Commentary Magazine


Topic: Chuck Schumer

Can Schumer Finesse His Iran Deal Vote Dilemma?

For a politician who normally would do anything for publicity or attention, Senator Chuck Schumer has been mighty quiet the last week. The reason isn’t a mystery. The signing of the Iran nuclear deal has put Schumer into a tight spot. As the designated successor to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Schumer is obligated not to lend assistance to the effort to stop a pact that is President Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement. Yet, at the same time, he is under enormous pressure to make good on his past promises to oppose a weak Iran deal and to stand up in defense of the State of Israel, whose security is compromised by the administration’s appeasement policy. Schumer has spent his entire political career positioning himself as an outspoken supporter of Israel as well as a fearsome partisan Democrat. Under most circumstances, that needn’t be a contradiction in terms, but with President Obama lobbying Congress hard to back his deal, they are now. For once, Schumer must choose. But the question is not only what choice will he make but also whether his attempts to keep his feet firmly planted in both the pro-Israel camp and that of the administration can possibly succeed.

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For a politician who normally would do anything for publicity or attention, Senator Chuck Schumer has been mighty quiet the last week. The reason isn’t a mystery. The signing of the Iran nuclear deal has put Schumer into a tight spot. As the designated successor to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Schumer is obligated not to lend assistance to the effort to stop a pact that is President Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement. Yet, at the same time, he is under enormous pressure to make good on his past promises to oppose a weak Iran deal and to stand up in defense of the State of Israel, whose security is compromised by the administration’s appeasement policy. Schumer has spent his entire political career positioning himself as an outspoken supporter of Israel as well as a fearsome partisan Democrat. Under most circumstances, that needn’t be a contradiction in terms, but with President Obama lobbying Congress hard to back his deal, they are now. For once, Schumer must choose. But the question is not only what choice will he make but also whether his attempts to keep his feet firmly planted in both the pro-Israel camp and that of the administration can possibly succeed.

Though the administration is seeking with the assistance of left-wing groups to promote the notion that the Iran deal is good for Israel that flimsy argument is deceiving no one. The pact grants Western approval for Iran’s status as a nuclear threshold state enriches it via the collapse of sanctions and provides few safeguards (a 24-day warning period for inspections makes promises about monitoring cheating a joke) against its eventual acquisition of a nuclear weapon once the deal expires. The deal will not only enable Iran to give more support for Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists but will assist Tehran’s goal of regional hegemony.

It is one thing for those whose support for Israel has always been secondary to their left-wing ideology or pro-Obama partisanship (such as the J Street lobby or the National Jewish Democratic Council) to endorse this brazen act of appeasement. For Schumer, a man who has staked his career on being the shomer (Hebrew for guardian) of Israel’s security in Congress, it would be a stunning betrayal that he would never live down.

As I wrote back in April, Schumer’s stance on the Iran deal won’t be the whole story. Even if he chooses to vote in favor of a resolution that seeks to nullify the pact, he may also work behind the scenes to ensure that at least 34 Democrats back the president so as to ensure that an Obama veto won’t be overridden. Such vote trading is routine in Congress and allows House members and senators to tell constituents that they voted one way when they are really conspiring to help those who are working against that goal.

But whether he finesses this vote in that manner or not, it would be mistaken to think that there won’t be serious political consequences for Schumer no matter how he votes.

It may be that the administration will give Schumer a pass for voting against the deal provided that he ensures that other Democrats give the president the votes he needs. But Schumer must also know that his succession as minority leader may be threatened by a vote against Obama. The Senate may be the world’s most exclusive club, but it is entirely possible that his vote will be reason enough for some liberal colleague to challenge him. Any senator that does so will be counting on the active support of the party’s increasingly ascendant left wing that regards Schumer as an ally of Wall Street.

On the other hand, the cost of doing Obama’s bidding could be even higher for Schumer. New York has become a virtual one-party state and Schumer faced only token opposition from Republicans while gaining re-election in 2004 and 2010. But if he were to vote for the Iran deal, it would virtually guarantee that his 2016 re-election race would become very interesting if not competitive. While there is no obvious formidable challenger on the horizon, Schumer knows that the GOP wouldn’t have much difficulty finding one and that such a person would have no trouble raising all the money needed for a race that would become a referendum of Schumer’s possible betrayal of Israel on the Iran nuclear threat.

The first shot fired over his bow comes today in the form of what pro-Israel activists hope will be a massive demonstration in New York’s Times Square. Billed as a “Stop Iran Now” rally, the purpose will be to ensure that Congress knows that the overwhelming majority of the pro-Israel community is united behind the effort to oppose the deal.

If Schumer, and other pro-Israel Democrats stick with Obama they will be allying themselves with J Street over AIPAC, a strategic decision that would be the moral equivalent of choosing a water pistol to use in a fight with a tank when it comes to future electoral support.

But the real problem for Schumer and other Democrats goes beyond the danger of alienating pro-Israel donors. Only those so blinded by their support for Obama fail to see that the Iran deal vote is one of those rare Congressional decisions that present a clear moral choice. If Schumer sticks with Obama, that may secure his future as the Democrats’ Senate leader. But if will come at the cost of his reputation as a defender of Israel and make his seat a lot less safe than it might otherwise be.

 

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The Reverse Iran Deal Ratification Process

The day after the White House waved the white flag on the Corker-Menendez bill that would force President Obama to submit a nuclear deal with Iran for congressional approval some of his press cheering section is still lamenting this defeat. The New York Times editorial page continued to rage about the spectacle of Democrats uniting with Republicans to force some accountability on the president. Meantime, congressional critics of the president were likewise still celebrating and denouncing the administration’s claims that the amendments Corker allowed to be added to the bill substantially modified it as nothing more than cheap spin. But in a classic example of how our political class—both on the left and the right—can be equally mistaken despite holding opposite views, both the Times and conservative Obama critics are wrong. By embracing the Corker bill, the White House has more or less assured that a terrible Iran deal will be ratified.

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The day after the White House waved the white flag on the Corker-Menendez bill that would force President Obama to submit a nuclear deal with Iran for congressional approval some of his press cheering section is still lamenting this defeat. The New York Times editorial page continued to rage about the spectacle of Democrats uniting with Republicans to force some accountability on the president. Meantime, congressional critics of the president were likewise still celebrating and denouncing the administration’s claims that the amendments Corker allowed to be added to the bill substantially modified it as nothing more than cheap spin. But in a classic example of how our political class—both on the left and the right—can be equally mistaken despite holding opposite views, both the Times and conservative Obama critics are wrong. By embracing the Corker bill, the White House has more or less assured that a terrible Iran deal will be ratified.

Let’s pause a moment to note that the Times’s argument against congressional review of the Iran deal is yet one more example of the shameless and utterly unprincipled partisanship of the Democrats’ paper of record. Had this been a Democratic-controlled Congress seeking to force a Republican president like George W. Bush from concluding a foreign agreement without observing the constitutional niceties in which the Senate must approve such documents, the Times would be invoking the need to defend the rule of law and inveighing against a GOP imperial presidency. But since this is a Democratic president facing off against a Republican Congress, they take the opposite point of view and say Congress is meddling in the president’s business. Need we remind the editors of the Times about what The Federalist Papers say about the dangers of a president acting as if he is an “hereditary monarch” rather than an “elective magistrate” again?

But instead of wasting time pointing out the obvious, it might be just as important to tell the president’s critics to stop patting themselves on the back for forcing him to back down on Corker-Menendez. The more you look at what this bill accomplishes, the more likely it seems that Obama will get his way no matter how bad the final version of the Iran deal turns out to be.

Even if we dismiss the concessions Corker made to the president’s Democratic Senate allies as not significant, the basic facts of the situation are these. Instead of the Iran deal being presented to the Senate as a treaty where it would require, as the Constitution states, a two-thirds majority to pass, Corker-Menendez allows the deal to be voted upon as a normal bill. That means that opponents need only a simple majority to defeat it. That’s good for those who understand that this act of appeasement gives Iran two paths to a bomb (one by cheating on it via huge loopholes and one by abiding by it and patiently waiting for it to expire) and needs to be defeated, right? Wrong.

By treating it as a normal act of legislation, the president will be able to veto the measure. That sets up a veto override effort that will force Iran deal critics to get to 67 votes, a veto-proof majority. If that sounds reasonable to you, remember that in doing so the bill creates what is, in effect, a reverse treaty ratification mechanism. Instead of the president needing a two-thirds majority to enact the most significant foreign treaty the United States has signed in more than a generation, he will need only one-third of the Senate plus one to get his way.

By allowing pro-Israel Democrats a free pass to vote for Corker-Menendez the president is giving them a way to say they voted to restrain the president before also granting them a path to back him by either voting for the deal or failing to vote to override the president’s veto. That gives plenty of room for inveterate schemers such as Democratic Senate leader-in-waiting Chuck Schumer to make sure the president gets his 34 votes while giving some Democrats, including perhaps himself, impunity to vote against him.

What has happened here is that despite furious effort and hard legislative work all critics of Obama’s pursuit of détente with Iran have accomplished is to allow him the opportunity to legally make a historic and disgraceful act of betrayal of Western security with the least possible support. They may have had no better options and I’ll concede an ineffectual vote on an Iran deal might be better than no deal at all, but please spare me the praise for Corker’s bipartisanship or the chortles about how the White House was beaten. What happened yesterday actually advanced the chances for Iran appeasement. And that’s nothing to celebrate.

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Senate Dems Talking Out of Both Sides of Their Mouths on Iran

Liberals have spent much of the last few years lamenting the death of bipartisanship and placing all of the blame for this problem on House Republicans. But with Congress preparing to take up the issue of President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal when it returns from its spring recess next week, it is Senate Democrats who are giving us an example of partisan politics at its absolute worst. As Politico reports, the overwhelming bipartisan majority that has existed on behalf of both Iran sanctions and the right of Congress to perform its constitutional duty to advise and consent on treaties is being splintered by Democrats who are determined to do the president’s bidding. Some Democrats who are sponsors of the Corker-Menendez bill mandating a congressional vote on the Iran deal want to water it down with amendments that will turn the effort to hold the administration accountable into a farce.

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Liberals have spent much of the last few years lamenting the death of bipartisanship and placing all of the blame for this problem on House Republicans. But with Congress preparing to take up the issue of President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal when it returns from its spring recess next week, it is Senate Democrats who are giving us an example of partisan politics at its absolute worst. As Politico reports, the overwhelming bipartisan majority that has existed on behalf of both Iran sanctions and the right of Congress to perform its constitutional duty to advise and consent on treaties is being splintered by Democrats who are determined to do the president’s bidding. Some Democrats who are sponsors of the Corker-Menendez bill mandating a congressional vote on the Iran deal want to water it down with amendments that will turn the effort to hold the administration accountable into a farce.

