by running interference for this administration.

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Here’s That Bipartisan Alliance

Minority Whip Eric Cantor does the talking, but standing with him are Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Congressman Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), and Congressman Peter King (R-N.Y.):

So will Democrats now come forward to join in Rep. Peter King’s resolution?

Minority Whip Eric Cantor does the talking, but standing with him are Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Congressman Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), and Congressman Peter King (R-N.Y.):

So will Democrats now come forward to join in Rep. Peter King’s resolution?

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What Say You, Democrats?

If we take them at their word, then there is no apparent reason why many Democrats shouldn’t sign on to Peter King’s resolution.

For example, Rep. John Adler’s statement on the flotilla  includes this:

The bond between the United States and Israel remains unshakable. For sixty-two years, our two nations have shared a deep commitment to democracy and lasting peace in the Mid-East. In a part of the world recognized for its conflict, Israel should retain its right to protect itself. The threats of a nuclear Iran and terrorism should remain a main focus of U.S. diplomatic efforts.

Shelley Berkley’s statement is even stronger, and indeed sounds a bit like the King resolution in this section:

I join Israel in rejecting calls for an international investigation of the recent events related to Gaza. Israel, a strong democracy and America’s close ally, is perfectly capable of conducting a fair, credible investigation that meets international standards. The last time the UN investigated the conflict between Israel and Hamas, it produced the biased, anti-Israel Goldstone Report. This one-sided document accused Israel of war crimes, when its actions were in defense of innocent families facing a constant barrage of deadly Hamas missile attacks.  Given this history, we have no reason to believe the UN would produce anything more balanced this time around. …

Israel’s blockade of Gaza is legal under international law. This policy is in place to ensure that weaponry and rockets do not reach Hamas, a risk to Israeli families that our democratic ally cannot — and will not — allow.

Rep. Brad Ellsworth echoes several paragraphs of the resolution:

We must allow Israel, not the United Nations, who produced the biased Goldstone report, to conduct a formal investigation into the flotilla incident that is prompt, impartial, credible, and transparent. During these times of crisis, the relationship between the United States and Israel must remain strong. Let there be no doubt, Israelis have the right to defend themselves and their homeland against the threat of violence.

Rep. Eliot Engel, who is as strong a defender of Israel as the Democrats have, includes this, which also mirrors much of King’s resolution:

The U.S.-Israel relationship is a special relationship, and it’s a relationship that needs to be strengthened. The United States is Israel’s only true friend. In fact, when you look at the United Nations or the so-called Human Rights Council in the United Nations, it’s really a kangaroo court stacked up against Israel. No wonder Israel doesn’t accept what the so-called “international body” says about them, because they can never do anything right. They’re always condemned no matter what they try, no matter what they do.

My colleagues have pointed out that Israel, like every other sovereign nation, has the right to defend itself, that Israel has at least twice seized large caches of arms aboard Iranian ships bound for Hamas and Hezbollah, and a blockade is an appropriate security measure when employed in the face of hostility such as that directed by Hamas against Israel.

Well, you get the point. There is nothing in the King resolution — including the demand to leave the UN Human Rights Council — that many House Democrats have not voiced themselves. So it’s curious that, so far, they have balked at signing the resolution — every one of them. You don’t suppose the House leadership and/or White House is ordering them not to sign until they can come up with a weak-tea alternative, do you?

UPDATE: Rep. Mark Kirk, who has signed on to the King resolution, issues a statement. You can also read the full resolution here.

If we take them at their word, then there is no apparent reason why many Democrats shouldn’t sign on to Peter King’s resolution.

For example, Rep. John Adler’s statement on the flotilla  includes this:

The bond between the United States and Israel remains unshakable. For sixty-two years, our two nations have shared a deep commitment to democracy and lasting peace in the Mid-East. In a part of the world recognized for its conflict, Israel should retain its right to protect itself. The threats of a nuclear Iran and terrorism should remain a main focus of U.S. diplomatic efforts.