Heading into the expected battle over the bill next week, supporters of Corker-Menendez believe they have 66 votes in their pockets with all 54 Republicans and 12 Democrats on record as supporting the legislation. That’s just one vote short of a veto-proof majority that would ensure that Congress would be able to vote on the Iran deal rather than let the president adopt it unilaterally. Unlike the Kirk-Menendez bill proposing increased sanctions on Iran in the event of the failure of the diplomatic process, which has lost momentum as a series of American concessions led to an agreement, Corker-Menendez has always had near across-the-board backing. Not many congressional Democrats were inclined to speak up against a measure that merely asserts the legislative branch’s right to exercise its constitutional responsibilities on foreign treaties. Nor are many of the 12 Democratic co-sponsors backing down on that point. But they also appear to be wiling to gut the bill in order to stay on good terms with the White House.

As I noted earlier this week, Democratic Senate leader-in-waiting Chuck Schumer is walking a fine line between his obligation to do the president’s dirty work and his reputation as a supporter of Israel. He appears to have resolved that conflict for the moment by choosing to stick to his principles rather than the president and reaffirmed his support for Corker-Menendez. But given the delicate maneuvering going on in the Democratic caucus right now, it’s reasonable to think that he might be encouraging others to refuse to back the measure or, even worse, those among his co-sponsors who want to water it down to the point where it would be an exercise in futility.

The White House has indicated that it could live with a purely symbolic vote on the deal. Of course it would. But accepting only a non-binding vote on the most significant foreign agreement struck by the United States in more than a generation is a bit much even for many Democrats. Nor is Republican Bob Corker, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair who is clearly less than enthusiastic about confronting the president, prepared to see his handiwork reduced to a joke. So instead some Democrats are preparing amendments that would do the same thing.

Delaware Senator Chris Coons has filed an amendment that would strip the bill of its provision requiring the administration to certify that Iran isn’t directly involved in terror attacks against the United States. Connecticut’s Chris Murphy has also filed an amendment to allow the president to lift existing sanctions on Iran without an enabling vote by Congress in order to get Iran to agree to a final written version of the deal.

These two Democrats are claiming that they are still supporting the bill and the principle of legislative review of the deal, but the substance of their proposals would help strip it of any meaning. Do Americans really want their government to stop caring if the world’s leading state sponsor of terror is plotting against Americans? Do they want to give the president the power to act on his own to give an economic bonanza to a tyrannical and aggressive Islamist regime? These measures not only give Obama dictatorial powers on Iran but also would enable the administration to downgrade efforts to hold the entire process accountable. They may be helped immeasurably in this scheme by the replacement of embattled Senator Bob Menendez—a fierce opponent of Obama’s push for détente with Iran—by Ben Cardin—a dependable administration loyalist—as the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

They’re being aided in this effort by the fact that the new GOP majority in the Senate is determined to play fair in a way that their Democratic counterparts did not during their time in control of the upper body. Corker has vowed to have an open amendment process in committee and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has similarly promised to follow his Democratic predecessor Harry Reid’s practice of preventing the minority from proposing amendments on the floor once the bill gets out of committee. That will mean that Corker-Menendez could be crippled by amendments from both open opponents and those, like Coons and Murphy, who purport to be its supporters.

The bottom line here is that with each passing day, the odds of a clean bill emerging with the 67 votes needed to ensure that it will become law may be decreasing. If that is the case the fault lies entirely with senators who are talking out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to the Iran nuclear threat and the Constitution. The only hope of providing some accountability to a diplomatic process that has achieved success only by a procession of humiliating retreats by the president is the passage of a bill that will force a real debate and vote on the deal. Though liberals have been telling us that the country is sick of crooked congressional maneuvers, it is the Senate Democrats who giving us a lesson in how low they can sink in order to please the head of their party.

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What Is Schumer Really Up to on Iran Vote?

Yesterday Senator Chuck Schumer fired a shot over the bow of the White House when he reaffirmed his support for giving Congress a say in the Iran nuclear deal. At a time when President Obama is going all-out to convince the country—and especially wavering Senate Democrats—that he should be trusted to strike a nuclear bargain with the Islamist regime without congressional interference, Schumer’s defection is a blow to the administration. Or is it? Keen political observers need to judge Schumer’s conduct not so much on his own vote but by whether he helps persuade other Democrats to join him. If in the end, the Corker-Menendez bill that would mandate a Senate vote on any agreement with Iran falls short of a veto-proof majority, there will be reasonable suspicions as to whether Democrats played a vote-trading game that will allow senators with strong pro-Israel constituencies to vote against the White House while others provide Obama with the margin he needs.

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Yesterday Senator Chuck Schumer fired a shot over the bow of the White House when he reaffirmed his support for giving Congress a say in the Iran nuclear deal. At a time when President Obama is going all-out to convince the country—and especially wavering Senate Democrats—that he should be trusted to strike a nuclear bargain with the Islamist regime without congressional interference, Schumer’s defection is a blow to the administration. Or is it? Keen political observers need to judge Schumer’s conduct not so much on his own vote but by whether he helps persuade other Democrats to join him. If in the end, the Corker-Menendez bill that would mandate a Senate vote on any agreement with Iran falls short of a veto-proof majority, there will be reasonable suspicions as to whether Democrats played a vote-trading game that will allow senators with strong pro-Israel constituencies to vote against the White House while others provide Obama with the margin he needs.

As I wrote last week, Schumer is in a very difficult position on the Iran debate because of his status as the Senate Democratic leader-in-waiting. Having secured the support of his caucus 21 months in advance of current Minority Leader Harry Reid’s retirement, Schumer is preparing to assume a role that brings with it the responsibility of backing the president in confrontations with Republicans. While on most issues that will be no problem for a reliable liberal such as Schumer, with respect to Israel it is increasingly impossible for any Democrat to remain loyal to the president and to their principles about backing the Jewish state.

Contrary to the White House talking points in which tension between Israel and the United States is blamed on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s supposed tilt toward the Republicans, the fault for this situation is almost completely the work of President Obama. It is he who has sought to split the formerly bipartisan consensus on Israel and Iran sanctions by seeking to persuade Democrats to stick with him on a course of appeasement because of party loyalty. Though some, like currently embattled Senator Bob Menendez, have stood up to Obama, many others have backed away from their previous stands. Others, like Schumer, have tried to plot a middle course in which he seeks to keep good relations with the White House while taking an independent position.

But while it is one thing for members of the Senate who are not part of the leadership to challenge Obama, it is far more difficult for someone like Schumer. Seen in that light, his announcement about support for Corker-Menendez is quite significant. Indeed, it is possible that Schumer’s statement could give cover to other Democrats to follow suit. Given that a dozen are already on record as backing the bill, if all of them vote for it along with a unanimous Republican caucus, that would leave the measure just one vote short of a veto-proof majority.

Getting one more vote for something that he cares deeply about ought to be no trouble for a legislator of Schumer’s acumen. But getting to 67 votes for the bill as currently constituted may be a heavier lift than it looks. There are two distinct possibilities that may derail the effort.

One is if some of the dozen Democrats currently co-sponsoring Corker-Menendez are persuaded by the White House to agree to watering it down. The White House has said it is prepared to live with a version of the bill that would allow a purely symbolic vote on an Iran deal. That could satisfy some Democrats who want to be able to tell their constituents and pro-Israel donors that they had voted for accountability on the deal while at the same time they were actually doing the bidding of the president. Schumer has rightly said that Congress deserves an up-or-down vote on the deal itself rather than a meaningless symbolic ballot on it. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker has said that he also can’t accept that, even if he is someone who appears to want to do business with the administration and may not be counted on to hold the line on opposing a dangerously weak Iran deal. But it is possible that some of the Democratic co-sponsors like Kirsten Gillibrand or Joe Manchin may insist on symbolism rather than the Senate exercising its constitutional obligation to vote on what may be among the most significant foreign treaties agreed to by the United States in the last generation.

But assuming that Corker and Schumer stand up for a real vote, another possibility may prevent a veto-proof majority that seems easily within reach. With the White House ruthlessly lobbying Democrats to vote against the bill in order to defend the president’s prerogatives, it won’t be easy getting to 67. At that point, Schumer and other leading Democrats may engage in one of the age-old traditions of Congress in which votes are traded.

If Schumer is not truly serious about passing Corker-Menendez, what will follow will be a series of bargains struck between various senators and the White House that would allow just enough Democrats to vote for the bill without allowing it to get to 67. In that case, senators like Schumer and Gillibrand might be freed up to vote against the president just as long as they are sure that enough Democrats will vote with him in order to ensure the margin of victory falls short of the two-thirds mark that would make it veto-proof.

If that happens, then the blame will fall not just on the Democrats who allow the president to veto the bill with impunity but on those who helped negotiate the deals that enabled this to happen. And Chuck Schumer, the master-manipulator seeking to serve both the White House and the pro-Israel community, will stand accused as the chief architect of the outcome. Schumer may vote for Corker-Menendez but if it fails to get to 67, you may be sure that he had a hand in that coming to pass. If so, his protestations of sorrow about the failure may convince some of his supporters, but those with a better grasp of how the Senate works will know better.

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As Dem Leader, Schumer Can’t Protect Both Israel and Obama

Throughout his 16 years in the Senate, Chuck Schumer has comfortably built a reputation as a fierce Democratic partisan while also being an ardent support of Israel. But in his new status as the leader-in-waiting of Senate Democrats after Harry Reid exits the stage in January 2017, Schumer is about to find out that, as the old Yiddish proverb tells us, you can’t dance at two weddings with one behind. Though, as a Politico article reports, he may think he can strike a balance between his pro-Israel stands and his job as the putative leader of his party’s caucus, so long as Barack Obama is in the White House that isn’t going to be possible. As the administration prepares to sell a disastrous nuclear deal with Iran while also exerting pressure on Israel’s government and threatening to isolate the Jewish state, Schumer isn’t going to be able to push back against the president’s policies at a time when he will be at the same time expected to keep the Democratic caucus united behind them.

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Throughout his 16 years in the Senate, Chuck Schumer has comfortably built a reputation as a fierce Democratic partisan while also being an ardent support of Israel. But in his new status as the leader-in-waiting of Senate Democrats after Harry Reid exits the stage in January 2017, Schumer is about to find out that, as the old Yiddish proverb tells us, you can’t dance at two weddings with one behind. Though, as a Politico article reports, he may think he can strike a balance between his pro-Israel stands and his job as the putative leader of his party’s caucus, so long as Barack Obama is in the White House that isn’t going to be possible. As the administration prepares to sell a disastrous nuclear deal with Iran while also exerting pressure on Israel’s government and threatening to isolate the Jewish state, Schumer isn’t going to be able to push back against the president’s policies at a time when he will be at the same time expected to keep the Democratic caucus united behind them.

Schumer likes to tell Jewish audiences that his name derives from the Hebrew word shomer, or guardian, and that he will always act to protect Israel. Though in recent years that promise has been tested, the senator’s impressive political skills have enabled him to hold onto that image while also being one of President Obama’s Senate foot soldiers. The same can be said of his close relationship with Wall Street figures whose fundraising help has been the foundation of his long and now apparently successful campaign to become the Democrats’ Senate leader.

As far as Israel or Iran was concerned, Schumer never took on the role of administration antagonist, as did his Democratic colleague Robert Menendez. Menendez repeatedly and publicly called out President Obama for his opposition to sanctions on Iran and for his unwillingness to support more pressure on a regime with which he was bent on fostering détente. Not so Schumer, who, despite his pledge to be Israel’s guardian, chose not to confront the president in public. Instead, we have heard tales, often recounted in friendly media coverage of the senator, about private conversations in which Schumer scolded administration figures or offered them advice in which he sought to persuade them to stop picking needless and counterproductive fights with Israel on Iran and the conflict with the Palestinians.

Schumer may well continue to play that role in private even as he assumes the status of the Prince of Wales of Senate Democrats. But in the last 22 months of the Obama presidency, as the White House steers the country away from the alliance with Israel and into a more neutral position on the Middle East conflict as well as one in which Iran is viewed as a partner, the senator’s balancing act is no longer viable.

Even if we set aside fears about Obama’s threats to abandon Israel at the United Nations or to engage in pressure tactics in future Middle East negotiations, the looming struggle in the Senate over Iran makes it impossible for Schumer to be in both camps.

Schumer has said that he supports the Corker-Menendez bill that will require that any Iran deal be put to a vote in the Senate. That’s a crucial blow to an administration that is desperate to persuade pro-Israel Democrats to abandon the bipartisan consensus on the issue and ensure that the bill doesn’t have a veto-proof majority. But the only way to do so is for Senate leaders like Schumer to ensure that enough of them fall into line. And there is every indication that, behind the scenes, he will do just that.

After all, it was Schumer who played a key role in organizing a letter from pro-Israel Senate Democrats making it clear that they would not support Corker-Menendez or the equally vital Kirk-Menendez bill that would increase sanctions in the admittedly unlikely event that the administration admitted failure in the Iran talks until after the administration received more time to negotiate.

So while a public break with Israel on Iran is probably as unthinkable for Schumer as a public breach with the administration, it’s likely that he will be behind efforts in the near future to further delay Senate action on Iran. In doing so, he will claim that he remains a stalwart opponent of appeasement but in practice he will be doing the president’s dirty work.

Nor would it be reasonable to think that he could avoid acting in this manner if he wants to hold onto the support of his party’s caucus. If Schumer were to place himself in opposition to the president on an issue where the White House is committed to doing everything to avoid a Senate vote, then the notion of his inevitability as Harry Reid’s successor may vanish. Since the Senate Democratic caucus has become more liberal, not less, in recent years, Schumer’s public apostasy, even on Israel issues, might cause the natives in the minority cloakroom to become restless. And after working tirelessly to win the leader position, it’s not likely he will do anything to scuttle his hopes.

Schumer will do all he can to still be perceived, in Politico’s words, as “a hawk” on Israel. But you don’t get to be majority leader by being an outlier within your party on a key issue when the president needs help. All the news stories about Schumer having “very, very heated” conversations with White House officials on Iran and Israel won’t mean a thing if, when the president requires him to produce the votes he needs on these issues, Schumer complies, as he almost certainly will do. Any Senate leader must watch the back of his president. Though he will claim he can go on dancing at two weddings, the odds of him choosing support for Israel over the political necessity to back Obama are slim.

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Exit Harry Reid, and His Self-Serving Myth

The two most popular questions in the wake of the announcement that Democratic Senator Harry Reid won’t run for reelection are: Who will replace him in his Senate seat, and who will replace him in the leadership? These are both good questions (though it increasingly appears Chuck Schumer will replace Reid in the leadership without too much of a fight). But in addition, another unavoidable question is what Reid’s pending retirement says about his own hopes for his party’s chances to retake the Senate majority. The answer is: he is clearly pessimistic.

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The two most popular questions in the wake of the announcement that Democratic Senator Harry Reid won’t run for reelection are: Who will replace him in his Senate seat, and who will replace him in the leadership? These are both good questions (though it increasingly appears Chuck Schumer will replace Reid in the leadership without too much of a fight). But in addition, another unavoidable question is what Reid’s pending retirement says about his own hopes for his party’s chances to retake the Senate majority. The answer is: he is clearly pessimistic.

Whether that’s correct remains to be seen especially because the quality of the candidates in the various Senate races has yet to be determined. That played a role in the fact that Reid is still in the Senate in the first place: he successfully intervened in the Republican primary in 2010 on behalf of the weakest general-election candidate in the race. And it absolutely made a difference.

But no one who has followed Reid’s career can miss his hunger for power or his efforts to rebuild Senate procedure around an utter contempt for the minority party. And both of those are surely factors in the timing of his retirement. In that sense, then, Reid’s retirement is a bad omen for Democrats. That’s not because they can’t hold the seat–indeed, there’s an argument to be made that the Democrats would have an even better chance to hold the seat without the increasingly incoherent demagogue muttering about libertarian activists hiding under his bed.

Nor can it be said that Reid is retiring because he’s giving up on the Senate. Reid gave up on the Senate a long time ago, which is about when he polished off his sledgehammer and starting swinging away at the procedural foundations of what was once unironically called the “world’s greatest deliberative body.” In much the way that Ted Kennedy destroyed the Supreme Court confirmation process and thus the intellectual core of the judicial branch’s democratic role, the Senate is not likely to ever fully recover, if it recovers at all, from Reid’s prolonged assault on its democratic character.

The difference now is that Reid has to live in the minority. In other words, he has to walk a mile in the other guy’s shoes (though it’s more likely that Reid’s driver would chauffeur him that mile) and he doesn’t much like it. Reid is the classic example of the authoritarian attitude “for my friends–everything. For my enemies–the law.” Rules are for chumps, as far as Reid is concerned.

It tells you something interesting about Reid. He has built his career with an aura of toughness, the scrappy former boxer who can throw–and take–a punch. Perhaps that’s always been a myth, or perhaps he’s mellowing with age (though his constant temper tantrums would suggest otherwise), but it turns out Reid isn’t so tough after all. He’s brittle, unprincipled, and surprisingly whiny.

Reid, the man who lives at a D.C. Ritz Carlton, keeps as much distance from the masses–whose odor Reid publicly laments–as is possible in a city like Washington. He could never live like the encumbered taxpayer he leeches off of, and he could never sit in the same powerless Senate minority he requires of his own political opponents. He’s a pampered squish; an entitled hypocrite. He is weak.

Which is why he’s leaving. He’s had enough. When the Democrats lost control of the Senate in the 2014 midterms, Reid’s team lashed out, in public, at the Obama White House. To someone like Reid, it’s always someone else’s fault, even though he was the Senate team leader. And now he’s taking his ball and going home. Serve in the loyal opposition, the faithful minority? Who could live like that, like a common person? What is he, a farmer?

What’s interesting is that Democrats didn’t appear to have an impossible climb back to the majority just two years after losing it. The electoral landscape is relatively favorable to them, and they will presumably have presidential-year turnout with the Clinton money machine behind it. They were not facing such long odds.

Apparently Reid doesn’t agree. He’s taken the measure of his fellow Democrats and found them wanting. If he can’t return to power, he might as well go live his life of luxury without the headache of having to answer to the people. All along, we thought Reid was a fighter. Turns out, he’s a coward. He’ll be missed if only because he was such a perfect poster child for all that ails American politics.

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Is Obama Winning the Fight Against More Iran Sanctions?

Yesterday, backers of increased sanctions on Iran scored an important victory when Senator Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate pledged that he would back the bill being circulated by Republican Mark Kirk. The bill, which would effectively shut down Iran’s oil trade if the current nuclear negotiations fail, already has enough votes to pass in the Senate as well as in the House of Representatives. But it needs significant Democratic support in order to override President Obama’s threatened veto of the legislation. But, as Politico reports, the full-court press against the bill being carried out by the White House is having an impact on the Democratic caucus, even among those who backed the same bill last year. Though the GOP’s gain of nine seats last November should have improved the chances of success, it appears that pressure from Obama is causing even some stalwart friends of Israel to drop out or to express reluctance to vote against the administration. If this trend continues, the president may get the blank congressional check he needs to pursue a policy of détente with Tehran that will effectively allow it to become a threshold nuclear power.

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Yesterday, backers of increased sanctions on Iran scored an important victory when Senator Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate pledged that he would back the bill being circulated by Republican Mark Kirk. The bill, which would effectively shut down Iran’s oil trade if the current nuclear negotiations fail, already has enough votes to pass in the Senate as well as in the House of Representatives. But it needs significant Democratic support in order to override President Obama’s threatened veto of the legislation. But, as Politico reports, the full-court press against the bill being carried out by the White House is having an impact on the Democratic caucus, even among those who backed the same bill last year. Though the GOP’s gain of nine seats last November should have improved the chances of success, it appears that pressure from Obama is causing even some stalwart friends of Israel to drop out or to express reluctance to vote against the administration. If this trend continues, the president may get the blank congressional check he needs to pursue a policy of détente with Tehran that will effectively allow it to become a threshold nuclear power.

Part of the problem that Kirk is encountering is a rival, much weaker Iran bill proposed by Senate Foreign Relations chair Bob Corker. The Tennessee Republican is actually far less eager for a confrontation with Obama than his Democratic predecessor, Robert Menendez, who challenged the president face to face on the issue two weeks ago. His bill would rightly demand that Congress be allowed a vote on any nuclear deal with Iran. But it would do nothing to increase sanctions, as the Kirk bill would, if the talks collapsed. The Kirk bill would increase pressure on the Iranians to make a deal rather than letting them continue to prevaricate and wait out the West while it moved closer to its nuclear goal.

The overwhelming majority of both Houses back the concept of tougher sanctions, but a bill sponsored by Kirk and Menendez died last year because of procedural tactics by former Majority Leader Harry Reid and efforts by Obama to label its advocates as warmongers. Reid can no longer bury bills the president doesn’t like, but his efforts to persuade Democrats to stick with him seem to be working. As Politico notes, former supporters like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin are backing away from the Kirk bill. Others, like Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey, who has always promoted himself as an ardent backer of Israel—whose existence is threatened by an Iranian nuke—is making noises about his need to think about it rather than jumping in to support the bill. Indeed, even Schumer says his backing for Kirk is contingent on other Democrats joining him to provide cover for his stand. Menendez, though he said earlier this week that administration arguments against sanctions sounded like they were “talking points” from Iran, is also reportedly not yet committed to co-sponsoring the Kirk bill.