Shelley Berkley’s statement is even stronger, and indeed sounds a bit like the King resolution in this section:

I join Israel in rejecting calls for an international investigation of the recent events related to Gaza. Israel, a strong democracy and America’s close ally, is perfectly capable of conducting a fair, credible investigation that meets international standards. The last time the UN investigated the conflict between Israel and Hamas, it produced the biased, anti-Israel Goldstone Report. This one-sided document accused Israel of war crimes, when its actions were in defense of innocent families facing a constant barrage of deadly Hamas missile attacks.  Given this history, we have no reason to believe the UN would produce anything more balanced this time around. …

Israel’s blockade of Gaza is legal under international law. This policy is in place to ensure that weaponry and rockets do not reach Hamas, a risk to Israeli families that our democratic ally cannot — and will not — allow.

Rep. Brad Ellsworth echoes several paragraphs of the resolution:

We must allow Israel, not the United Nations, who produced the biased Goldstone report, to conduct a formal investigation into the flotilla incident that is prompt, impartial, credible, and transparent. During these times of crisis, the relationship between the United States and Israel must remain strong. Let there be no doubt, Israelis have the right to defend themselves and their homeland against the threat of violence.

Rep. Eliot Engel, who is as strong a defender of Israel as the Democrats have, includes this, which also mirrors much of King’s resolution:

The U.S.-Israel relationship is a special relationship, and it’s a relationship that needs to be strengthened. The United States is Israel’s only true friend. In fact, when you look at the United Nations or the so-called Human Rights Council in the United Nations, it’s really a kangaroo court stacked up against Israel. No wonder Israel doesn’t accept what the so-called “international body” says about them, because they can never do anything right. They’re always condemned no matter what they try, no matter what they do.

My colleagues have pointed out that Israel, like every other sovereign nation, has the right to defend itself, that Israel has at least twice seized large caches of arms aboard Iranian ships bound for Hamas and Hezbollah, and a blockade is an appropriate security measure when employed in the face of hostility such as that directed by Hamas against Israel.

Well, you get the point. There is nothing in the King resolution — including the demand to leave the UN Human Rights Council — that many House Democrats have not voiced themselves. So it’s curious that, so far, they have balked at signing the resolution — every one of them. You don’t suppose the House leadership and/or White House is ordering them not to sign until they can come up with a weak-tea alternative, do you?

UPDATE: Rep. Mark Kirk, who has signed on to the King resolution, issues a statement. You can also read the full resolution here.

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The Fallout

The Republican Jewish Coalition, not unexpectedly, issued a lengthy statement blasting  the administration’s handling of the Jerusalem housing situation. It takes the Obami to task for “harsh and intentionally undiplomatic language to exacerbate tensions with our ally Israel in the wake of Vice President Biden’s visit there. The strident and unwarranted escalation of tension, which has turned a minor diplomatic embarrassment into a major international incident, has raised serious concerns about the administration’s Israel policy from a variety of mainstream voices.”

The more interesting question is where the president’s political allies will be on this. The National Democratic Jewish Council has been mute. (Recall that in the 1991, when George H.W. Bush cut off loan guarantees, prominent Republicans voiced opposition and introduced legislation to continue the guarantees.) Rep. Shelley Berkley has issued a robust condemnation. And over the weekend, independent Sen. Joe Lieberman had this to say at an appearance in Palm Beach:

“In every administration,” said Lieberman, “there are times when the US-Israeli relationship is not what it should be. But the guarantor of that relationship is the bipartisan, pro-Israel majority in Congress.

“It was a dust-up, a misunderstanding. (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu has apologized, and the timing was unfortunate. But the second round of criticism is unproductive. I make one appeal – sometimes silence really is golden.

“Our enemies are common; let’s not let a mistake grow into a divisive dispute between members of the same family.”

In a brief private interview earlier, Lieberman expanded on his let-bygones-be-bygones point of view, saying, “Nothing good is going to happen in the Mideast without both the United States and Israel working together. That’s what we need to do, and the sooner the better.”

It will be interesting to see which, if any, Democrats put principle above party loyalty on this one. It would be better for all concerned if the administration retreated from its frenzied offensive, resumed the normal dialogue one has with a valued ally, and did not put further strain on its Democratic allies here at home, who, as John pointed out, have enough troubles this election year. That might be further evidence of just how harebrained was the gambit to begin with. But the first rule of politics is that when you’ve dug a hole, stop digging. The administration would be wise to listen to AIPAC, Lieberman, and Berkley, not to mention Republican critics, and figure out how to repair the damage wrought over the last few days.

UPDATE: Two other prominent Republicans have weighed in, both emphasizing the administration’s skewed priorities. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released a statement:

Israel is an indispensable ally and friend of the United States. U.S. condemnations of Israel and threats regarding our bilateral relationship undermine both our allies and the peace process, while encouraging the enemies of America and Israel alike. I am also deeply concerned about the Administration’s softer approaches towards the Palestinian Authority, Syria, and Iran, which are being carried out in conjunction with hard-line tactics against our key democratic ally, Israel. Our nation’s security cannot afford a foreign policy which isolates our allies and moves towards appeasing enemies of the U.S.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., added this:

It’s hard to see how spending a weekend condemning Israel for a zoning decision in its capital city amounts to a positive step towards peace. Rather than launching verbal attacks on our staunch ally and friend, it would be far more worthwhile for this Administration to expend the effort planning for the transfer of our embassy to Jerusalem and tackling the growing Iranian nuclear threat.

The Republican Jewish Coalition, not unexpectedly, issued a lengthy statement blasting  the administration’s handling of the Jerusalem housing situation. It takes the Obami to task for “harsh and intentionally undiplomatic language to exacerbate tensions with our ally Israel in the wake of Vice President Biden’s visit there. The strident and unwarranted escalation of tension, which has turned a minor diplomatic embarrassment into a major international incident, has raised serious concerns about the administration’s Israel policy from a variety of mainstream voices.”

The more interesting question is where the president’s political allies will be on this. The National Democratic Jewish Council has been mute. (Recall that in the 1991, when George H.W. Bush cut off loan guarantees, prominent Republicans voiced opposition and introduced legislation to continue the guarantees.) Rep. Shelley Berkley has issued a robust condemnation. And over the weekend, independent Sen. Joe Lieberman had this to say at an appearance in Palm Beach:

“In every administration,” said Lieberman, “there are times when the US-Israeli relationship is not what it should be. But the guarantor of that relationship is the bipartisan, pro-Israel majority in Congress.

“It was a dust-up, a misunderstanding. (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu has apologized, and the timing was unfortunate. But the second round of criticism is unproductive. I make one appeal – sometimes silence really is golden.

“Our enemies are common; let’s not let a mistake grow into a divisive dispute between members of the same family.”

In a brief private interview earlier, Lieberman expanded on his let-bygones-be-bygones point of view, saying, “Nothing good is going to happen in the Mideast without both the United States and Israel working together. That’s what we need to do, and the sooner the better.”

It will be interesting to see which, if any, Democrats put principle above party loyalty on this one. It would be better for all concerned if the administration retreated from its frenzied offensive, resumed the normal dialogue one has with a valued ally, and did not put further strain on its Democratic allies here at home, who, as John pointed out, have enough troubles this election year. That might be further evidence of just how harebrained was the gambit to begin with. But the first rule of politics is that when you’ve dug a hole, stop digging. The administration would be wise to listen to AIPAC, Lieberman, and Berkley, not to mention Republican critics, and figure out how to repair the damage wrought over the last few days.