Nevertheless, there was some encouraging news today when it was learned that ten Democrats, including Schumer, Casey and Manchin, sent a letter to the president stating they would vote for Kirk’s sanctions if a satisfactory nuclear isn’t reached by March 24. Since the odds of that happening are slim, that will set the stage for a climactic fight the outcome of which is hard to predict.

But while most Democrats are trying to avoid being pinned down on the question of sanctions, the stakes involved in this question couldn’t be higher.

President Obama was able to fend off more sanctions a year ago by claiming that he needed time to follow up on the interim deal he had signed in November 2013 and persuade the Iranians to give up their nuclear ambitions. That negotiating period was supposed to be limited to six months to prevent the Iranians from playing their usual delaying games. But instead of pressuring Tehran to give up its nukes, the president allowed that deadline to pass without consequences to the Islamist regime. Two extensions have been granted for the talks to continue and it appears that the White House is on track to ask for a third after the current period expires in June. Indeed, it is not clear if even another year of fruitless negotiations passed without result that Obama would concede that the process had failed.

The Iranians are being obdurate because the president has clearly signaled in the interim agreement and the subsequent talks that he won’t insist on them giving up their nuclear infrastructure. Thus emboldened, they feel free to stand their ground and to insist on a Western surrender. Since Obama’s purpose is more to bring about a doubtful reconciliation between Washington and Tehran rather than a halt to their nuclear work, the Islamists think they can stall until he gives up or they arrive at a point where it is clear that they can build a bomb if they want one.

That’s why Obama is so worried about spooking the Iranians by threats of future sanctions that would only strengthen his hands in the talks. His opposition to more sanctions is illogical unless you realize that his purpose is very different from that of sanctions advocates. Though he and his apologists in the media claim sanctions advocates want diplomacy to fail, in fact it is just the opposite. His Senate opponents want diplomacy to succeed in ending the Iranian nuclear threat. The president wants diplomacy to effectively table Western and Israeli concerns about Iran’s nuclear goal as well as its role as a state sponsor of terrorism in order to bring about an entente which will relieve Obama of the obligation to resist Tehran’s drive for regional hegemony.

Thus, the analogy drawn between sanctions opponents and Iranian hardliners who are opposing the talks because they don’t want any limitations on their nuclear program—as a New York Times article falsely attempts to assert—is as absurd as it is misleading.

This crisis in the push for sanctions may motivate some to think that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress in March is even more necessary than many thought. But diverting the discussion from Iran’s nuclear threat to Netanyahu’s personal challenge to Obama has only made it easier for the president to pick off wavering Democrats who don’t want to be caught between the two world leaders.

But whatever Netanyahu decides to do, this is the moment when pro-Israel Democrats need to step up and show members of the Senate that more sanctions are not an issue on which they will be given a pass. Neither the Corker bill nor the president’s calls for party loyalty should be allowed to divert the Senate from its duty to increase pressure on Iran before it is too late to save the diplomatic option. If the Kirk bill stalls or it fails to receive enough Democratic support to override Obama’s veto threat, the only winners will be in Tehran.

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Open Primaries

It is a rare day when I find myself in agreement with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. After all, he is a prime mover behind the attempt, by constitutional amendment, to gut the First Amendment when it comes to political speech. The text is quite lengthy, at least by constitutional amendment standards, but it could effectively be put into a single sentence, “The power of Congress to enact incumbent protection legislation shall not be limited.”

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It is a rare day when I find myself in agreement with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. After all, he is a prime mover behind the attempt, by constitutional amendment, to gut the First Amendment when it comes to political speech. The text is quite lengthy, at least by constitutional amendment standards, but it could effectively be put into a single sentence, “The power of Congress to enact incumbent protection legislation shall not be limited.”

But Senator Schumer has come out in today’s New York Times in favor of open primaries. That is a very good idea. He points out that the center of American politics is nearly empty these days as the parties have become much more ideologically and much less geographically based. Combine that with gerrymandering, and it is more and more the primary elections that determine who eventually wins the seat up for grabs.

But most states have party primaries, where only registered party members can vote. With parties more ideological than ever, it is the true believers, usually at the left or right extreme of each party, who turn out for these primary elections. That forces politicians to move to the left or right in order to win the primary, or avoid having to run in one at all. “Primary” has long been a noun and an adjective; it has now become a verb as well, as in “We will primary him if he doesn’t support … .”

Party primaries, of course, also disenfranchise those registered as independents, now about one-third of the American electorate.

Schumer advocates a system where there are no party primaries, only a single primary, open to all who qualify regardless of party. If one candidate wins a majority of the vote, he’s elected. If no one gets a majority, then the top two vote getters run in the general election.

Open primaries enfranchise independents (centrists almost be definition) as well as greatly reducing the influence of the political extremes. They would help to restore the power of the center in American politics, where successful public policy almost always originates. (Just consider the ObamaCare disaster, wholly a product of the left.)

This system began in Louisiana (to be sure, not a state exactly famous for its enlightened or squeaky-clean politics) in the 1970s. In 2010 it was adopted by referendum in California and, according to Senator Schumer, “The move has had a moderating influence on both parties and a salutary effect on the political system and its ability to govern.” Washington State has had open primaries since 2008 and Colorado and Oregon will consider them this year.

It would seem that the idea is spreading, as good ideas always do. For the sake of American politics I hope it spreads far and fast.

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Dems’ Plan to Counter Criticism: Outlaw It

A common pattern in American political discourse is for conservatives to accuse liberals of some statist extremism, liberals to insist the complaint has no merit whatsoever, and then when it’s clear conservatives are on to something liberals lament, more in sorrow than in anger, that conservatives had a point but took it way too far. How vindicated conservatives then feel if information comes to light to back up their warnings about the slippery slope of state power.

The evolution of the Democrats’ deranged attacks on the Koch brothers and political participation in general has followed precisely this pattern. The trickle of mentions of the Kochs turned into a flood, as Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid became thoroughly incapable of discussing any topic–campaign finance, Ukraine, the minimum wage–without calling out the libertarian philanthropists. He called their participation in the political process “un-American” in an ever-escalating crusade to declare them former people and seek to pressure the judiciary into permitting limitations on free speech rights.

Conservatives warned that high-profile Democrats’ hostility to the First Amendment was liable to result in the curbing of Americans’ constitutional rights. Liberals scoffed. Yet now, the Hill reports, Democrats–who haven’t exactly been models of subtlety, but who at least permitted liberals some plausible deniability–are through beating around the bush. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer has announced his party’s newest midterm election strategy: amend the Constitution to rein in its free speech protections. From the Hill:

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A common pattern in American political discourse is for conservatives to accuse liberals of some statist extremism, liberals to insist the complaint has no merit whatsoever, and then when it’s clear conservatives are on to something liberals lament, more in sorrow than in anger, that conservatives had a point but took it way too far. How vindicated conservatives then feel if information comes to light to back up their warnings about the slippery slope of state power.

The evolution of the Democrats’ deranged attacks on the Koch brothers and political participation in general has followed precisely this pattern. The trickle of mentions of the Kochs turned into a flood, as Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid became thoroughly incapable of discussing any topic–campaign finance, Ukraine, the minimum wage–without calling out the libertarian philanthropists. He called their participation in the political process “un-American” in an ever-escalating crusade to declare them former people and seek to pressure the judiciary into permitting limitations on free speech rights.

Conservatives warned that high-profile Democrats’ hostility to the First Amendment was liable to result in the curbing of Americans’ constitutional rights. Liberals scoffed. Yet now, the Hill reports, Democrats–who haven’t exactly been models of subtlety, but who at least permitted liberals some plausible deniability–are through beating around the bush. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer has announced his party’s newest midterm election strategy: amend the Constitution to rein in its free speech protections. From the Hill:

Democratic leaders on Wednesday unveiled a plan to vote on a constitutional amendment “very soon” to overturn the Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC, which have empowered wealthy donors such as Charles and David Koch.

The amendment has virtually no chance of passing this year because it must garner two-thirds support from both chambers of Congress and receive ratification from three-quarters of the states. Democrats believe it will help them preserve their Senate majority, however.

Campaign finance reform traditionally rates low on voters’ lists of concerns, but Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate Democrats’ chief political strategist, believes a battle over a constitutional amendment will bolster their populist economic message.

“The constitutional amendment we know requires two-thirds, it’s a long hard road. But given the McCutcheon decision we have to begin it,” he said. “Most Americans don’t believe the system works in their favor. We are showing whose side you’re on.”

Now, of course the idea of amending the Constitution itself isn’t crazy, and Schumer should be commended for at least adhering to the process. But the First Amendment is rarely the target. Voters tend to be pretty fond of that one, though Democrats increasingly aren’t.

Campaign-finance restrictions of the sort Democrats favor are quite plainly incumbent protection plans. Democrats have been taking a beating lately in the polls, as public opinion has soured on their flailing agenda. So Schumer has proposed a solution: no need to change the policies to adhere to public opinion if you can just restrict the public’s ability to express that opinion.

A constitutional amendment to outlaw criticism is a bit heavyhanded even for someone like Schumer. But it has the effect of confirming, from the mouths of Democrats themselves, that yes, there is a slippery slope from criticizing the wealthy to explicitly targeting constitutional rights–and they intend to slide down it head-first.

Obviously the attempt will fail to get the votes; whatever their faults, it’s doubtful most of the Democrats running for reelection have completely lost their minds. Additionally, the Democrats have already sacrificed seats for The Cause, by voting for ObamaCare and then getting their clocks cleaned in the following midterms. I’m not sure how many times the White House and Democratic congressional leadership can hope to get their party to vote for abusive federal power grabs that are openly hostile to public opinion and individual rights.

The point, according to Schumer and Co., is really about messaging anyway. The message is this: they have to take away your rights in order to take away the Kochs’ rights. Democrats are keen on fairness, and it’s only fair to legally bar everyone from certain constitutionally protected political activism in order to weaken Democrats’ opponents. It’s possible this sounded less crazy in Schumer’s head before he announced it, but either way he seems pretty committed to it now, a fact which I imagine delights Republican candidates across the country.

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Demonizing SCOTUS: The OCare Precedent

When Chief Justice John Roberts rewrote ObamaCare from the bench in order to save it, most of the ramifications were immediately apparent. But there was one aspect of the stunt that as a member of the Supreme Court Roberts should have been sensitive to: precedent. Having caved to a public intimidation campaign from the president and his congressional allies (as well as the media) Roberts signaled that the way to get a conservative justice to discard his better judgment and rule against constitutional law was to impugn the court’s reputation in the public square.

Be mean to John Roberts and his friends, in other words, and you can have your welfare state for all he cares. This was among the most damaging effects of Roberts’s call back in 2012. And unsurprisingly, Democrats have learned their lesson. I wrote at the time that within days of the decision the media had gone back to bashing Roberts and the high court’s poll numbers had dropped. But Democrats had a found a well they were certain to return to in times of desperation. And as the Hill reports today, that time has come:

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When Chief Justice John Roberts rewrote ObamaCare from the bench in order to save it, most of the ramifications were immediately apparent. But there was one aspect of the stunt that as a member of the Supreme Court Roberts should have been sensitive to: precedent. Having caved to a public intimidation campaign from the president and his congressional allies (as well as the media) Roberts signaled that the way to get a conservative justice to discard his better judgment and rule against constitutional law was to impugn the court’s reputation in the public square.

Be mean to John Roberts and his friends, in other words, and you can have your welfare state for all he cares. This was among the most damaging effects of Roberts’s call back in 2012. And unsurprisingly, Democrats have learned their lesson. I wrote at the time that within days of the decision the media had gone back to bashing Roberts and the high court’s poll numbers had dropped. But Democrats had a found a well they were certain to return to in times of desperation. And as the Hill reports today, that time has come:

Senate Democrats and liberal groups are mounting a pressure campaign against the Supreme Court, hoping to influence future decisions by blasting conservative justices for alleged political bias.

The effort from the left also portrays the high court as an instrument rigged to help the wealthy, and is intended to energize Democratic voters and increase turnout in the midterm elections.

Some legal experts see the effort as akin to basketball or soccer players “working the ref” in a high-stakes game.

Critics say Democratic leaders used a similar strategy in 2010, when they piled on the court for striking down the ban on political spending by corporations in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Some court watchers speculated that Chief Justice John Roberts felt chastened by the angry reaction and sought to avoid another uproar, when he crafted the majority decision in 2012 that largely upheld ObamaCare.

“The left clearly tried to work the refs on the Affordable Care Act,” said Randy Barnett, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. “They worked the refs after Citizens United, which helped set things up for the Affordable Care Act challenge. If it seems to work, why not continue? It’s unfortunate, I think, that they’ve been encouraged in this behavior by its apparent success.”

And it’s not just a public disinformation campaign:

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) plan to hold hearings on the court’s ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission striking down aggregate limits on campaign donations. …

Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nev.) panned it for granting greater influence to wealthy donors, such as Charles and David Koch, the wealthy conservative donors, whom he again slammed on the Senate floor Monday.

Of course Reid would find a way to turn a complaint about the court into another tool in his quest to turn libertarian activists into former people. In one sense, this is irrational, because it has no intellectual merit and should be beneath the leaders of the world’s greatest deliberative body. But in another sense, it’s completely rational: people respond to incentives, and in his ObamaCare ruling Roberts incentivized demonizing–that’s the Hill’s word–the Supreme Court.

The story notes that chief among the left’s worries is the upcoming ruling on the ObamaCare contraception mandate. And on that note, the best line in the story has to be this: “Democrats say the present-day court lacks the experience to understand the corrupting influence of money in politics, because none of its members have held publicly elected office.” Democrats just don’t believe that law abiding, upstanding men and women who have never been offered a bribe could ever really understand ObamaCare. And you’ve got to admit, they have a point, don’t they?

We may or may not find out if the pressure campaign works. After all, a decision on the case may not be a result of the intimidation tactics, either as a concession to them or as an act of defiance against them. It may be just another ruling on the merits of the case. But that’s one of the consequences of the Democrats’ shenanigans: the idea that the court will rule on the merits of the case becomes only one of several possibilities. Roberts thought he was protecting the legitimacy of the court in his 2012 decision. It’s quite clear now that he has done precisely the opposite.

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The Odious Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough interviewed Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, asking him about the charge by Majority Leader Harry Reid that the conservative philanthropist David Koch is “un-American.” Scarborough asked Schumer whether he associated himself with Reid’s statement. 

Senator Schumer began his answer by ducking and weaving, shifting attention from Reid’s claim to Schumer’s disagreement with the Kochs’ preferred policies.

“But, senator, can’t we have a disagreement about how charity is funded without calling somebody un-American?” Scarborough countered. He continued to press Schumer to answer his question. “Do you think David Koch is un-American?”

Schumer finally said, “The commercials he runs are not part of the American mainstream. No two people [David Koch and his brother Charles] should have such a huge influence on our politics. That’s not First Amendment … I think the commercials he is running are against the American grain and un-American, yes …. I think what Harry Reid was saying was the actions are un-American. And they are, and they should change.”

I wonder if people quite appreciate how disgusting this all is. Here we have two Democratic senators labeling a private citizen as being “un-American” because that citizen is vocally advocating public policies they disagree with.

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MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough interviewed Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, asking him about the charge by Majority Leader Harry Reid that the conservative philanthropist David Koch is “un-American.” Scarborough asked Schumer whether he associated himself with Reid’s statement. 

Senator Schumer began his answer by ducking and weaving, shifting attention from Reid’s claim to Schumer’s disagreement with the Kochs’ preferred policies.

“But, senator, can’t we have a disagreement about how charity is funded without calling somebody un-American?” Scarborough countered. He continued to press Schumer to answer his question. “Do you think David Koch is un-American?”

Schumer finally said, “The commercials he runs are not part of the American mainstream. No two people [David Koch and his brother Charles] should have such a huge influence on our politics. That’s not First Amendment … I think the commercials he is running are against the American grain and un-American, yes …. I think what Harry Reid was saying was the actions are un-American. And they are, and they should change.”

I wonder if people quite appreciate how disgusting this all is. Here we have two Democratic senators labeling a private citizen as being “un-American” because that citizen is vocally advocating public policies they disagree with.

Can you imagine the media (and Hollywood) firestorm if Senator Ted Cruz went to the Senate floor and repeatedly accused, say, Jeffrey Katzenberg of being “un-American”–and Mike Lee echoed the charge?

It’s worth considering, too, the corrupting effect on language these charges have. If advocating cuts in record-high federal spending and running ads opposing the Affordable Care Act are deemed to be “un-American,” where exactly does this all end? Allowing powerful senators like Reid and Schumer to smear private citizens in this way further undermines our political and civic life. You might think members of the political class would speak out against such things. But you would be wrong (apart from honorable exceptions like Scarborough).

For the record, the definition of McCarthyism is “the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism.” Speaking of which, here is what Edward R. Murrow said of Senator Joseph McCarthy:

His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind … We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men …

This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities.

Senators Reid and Schumer, small and mean men, are trying to usher in a new age of unreason. This is no time for those who oppose them to keep silent. Because we cannot escape responsibility for the result.

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Sochi’s a Disaster. Does It Matter?

In Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, Russia clocks in at number 127: tied with Pakistan but more corrupt than Egypt and Belarus. It comes in at 148 on Reporters Without Borders’s press freedom rankings. The decision, then, to hold the Winter Olympics in Russia was always going to be something of a gamble, making the question as to whether the site would be ready on time anyone’s guess.

Because of the secrecy, there was no telling what athletes, reporters, and guests would find when they finally arrived in Sochi for the games, which begin this weekend. But it’s doubtful they expected the disaster Sochi has become. Every day brings new stories, some bizarre and some quite serious, all of them likely to give Vladimir Putin and the heads of the International Olympic Committee indigestion.

Incidentally, they can try to calm that indigestion with yogurt, but Russia is currently banning the popular Chobani Greek yogurt from the games, prompting the intervention of Senator Chuck Schumer, who had to appeal to Russia’s Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance, declaring, “There is simply no time to waste in getting our Olympic athletes a nutritious and delicious food.”

None of this, amazingly enough, is a joke. And neither are the reports of wild dogs greeting hotel guests or of reporters being told not to ingest the toxic (and almost fluorescent) tap water. Concerns and complaints about one of the event’s courses caused American snowboarding star Shaun White to withdraw from one of the events. Reading that story on CBS News’s website, I couldn’t help noticing another nearby headline from its Sochi coverage: “Sochi Olympics: Ground zero for avalanches?”

No speculation, apparently, is beyond the realm of possibility: let your imagination roam free like the hotel dogs. In Sochi, anything can happen. The question looming over all this is: does it matter that the Sochi Olympics have been a comedy of errors thus far?

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In Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, Russia clocks in at number 127: tied with Pakistan but more corrupt than Egypt and Belarus. It comes in at 148 on Reporters Without Borders’s press freedom rankings. The decision, then, to hold the Winter Olympics in Russia was always going to be something of a gamble, making the question as to whether the site would be ready on time anyone’s guess.

Because of the secrecy, there was no telling what athletes, reporters, and guests would find when they finally arrived in Sochi for the games, which begin this weekend. But it’s doubtful they expected the disaster Sochi has become. Every day brings new stories, some bizarre and some quite serious, all of them likely to give Vladimir Putin and the heads of the International Olympic Committee indigestion.

Incidentally, they can try to calm that indigestion with yogurt, but Russia is currently banning the popular Chobani Greek yogurt from the games, prompting the intervention of Senator Chuck Schumer, who had to appeal to Russia’s Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance, declaring, “There is simply no time to waste in getting our Olympic athletes a nutritious and delicious food.”

None of this, amazingly enough, is a joke. And neither are the reports of wild dogs greeting hotel guests or of reporters being told not to ingest the toxic (and almost fluorescent) tap water. Concerns and complaints about one of the event’s courses caused American snowboarding star Shaun White to withdraw from one of the events. Reading that story on CBS News’s website, I couldn’t help noticing another nearby headline from its Sochi coverage: “Sochi Olympics: Ground zero for avalanches?”

No speculation, apparently, is beyond the realm of possibility: let your imagination roam free like the hotel dogs. In Sochi, anything can happen. The question looming over all this is: does it matter that the Sochi Olympics have been a comedy of errors thus far?

The answer has to do with one aspect of the games, and it’s not yogurt. At one point late this afternoon the top two headlines in the New York Times’s World section were “An Olympics in the Shadow of a War Zone” and, next to it, “Terrorism and Tension for Sochi, Not Sports and Joy.”

And here we get to the serious part. The latter story, by Juliet Macur, was particularly bleak. After asking whether one of the tense issues related to the games had reached its boiling point, Macur wrote:

We’ll find out soon. At the same time, athletes will be winning medals. But will anyone notice?