UPDATE: Two other prominent Republicans have weighed in, both emphasizing the administration’s skewed priorities. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released a statement:

Israel is an indispensable ally and friend of the United States. U.S. condemnations of Israel and threats regarding our bilateral relationship undermine both our allies and the peace process, while encouraging the enemies of America and Israel alike. I am also deeply concerned about the Administration’s softer approaches towards the Palestinian Authority, Syria, and Iran, which are being carried out in conjunction with hard-line tactics against our key democratic ally, Israel. Our nation’s security cannot afford a foreign policy which isolates our allies and moves towards appeasing enemies of the U.S.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., added this:

It’s hard to see how spending a weekend condemning Israel for a zoning decision in its capital city amounts to a positive step towards peace. Rather than launching verbal attacks on our staunch ally and friend, it would be far more worthwhile for this Administration to expend the effort planning for the transfer of our embassy to Jerusalem and tackling the growing Iranian nuclear threat.

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More Criticism

As Noah and I have pointed out, the administration’s peevishness is unprecedented. It is also proving to be alarming to those on both sides of the aisle. A spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner had this reaction: “The tone and substance we are seeing emerge as a pattern for this Administration are both disappointing and of great concern. Israel has been and remains a close friend and ally, and we need to focus our efforts and energy on the issues of mutual concern for both countries, most especially Iran.” Democratic Congresswoman Shelley Berkley has weighed in as well with a written statement, declaring:

I am deeply concerned over the comments of the last two days by the Vice President and the Secretary of State. They assert that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the special 60-year bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Israel have been jeopardized by this week’s announcement that Israel plans to build housing units in East Jerusalem.

The Administration’s strong implication that the enduring alliance between the U.S. and Israel has been weakened, and that America’s ability to broker talks between Israel and Palestinian authorities has been undermined, is an irresponsible overreaction. No doubt the administration’s overwrought rhetoric is designed to try to appease Palestinian politicians and convince them the U.S. is an honest broker in the peace process by seizing every available opportunity to criticize the actions of our ally Israel.

That strategy also includes ignoring the myriad provocations by Palestinian leaders that make pursuing peace such a long and arduous process. Where, I ask, was the Administration’s outrage over the arrest and month-long incarceration by Hamas of a British journalist who was investigating arms-smuggling into Gaza? Where was the outrage when the Palestinian Authority this week named a town square after a woman who helped carry out a massive terror attack against Israel? It has been the PA who has refused to participate in talks for over a year, not the government of Israel.  Yet once again, no concern was lodged by the Administration. And, all the while, Hamas restocks its terror arsenal and fires rockets into Israel.

I advocate an even-handed, not a one-sided, U.S. policy as we do the difficult work of establishing peace, and eventually, a Palestinian state. These are critical goals for our nation and for the future of the Middle East. We owe the process nothing less than fairness, candor, and intellectual honesty, not a policy of constant appeasement and reinforcement of the Palestinians’ failings as legitimate partners in the peace process.

I strongly believe that despite this week’s flap over Israel’s announcement regarding housing construction, the U.S.-Israel relationship is strong and our partnership in pursuit of peace remains undiminished. I call on the White House to rethink its counterproductive rhetoric and to affirm that the U.S. and Israel remain united in pursuing a fair, equitable, and honest peace process with the Palestinian powers that be.

The administration is not only fraying the relationship between the U.S. and Israel but also isolating itself from the broad bipartisan coalition in favor of a warm and respectful U.S.-Israeli relationship. It is, as Berkley explains, breathtaking that an administration that can rarely muster condemnation for the most brutal regimes has lashed out — repeatedly now — against its sole democratic ally in the region. That simply isn’t going to sit well with a Congress and American public that is broadly pro-Israel.

Whether Noah is correct — that this is a convoluted gambit to paralyze an Israeli strike on Iran — or this is simply the administration revealing its true predilections (antagonistic toward Israel, sycophantic toward the “Muslim World”) is nearly unfathomable. But as with so much else, the results rather than the motives matter most.