Never before has the pre-Olympic chatter been less about the athletes or the sports. And never before has the conversation leading to the Games been so grim: suicide bombers have struck Volgograd, about 400 miles north of Sochi, three times since the fall — including strikes in December that killed at least 34 people.

Global security experts have called this the most dangerous Games ever, based on the location of the competitions, the seriousness of the threats (including one from the head of a terrorist organization who last summer lifted a moratorium on civilian targets), and the capability of terrorist groups to carry out their plans (several in that region already have).

Macur followed that with the kind of rebuke to the IOC that other authoritarian-hosted Olympics don’t usually earn:

“It was a very, very risky decision for the Olympic committee” to hold the Olympics in Sochi, said Andrew C. Kuchins, the director and senior fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a security think tank in Washington. He basically said what is on the minds of many people headed to the Games, and the many people — including athletes’ families and friends — who were too scared to attend.

What was the International Olympic Committee thinking?

In the end, few will remember whether the yogurt got to American athletes in time (though I’m sure Chuck Schumer will remind us), and most of the tap water does not, in fact, glow in the dark. As embarrassing as those are, they won’t be the metric by which these games will be judged, because the larger worry is whether the Russians can keep the athletes and spectators safe.

On CNN this evening, Wolf Blitzer asked Mitt Romney about granting the Olympics to Sochi: “Was that a mistake that the International Olympic Committee made?” It’s both too late and too early to answer that question. But the frequency with which it’s being asked on the eve of the games is an indication that a great many in the international community already think the answer is yes.

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Another NY Times Misfire on Gun Rights

In the lead-up to the high-stakes 2010 Senate election between Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Republican challenger Sharron Angle, a curious drama unfolded within the National Rifle Association. The NRA was, reportedly, considering endorsing Reid, incurring pushback from its conservative-leaning membership. Why would the NRA endorse a Democrat, even one more friendly to gun rights than most Democrats? Because, the logic went, a Reid loss coupled with the Democrats holding the Senate could elevate Chuck Schumer to lead the Senate.

Schumer is not just anti-gun, but the worst kind of anti-gun extremist: an East Coast liberal elitist who doesn’t know anything about guns or gun culture but hates them anyway. This propensity by Schumer to allow ignorance and prejudice to set his legislative agenda made the NRA understandably nervous. The NRA eventually chose to stay neutral in the race. This episode is worth keeping in mind when reading the New York Times Magazine’s lengthy article recreating the failure of the Manchin-Toomey gun-control legislation earlier this year. The bill was aimed at beefing up background checks amid the “do-something” rush of activity following the Newtown massacre.

The effort was almost torpedoed by Schumer immediately; the tragic news of the shooting gave Schumer the opportunity he craved to punish law-abiding gun owners–people who, according to Schumer, only existed in theory anyway. As the Times reports:

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In the lead-up to the high-stakes 2010 Senate election between Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Republican challenger Sharron Angle, a curious drama unfolded within the National Rifle Association. The NRA was, reportedly, considering endorsing Reid, incurring pushback from its conservative-leaning membership. Why would the NRA endorse a Democrat, even one more friendly to gun rights than most Democrats? Because, the logic went, a Reid loss coupled with the Democrats holding the Senate could elevate Chuck Schumer to lead the Senate.

Schumer is not just anti-gun, but the worst kind of anti-gun extremist: an East Coast liberal elitist who doesn’t know anything about guns or gun culture but hates them anyway. This propensity by Schumer to allow ignorance and prejudice to set his legislative agenda made the NRA understandably nervous. The NRA eventually chose to stay neutral in the race. This episode is worth keeping in mind when reading the New York Times Magazine’s lengthy article recreating the failure of the Manchin-Toomey gun-control legislation earlier this year. The bill was aimed at beefing up background checks amid the “do-something” rush of activity following the Newtown massacre.

The effort was almost torpedoed by Schumer immediately; the tragic news of the shooting gave Schumer the opportunity he craved to punish law-abiding gun owners–people who, according to Schumer, only existed in theory anyway. As the Times reports:

Joe Manchin shared the concern that the Democrats who were leading the charge on gun legislation didn’t understand how deeply people care about guns and needed to if they were ever to get anything passed. By January the universal background-checks legislation was being spearheaded in the Senate by Charles Schumer, a liberal from New York City. “Joe, I didn’t know anybody who owned a gun when I grew up,” Schumer said to Manchin, who replied, “Chuck, I didn’t know anybody who didn’t own a gun.” Schumer’s bill contained no provisions that might attract the support of gun owners, a fatal omission in Manchin’s view. “The bill Chuck Schumer dropped was one that I didn’t think anyone from a gun state would or should support,” Manchin told me. “So I reached out to the N.R.A. and said, ‘Let’s have an alternative.’ ”

That is, the Democratic effort on a major issue was being led by a man who was proud of his total lack of knowledge about the issue. It’s unclear whether Schumer realized his bill would never pass and therefore just wanted an opportunity to grandstand, or just wasn’t capable of leading a serious legislative effort. Manchin ended up nearly saving the effort by getting actual gun owners and experts involved, and crafting a quite reasonable bill that combined modest increases in restrictions in areas that arguably needed them with additional protections for gun rights.

In the end, the bill still didn’t quite make it, but it’s instructive to look at why that happened. Robert Draper, the author of the Times piece, says anti-gun activists must learn to better “break down the barriers of fear and mistrust from which the N.R.A. derives much of its power.” He then says this:

Yet even as the votes in the chambers still favor the N.R.A., gun-control advocates have some cause for optimism. Time does not seem to be on the N.R.A.’s side. According to data compiled by the nonpartisan National Opinion Research Center, between 1977 and 2012 the percentage of American households possessing one or more guns declined by 36 percent. That decline should not be surprising. Tom W. Smith, director of the research center, says: “There are two main reasons, if you ask people, why they have firearms: hunting and personal protection. Now, from external sources like the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, we know the proportion of adults who hunt has declined over the decades. And since the ‘90s, the crime rate has fallen. So the two main reasons people might want to have a gun have both decreased.”

On the issue of “fear and mistrust,” Draper throughout the article seems to ignore his own reporting. He notes, for example, that Anita Dunn spoke to a gathering of anti-gun Democrats and kept using “the R-word,” registration. This makes gun owners fear–wrongly according to Democrats–that the goal is to keep a registry of firearms owners to better confiscate them when the time comes. But as J.D. Tuccille recently pointed out at Reason, gun owners have been receiving confiscation notices from state government officials even as such moves are dismissed by lawmakers. “The problem for gun control advocates,” Tuccille writes, “is that they keep promising that no way will registration lead to confiscation of firearms, even as it does just that.”

And on Draper’s claim that time isn’t on the NRA’s side, it’s worth looking at the polling. It’s true that gun ownership rates have dropped, but that in no way means support for gun owners will drop. Here is Gallup’s detailed, long-term trend polling on gun rights, the most recent of which was taken in early October. It finds that household gun possession is at its lowest point since 1999. And yet, support for making gun-sale laws “more strict” is nearly twenty points lower than it was twenty years ago, and nearly thirty points lower than in 1990.

Support for a handgun ban has been dropping for decades, from 60 percent in 1959 to 25 percent today. The Gallup polling shows broad support for the expansion of background checks in the Manchin-Toomey legislation–regulation initially supported by the NRA as well. But when asked for some reasons respondents didn’t want the legislation to pass, 40 percent named Second Amendment rights.

The fact is, Americans take their constitutional rights quite seriously, even when they don’t directly impact them. Schumer and Co. seem to think rights of which they don’t avail themselves are irrelevant. It is to the American public’s great credit that they disagree.

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Intransigent Democrats and the Shutdown

With only hours to go before a congressional standoff triggers a government shutdown, the mainstream media is virtually unanimous in allocating the blame for this mess: it’s the Republicans’ fault. By choosing to demand that the price of a continuing resolution to fund the government is a delay of the implementation of ObamaCare, the GOP caucus in the House of Representatives has set in motion a series of events that, barring a last-minute compromise, will lead to a shutdown. Count me among those conservatives who believe this is a tactic with little chance of success. But that doesn’t mean the narrative that blames the GOP for all the bad things that will result from this dispute is true. Senator Ted Cruz and the rest of those who have led the rush to this precipice can be labeled as intransigent. They refuse to consider any option that will allow the president’s signature health-care legislation to be implemented. But they aren’t the only ones who are digging in their heels and refusing to negotiate. Indeed, not only are Democrats behaving just as unreasonably as their foes, they have been working just as hard as Cruz to get us to this point.

The fallacy at the heart of the conventional wisdom about today’s dilemma is that the Democrats are the adults in the room who are working to preserve the government while Cruz and the Republicans are having a tantrum that may well damage the economy as well as cause suffering to those who depend on governmental largesse. But as Senator Chuck Schumer admitted on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program today, the Democrats are simply refusing to negotiate with Republicans. That’s also been the consistent stand of President Obama, who signaled again over the weekend that he would veto any spending bill that defunded or even delayed ObamaCare. Republicans can be faulted for acting as if they can dictate policy while Democrats still control the Senate and the White House. But it is time for those who have been dumping on conservatives to admit that it is just as unrealistic for the president and his party to behave as if the Republicans don’t control the House, where all spending bills originate.

Far from seeking to avoid a confrontation, the president and his followers have been seeking this day for years because they believe a shutdown will work to their political advantage. There is no guarantee that if the president had actively sought a compromise, a reasonable accommodation could have been found. But we do know that the president has never tried that route. What’s more, he has done virtually everything in his power to goad Republicans into a confrontation that would shut down the government while denouncing them for doing so. His position in which there can be no compromise on the rollout of the fiscal disaster that is ObamaCare is no less fanatical and just as much rooted in ideology as that of Cruz.

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With only hours to go before a congressional standoff triggers a government shutdown, the mainstream media is virtually unanimous in allocating the blame for this mess: it’s the Republicans’ fault. By choosing to demand that the price of a continuing resolution to fund the government is a delay of the implementation of ObamaCare, the GOP caucus in the House of Representatives has set in motion a series of events that, barring a last-minute compromise, will lead to a shutdown. Count me among those conservatives who believe this is a tactic with little chance of success. But that doesn’t mean the narrative that blames the GOP for all the bad things that will result from this dispute is true. Senator Ted Cruz and the rest of those who have led the rush to this precipice can be labeled as intransigent. They refuse to consider any option that will allow the president’s signature health-care legislation to be implemented. But they aren’t the only ones who are digging in their heels and refusing to negotiate. Indeed, not only are Democrats behaving just as unreasonably as their foes, they have been working just as hard as Cruz to get us to this point.

The fallacy at the heart of the conventional wisdom about today’s dilemma is that the Democrats are the adults in the room who are working to preserve the government while Cruz and the Republicans are having a tantrum that may well damage the economy as well as cause suffering to those who depend on governmental largesse. But as Senator Chuck Schumer admitted on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program today, the Democrats are simply refusing to negotiate with Republicans. That’s also been the consistent stand of President Obama, who signaled again over the weekend that he would veto any spending bill that defunded or even delayed ObamaCare. Republicans can be faulted for acting as if they can dictate policy while Democrats still control the Senate and the White House. But it is time for those who have been dumping on conservatives to admit that it is just as unrealistic for the president and his party to behave as if the Republicans don’t control the House, where all spending bills originate.

Far from seeking to avoid a confrontation, the president and his followers have been seeking this day for years because they believe a shutdown will work to their political advantage. There is no guarantee that if the president had actively sought a compromise, a reasonable accommodation could have been found. But we do know that the president has never tried that route. What’s more, he has done virtually everything in his power to goad Republicans into a confrontation that would shut down the government while denouncing them for doing so. His position in which there can be no compromise on the rollout of the fiscal disaster that is ObamaCare is no less fanatical and just as much rooted in ideology as that of Cruz.

Democrats can argue with some justice that the president’s reelection was based in part on his desire to preserve ObamaCare. But so long as he lacks a majority in both houses of Congress, the issue is not completely settled. Given that he has begun to postpone some elements of the program, it is not unreasonable that Republicans would seek more delay of a vast expansion of government power that may make health care less affordable despite the official title of the bill. Having passed it via a partisan vote after a ruthlessly cynical legislative process that did not correct its obvious flaws and unwieldy nature, Democrats are determined to carry ObamaCare through to implementation without ever listening to the other side. This may turn out to be good politics, but it is neither reasonable nor good policy.

There has been a good deal of criticism about Cruz’s tactics and the fact that he and other hardliners on the issue don’t appear to have a strategy to counter the Democrats’ intransigence. Whether or not it is fair, it is probably a fact that more Americans will blame the GOP than the Democrats for a shutdown. That’s why President Obama has been daring Republicans to do just that ever since the summer of 2011 when the first of a series of battles over the budget and the debt ceiling was fought.

But though Republicans might have been wise not to accept that dare, there should be no question about the fact that the president and his backers are just as responsible for the results of this brinksmanship as anyone in the GOP caucus. Had the president been willing to bend a bit on ObamaCare he would have enabled House Speaker John Boehner to come up with a deal that a majority of Republicans might have been able to live with. That he wouldn’t do so is the product not only of clever political strategy but his ideological inflexibility. Cruz’s belief that ObamaCare must be stopped at all costs has brought us to the brink today. But the same can be said of the president’s unwillingness to allow a delay in a job-killing program that is still opposed by the majority of the American public. He will stop at nothing to see it implemented. Democrats also won’t negotiate today because they fear it will set a precedent that will force them to compromise on other issues in the future. That may be clever politics but it should not be confused with good government.

We can hope that sanity will prevail in Washington today and that somehow a shutdown will be averted. But if it isn’t, Democrats will be every bit as responsible for that outcome as Republicans.

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Schumer’s Dishonest Hagel Sob Story

Following the latest string of revelations about Chuck Hagel’s defamatory comments about Israel and its supporters, a lot of attention has been focused on whether New York Senator Chuck Schumer would change his position on President Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense. But any hopes that Schumer would prioritize the principles that he has always claimed he was elected to the Senate to defend over political expediency have now been dashed. At a New York City event this morning reported by Politico’s Maggie Haberman, Schumer doubled down on his support for Hagel claiming the former senator cried when discussing his slurs about the “Jewish lobby.”

 The account of Schumer’s fateful meeting with the nominee was fascinating but more important than that was his decision to repeat the claim that “not a major Jewish organization” was against Hagel and to assert that the issue driving opposition to him was anger about his opposition to the war in Iraq. Both claims are not only false but are a transparent attempt to deflect attention from the real issue in the debate over Hagel: the president’s choice of an incompetent nominee who is also a well known antagonist of Israel with a record of opposition to getting tough on Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah.

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Following the latest string of revelations about Chuck Hagel’s defamatory comments about Israel and its supporters, a lot of attention has been focused on whether New York Senator Chuck Schumer would change his position on President Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense. But any hopes that Schumer would prioritize the principles that he has always claimed he was elected to the Senate to defend over political expediency have now been dashed. At a New York City event this morning reported by Politico’s Maggie Haberman, Schumer doubled down on his support for Hagel claiming the former senator cried when discussing his slurs about the “Jewish lobby.”

 The account of Schumer’s fateful meeting with the nominee was fascinating but more important than that was his decision to repeat the claim that “not a major Jewish organization” was against Hagel and to assert that the issue driving opposition to him was anger about his opposition to the war in Iraq. Both claims are not only false but are a transparent attempt to deflect attention from the real issue in the debate over Hagel: the president’s choice of an incompetent nominee who is also a well known antagonist of Israel with a record of opposition to getting tough on Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah.

Schumer’s discussion of Hagel’s tears when he explained to him that his crack about the “Jewish lobby” was rooted in prejudice may be a truthful but the idea, as the New Yorker put it, that “I’m sure you didn’t mean it” is patently disingenuous. When Hagel used that term in 2006  (at his confirmation hearing he said it was the only time he said it “on the record”) or made other disturbing comments about the Israeli Foreign Ministry controlling the U.S. State Department or that Israel was on its way to being an “apartheid state,” he knew exactly what he was saying. Far from a misunderstanding, there is a clear pattern in Hagel’s record and it speaks to his contempt for the U.S.-Israel alliance and its supporters. Indeed, the context of the “Jewish lobby” remark showed that he considered it a point of honor to stand up to Israel’s supporters.

The notion that Hagel’s contrite interview with Schumer or any of his other fumbling attempts to walk back a long record of antagonism should outweigh a record replete with votes and statements demonstrating his desire to stand apart from the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus is absurd.

Just as dishonest though is Schumer’s claim that “no major Jewish organization” opposes Hagel. Just this past weekend, the American Jewish Committee — a large liberal-leaning group that more or less defines the term — demanded that the Senate not vote before it further reviewed Hagel’s record in the wake of recent revelations of more prejudicial statements by the nominee.

In the weeks prior to Hagel’s disastrous confirmation hearing, Schumer had attempted to use the strategic silence of many Jewish groups on Hagel as cover for his own decision to go along with the president on the nomination. But after the AJC statement and Anti-Defamation League leader Abe Foxman’s questions about Hagel’s statements, that line of defense no longer works. For Schumer to go on pretending that Jewish groups are neutral about Hagel can only be characterized as blatantly dishonest.

But it is not any more dishonest than Schumer’s attempt to claim that the motive behind the opposition to Hagel is “neocon” anger about his critique of the war in Iraq. Senator John McCain may still hold a grudge about Hagel’s foolish opposition to the Iraq surge (and contrary to Schumer’s comments, Hagel — who voted in favor of the war — was wrong about the surge) but that is not an issue that interests anyone else who cares about this awful nomination.

Neoconservatives may have disagreed with Hagel about Iraq but if that were the only issue about his candidacy he would already be sitting in his office in the Pentagon. It is, as Schumer well knows, Hagel’s terrible record on Israel, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah that has scared many Americans about his fitness for office. Even more think his performance at his confirmation hearing when he was unable to demonstrate a grasp of the issues before the nation or defend his positions shows he’s just not up to the job.

When faced with a choice between doing the right thing about Hagel and demonstrating loyalty to President Obama, Schumer had done the latter. That is bad enough and a terrible commentary about the willingness of pro-Israel Democrats to put their party’s interests above principle. But for him to back up this decision with lies and distortions speaks volumes about his own character.

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Can Jewish Groups Speak Out on Hagel?

One of the interesting subtexts about the debate over the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense has been the relative silence from the organized Jewish world. Though there was widespread shock from most pro-Israel activists, even those who were loyal liberal Democrats, about the president’s decision to choose one of the least Israel-friendly members of the U.S. Senate in the last generation to run the Pentagon, none of the major groups, aside from the Zionist Organization of America, spoke up publicly about his unsuitability for the post or his out-of-the mainstream views.

The reasons for this silence were obvious to anyone who understands their missions and how they operate. The refusal of the major Jewish organizations was rooted in their natural reluctance to embroil themselves in fights they think would hamper their ability to do their jobs. But at this juncture in the Hagel saga, after the nominee flopped at his Senate confirmation hearing and demonstrated how insincere his conversion from being tough on Israel and soft on Iran to a garden-variety backer of the Jewish state, it is time for them to reconsider. Though the odds still favor his confirmation, and with some senators, including Chuck Schumer and Claire McCaskill, citing their silence for their support for the nominee, the rationale of the organized Jewish world for staying out of this contretemps has evaporated.

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One of the interesting subtexts about the debate over the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense has been the relative silence from the organized Jewish world. Though there was widespread shock from most pro-Israel activists, even those who were loyal liberal Democrats, about the president’s decision to choose one of the least Israel-friendly members of the U.S. Senate in the last generation to run the Pentagon, none of the major groups, aside from the Zionist Organization of America, spoke up publicly about his unsuitability for the post or his out-of-the mainstream views.

The reasons for this silence were obvious to anyone who understands their missions and how they operate. The refusal of the major Jewish organizations was rooted in their natural reluctance to embroil themselves in fights they think would hamper their ability to do their jobs. But at this juncture in the Hagel saga, after the nominee flopped at his Senate confirmation hearing and demonstrated how insincere his conversion from being tough on Israel and soft on Iran to a garden-variety backer of the Jewish state, it is time for them to reconsider. Though the odds still favor his confirmation, and with some senators, including Chuck Schumer and Claire McCaskill, citing their silence for their support for the nominee, the rationale of the organized Jewish world for staying out of this contretemps has evaporated.

Groups like the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee or even AIPAC are not in the business of involving themselves in partisan fights. Nor are they interested in futile gestures that embroil them in squabbles that would make it more difficult for them to gain access to decision makers. These are things that often infuriate people who rail at them for not being representative of ordinary Jews or being “self-appointed” leaders. But these are generally unfair criticisms.

All Jewish groups in this country are voluntary associations. If the heads of these groups are not elected by a broad cross-section of the community it is only because most Jews don’t take the trouble to get involved with these organizations. We can argue about whether many of the so-called “major” groups still perform any vital functions. Indeed, many of them are vestigial remnants that have long ceased having any rationale other than institutional inertia. Others are mere partisan fronts for the political parties (the Republican Jewish Coalition has actively campaigned against Hagel while the National Jewish Democratic Council has tried to downplay the appointment) or Jewish surrogates for other liberal causes. Many are merely fundraising outlets for various causes. But some do still perform vital tasks, like compiling data about anti-Semitism or advocacy on behalf of Israel, and don’t deserve all of the scorn that is thrown in their direction.