And let’s not kid ourselves: the rest of the world is watching, just as other nations looked on as we shoved the Hondurans under the bus when confronted with a lackey of Hugo Chavez, and just as we did to the Czech Republic and Poland in an effort to ingratiate ourselves with the Russian bear. This administration has an unseemly habit of trashing our allies so as to prevent conflicts with our foes. In the end, we will be low on allies and our foes will be emboldened. As for our standing in the world, I suggest it’s about to reach Jimmy Carter–like depths. That’s what happens when friends come to regard the American president as untrustworthy and motivated by personal pique. (So much for the president with the “superior temperament.”) Let’s see if the administration can undo the mess it has made. It won’t be easy.

As Noah and I have pointed out, the administration’s peevishness is unprecedented. It is also proving to be alarming to those on both sides of the aisle. A spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner had this reaction: “The tone and substance we are seeing emerge as a pattern for this Administration are both disappointing and of great concern. Israel has been and remains a close friend and ally, and we need to focus our efforts and energy on the issues of mutual concern for both countries, most especially Iran.” Democratic Congresswoman Shelley Berkley has weighed in as well with a written statement, declaring:

I am deeply concerned over the comments of the last two days by the Vice President and the Secretary of State. They assert that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the special 60-year bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Israel have been jeopardized by this week’s announcement that Israel plans to build housing units in East Jerusalem.

The Administration’s strong implication that the enduring alliance between the U.S. and Israel has been weakened, and that America’s ability to broker talks between Israel and Palestinian authorities has been undermined, is an irresponsible overreaction. No doubt the administration’s overwrought rhetoric is designed to try to appease Palestinian politicians and convince them the U.S. is an honest broker in the peace process by seizing every available opportunity to criticize the actions of our ally Israel.

That strategy also includes ignoring the myriad provocations by Palestinian leaders that make pursuing peace such a long and arduous process. Where, I ask, was the Administration’s outrage over the arrest and month-long incarceration by Hamas of a British journalist who was investigating arms-smuggling into Gaza? Where was the outrage when the Palestinian Authority this week named a town square after a woman who helped carry out a massive terror attack against Israel? It has been the PA who has refused to participate in talks for over a year, not the government of Israel.  Yet once again, no concern was lodged by the Administration. And, all the while, Hamas restocks its terror arsenal and fires rockets into Israel.

I advocate an even-handed, not a one-sided, U.S. policy as we do the difficult work of establishing peace, and eventually, a Palestinian state. These are critical goals for our nation and for the future of the Middle East. We owe the process nothing less than fairness, candor, and intellectual honesty, not a policy of constant appeasement and reinforcement of the Palestinians’ failings as legitimate partners in the peace process.

I strongly believe that despite this week’s flap over Israel’s announcement regarding housing construction, the U.S.-Israel relationship is strong and our partnership in pursuit of peace remains undiminished. I call on the White House to rethink its counterproductive rhetoric and to affirm that the U.S. and Israel remain united in pursuing a fair, equitable, and honest peace process with the Palestinian powers that be.

The administration is not only fraying the relationship between the U.S. and Israel but also isolating itself from the broad bipartisan coalition in favor of a warm and respectful U.S.-Israeli relationship. It is, as Berkley explains, breathtaking that an administration that can rarely muster condemnation for the most brutal regimes has lashed out — repeatedly now — against its sole democratic ally in the region. That simply isn’t going to sit well with a Congress and American public that is broadly pro-Israel.

Whether Noah is correct — that this is a convoluted gambit to paralyze an Israeli strike on Iran — or this is simply the administration revealing its true predilections (antagonistic toward Israel, sycophantic toward the “Muslim World”) is nearly unfathomable. But as with so much else, the results rather than the motives matter most.

And let’s not kid ourselves: the rest of the world is watching, just as other nations looked on as we shoved the Hondurans under the bus when confronted with a lackey of Hugo Chavez, and just as we did to the Czech Republic and Poland in an effort to ingratiate ourselves with the Russian bear. This administration has an unseemly habit of trashing our allies so as to prevent conflicts with our foes. In the end, we will be low on allies and our foes will be emboldened. As for our standing in the world, I suggest it’s about to reach Jimmy Carter–like depths. That’s what happens when friends come to regard the American president as untrustworthy and motivated by personal pique. (So much for the president with the “superior temperament.”) Let’s see if the administration can undo the mess it has made. It won’t be easy.

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The Reconciliation Dodge

House Democrats should be wary, says Sen. Judd Gregg, who smells a set-up on “reconciliation.” He explains:

“If you’re in the House and you’re saying, ‘Well, I’m going to vote for this because I’m going to get a reconcilation bill,’ I would think twice about that,” Gregg said. “First because, procedurally, it’s going to be hard to put a reconciliation bill through the Senate. Second because I’m not sure there’s going to be a lot of energy to do it, from the president or his people.”

“In my opinion, reconciliation is an exercise for buying votes, which, once they have the votes they really don’t need it,” he said.

And indeed, some House Democrats such as Shelley Berkley smell a rat. (“I would like something more concrete than a promise. The Senate cannot promise its way out of a brown paper bag.”) And if the House Democrats walk the plank but there is no reconciliation fix by the Senate, what then? Jeffrey Anderson sketched out the nightmare scenario:

Target squarely on their chests, they would now get to face their fuming constituents after having passed a $2.5 trillion bill that would allow public funding of abortion, would send $100 million to Nebraska, $300 million to Louisiana, $100 million to Connecticut, would exempt South Florida’s Medicare Advantage enrollees from annual $2,100 cuts in Medicare Advantage benefits, would raise taxes, raise deficits, raise health costs, empower Washington, reduce liberty, politicize medicine, and jeopardize the quality of health care.  Most of all, they would feel the citizenry’s wrath for having voted to pass a bill that only 25 percent of Americans support.

What in such circumstances should wary House Democrats do? Well, voting “no” and proposing a bare-bones, focused list of reforms might be a good idea. But who thinks Pelosi would go along with that gambit? She intends to make her members walk the plank. Unless and until she is convinced she will lose a floor vote, she’ll keep twisting arms and promising that ObamaCare’s passage is just around the corner. But of course, if they had the votes, they’d be voting. But they don’t — in large part because House Democrats have wised up.

House Democrats should be wary, says Sen. Judd Gregg, who smells a set-up on “reconciliation.” He explains:

“If you’re in the House and you’re saying, ‘Well, I’m going to vote for this because I’m going to get a reconcilation bill,’ I would think twice about that,” Gregg said. “First because, procedurally, it’s going to be hard to put a reconciliation bill through the Senate. Second because I’m not sure there’s going to be a lot of energy to do it, from the president or his people.”

“In my opinion, reconciliation is an exercise for buying votes, which, once they have the votes they really don’t need it,” he said.

And indeed, some House Democrats such as Shelley Berkley smell a rat. (“I would like something more concrete than a promise. The Senate cannot promise its way out of a brown paper bag.”) And if the House Democrats walk the plank but there is no reconciliation fix by the Senate, what then? Jeffrey Anderson sketched out the nightmare scenario:

Target squarely on their chests, they would now get to face their fuming constituents after having passed a $2.5 trillion bill that would allow public funding of abortion, would send $100 million to Nebraska, $300 million to Louisiana, $100 million to Connecticut, would exempt South Florida’s Medicare Advantage enrollees from annual $2,100 cuts in Medicare Advantage benefits, would raise taxes, raise deficits, raise health costs, empower Washington, reduce liberty, politicize medicine, and jeopardize the quality of health care.  Most of all, they would feel the citizenry’s wrath for having voted to pass a bill that only 25 percent of Americans support.

What in such circumstances should wary House Democrats do? Well, voting “no” and proposing a bare-bones, focused list of reforms might be a good idea. But who thinks Pelosi would go along with that gambit? She intends to make her members walk the plank. Unless and until she is convinced she will lose a floor vote, she’ll keep twisting arms and promising that ObamaCare’s passage is just around the corner. But of course, if they had the votes, they’d be voting. But they don’t — in large part because House Democrats have wised up.

Read Less




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