However, the Hagel nomination illustrated that groups that see themselves as above politics can’t entirely avoid some fights. The nomination of a person who has publicly bragged about his standing up to the “Jewish lobby” and opposed sanctions or even the threat of using force against Iran should have crossed the line between something that merely raised eyebrows and battle that needed to be fought.

Some of the major organizations, or at least their leading donors, are dyed-in the-wool Democrats who would never put themselves in direct opposition to the president. Yet even those who were privately upset about Hagel reasoned that the campaign to stop Hagel was doomed. After abandoning Susan Rice, his preferred candidate for the State Department, there was good reason to believe that President Obama would fight harder for his “soul mate” at Defense. A popular president whose party has a majority in the Senate is not liable to lose such a nomination fight, so they thought it made more sense to shut up about Hagel and retain their access than to fight and lose.

This was a not unreasonable conclusion, but it was also a self-fulfilling prophecy. While many Jewish leaders were hoping that Hagel could be stopped without their help, by their very silence they gave cover to pro-Israel Democrats who decided that avoiding giving offense to the president took precedent over defending their principles. On this point, Schumer, whose announcement of public support for the nominee seemed to take all the drama out of the confirmation battle, has been quite candid, as he has explained that it was impossible for him to fight Hagel while Jewish groups kept their own counsel.

But my expectation that Schumer’s move would more or less end the controversy was confounded by Hagel’s catastrophic performance at his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday. At this point even those who have no problem with Hagel’s troubling positions are grappling with the fact that the president’s choice has given the appearance of incompetence and an inability to articulate the president’s stated positions on the issues.

It was assumed that Hagel’s confirmation conversion to positions that affirmed the alliance with Israel and hostility to Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran would be done in such a manner as to at least quiet concerns about his transformation from foe to friend of the pro-Israel community. But at his hearing, Hagel was not just unprepared; the insincerity of his flip-flops was transparent. He refused to admit that he was wrong to refuse to vote to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group. Nor did he disavow his slanders about Israel’s conduct during the 2006 Lebanon War. And he could not give a straight answer as to his views about containment of Iran even when given three tries to do so.

At this moment, when even partisan Democrats are expressing their discomfort about Hagel, it is time for the major Jewish groups to, at the very least, express their belief that the nomination should be reconsidered. They needn’t issue an outright call for a no vote on his confirmation or directly fight the president. But they can speak out about the problematic nature of what Hagel said at his hearing and whether the president ought to think twice about insisting on shoving him down the throat of an obviously troubled Democratic caucus.

Doing so would involve some risk and cause them to be criticized by some Democratic partisans. But as they already know, the only people who are actually enthusiastic about Hagel are those, like the vicious Israel-basher MJ Rosenberg, who think the nominee is lying about changing his views about Israel and Iran.

Let’s also dispense with the notion that if Jewish groups speak out on Hagel, they will be confirming the myth that the “Israel Lobby” is an all-powerful force that, as the nominee said, “intimidates” Congress into doing “stupid things.” It is true that that is what some foes of Israel will say if Hagel loses. But the truth is they are already saying it and the vast majority of Americans—who are the backbone of the bipartisan consensus in support of Israel—reject these slanders. The question now is whether an advocate of those views, even one who has now disavowed some of that statement, albeit in a manner that lacks all credibility, will be elevated to one of the highest positions in the government.

Whatever it was that Hagel has been telling Democrats like Schumer or even the big Jewish groups who got a private meeting with the nominee, no one who watched that hearing can seriously believe his protestations of a change of heart. Though he may still be confirmed if the president goes to the mat for him, the outcome is by no means certain. That means this is a moment when the major Jewish groups must drop their reticence and speak truth courageously to power.

Though it is often wise for such groups to stay out of fights with the White House, this is not the moment for such caution. Were the major groups to call for a reconsideration of his nomination, it could be the tipping point in the debate. Should they fail to find their voices now about Hagel, many of the good people inside these organizations may have reason to look back with regret on their decisions. Hagel’s appointment raises genuine doubts about this administration’s commitment to stopping Iran’s nuclear threat and continued support of Israel at a time when its enemies (such as the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt) are gaining strength. Silence at such a moment is impossible for men and women of conscience.

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Hagel’s Credibility Left in Shreds

It’s not clear if administration sources that leaked the story that Chuck Hagel had three practice sessions before a mock committee before his actual Senate confirmation hearing were trying to help or hurt the former senator. Hagel’s performance was so shaky that even some of his liberal supporters like Peter Beinart were lamenting on Twitter about his stumbling and bumbling answers to tough questions. That he flopped so badly after being rehearsed speaks volumes about how bad he was. Indeed, he had so many misstatements that it will be hard for news organizations to choose which of them to broadcast in their highlights of the hearings. But as much as his inability to speak coherently and present a plausible defense of his record while under pressure was exposed today, in what was probably the worst showing by a presidential nominee in a confirmation hearing in memory, it was his credibility that took the biggest hit.

Time and again throughout the day, Hagel bobbed and weaved when presented with examples of the contradictions between the voluminous record of votes and statements about Israel, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah and what he has been saying in public since President Obama nominated him to be the next secretary of defense. Under tough questioning from Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, Roger Wicker and Ted Cruz, Hagel’s pose as a consistent and ardent friend of Israel and foe of Iran was shown to be nothing but a hastily constructed façade that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

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It’s not clear if administration sources that leaked the story that Chuck Hagel had three practice sessions before a mock committee before his actual Senate confirmation hearing were trying to help or hurt the former senator. Hagel’s performance was so shaky that even some of his liberal supporters like Peter Beinart were lamenting on Twitter about his stumbling and bumbling answers to tough questions. That he flopped so badly after being rehearsed speaks volumes about how bad he was. Indeed, he had so many misstatements that it will be hard for news organizations to choose which of them to broadcast in their highlights of the hearings. But as much as his inability to speak coherently and present a plausible defense of his record while under pressure was exposed today, in what was probably the worst showing by a presidential nominee in a confirmation hearing in memory, it was his credibility that took the biggest hit.

Time and again throughout the day, Hagel bobbed and weaved when presented with examples of the contradictions between the voluminous record of votes and statements about Israel, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah and what he has been saying in public since President Obama nominated him to be the next secretary of defense. Under tough questioning from Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, Roger Wicker and Ted Cruz, Hagel’s pose as a consistent and ardent friend of Israel and foe of Iran was shown to be nothing but a hastily constructed façade that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

As I have written repeatedly since his nomination was announced, Hagel has been working hard to disappoint those who have always shared his views since he was so eager to discard principles that he had ardently supported. But one such supporter was unfazed by his reversals. Former Media Matters staffer MJ Rosenberg is a bitter critic of Israel and its supporters to the point where he is considered toxic even by many on the left. But as Twitchy notes, Rosenberg wasn’t particularly helpful to Hagel today since he tweeted:

I spent a couple of hours with Hagel a few years ago. Talked with him about Israel. Happily, he is lying today &  knows it. He’ll be a good SeDef.

But you didn’t have to have that kind of inside information to understand that what was happening in the confirmation wasn’t particularly honest. Throughout the day when faced with offensive quotes or votes that were inconsistent with his current stands, Hagel rationalized about changing times or context. But the more the context of each incident was examined, the less truthful the Nebraskan sounded. It wasn’t just gaffes like his statement that his opposition to designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group was rooted in his belief that the Islamist regime was a “legitimate and elected government,” which he later walked back. It was his inability to explain why he refused to support Israel during the intifada or branded its defensive war against Hezbollah as a “slaughter.”

But his deceitful approach wasn’t solely focused on his views about Israel and Iran. His attempt to explain his role in producing a report about America’s nuclear deterrent was just as bad. He refused to own up to his views and the plain language of a document that he co-authored. His inability to be honest about his opposition to the Iraq surge when pressed to do so by John McCain was not so much outrageous as it was transparently weak.

By the end of the day, Hagel was reduced to saying something that shouldn’t inspire much confidence in his leadership when he said his opinions didn’t matter so much because he was not being appointed to a policymaking position. Hagel’s defense of himself as a mere bureaucrat may be in line with the Obama administration’s top-down approach to policy but it is a dispiriting exhibition for someone who is actually being tapped for one of the most important positions in the Cabinet.

Chuck Hagel demonstrated today that he isn’t fit for such a senior post. His incompetent testimony should have embarrassed the president and backers like Chuck Schumer, who gambled his own reputation on a man who has little credibility. That may not be enough to derail a nomination that is being rammed through on a partisan basis by the Senate’s majority caucus. But today’s disappointing show by Hagel shamed not just Democrats but a nation whose defense is being entrusted to an incompetent liar.

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Mighty Mouse Is on His Way

Have no fear, Israel. Here he comes, to save the day!

Mr. Netanyahu, your democratically elected prime minister may not–unlike, say, Mohamed Morsi or Fidel Castro–know where his country’s best interests lie. And, by extension, you who democratically elected him and are about to reelect him may not know either. But there is one who does.

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Have no fear, Israel. Here he comes, to save the day!

Mr. Netanyahu, your democratically elected prime minister may not–unlike, say, Mohamed Morsi or Fidel Castro–know where his country’s best interests lie. And, by extension, you who democratically elected him and are about to reelect him may not know either. But there is one who does.

Who has whiled away many a pleasant hour on the luxury golf courses of Hawaii and the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard considering, pondering, knuckling his brow over the best interests of your cute little Middle Eastern democracy. Now, Mr. Obama may never have fought in a war (let alone 3 or 4 or 5); never lived surrounded by vicious enemies dedicated to his extinction; never had to spend months in a bomb shelter; never had to put a gas mask on his 4-year-old; never had to reassure his children that their bus would not be blown up on the way to school. But, hey, Chicago isn’t exactly Switzerland. And he braved the oh-so-fearsome Israel Lobby–twice–in his quest for the presidency.

So go ahead and shoot yourselves in the foot by voting for Mr. Netanyahu again next week. Because now that his own reelection has given him “flexibility,” Mr. Obama is going to do his utmost–with an able assist from Senator Chuck Schumer–to save you from yourselves.

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What it Means to Be a Pro-Israel Democrat

A lot of the drama was taken out of the battle to confirm Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense today when New York Senator Chuck Schumer endorsed the nomination. Schumer said he had made the decision after a long conversation with his former Senate colleague in which he was, he said, reassured that the new Pentagon chief had changed his mind about the relationship between Israel and the United States as well as his previous views about Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. Schumer directly addressed the concerns that members of the pro-Israel community have expressed about Hagel’s sudden change of heart by saying this:

“I know some will question whether Senator Hagel’s assurances are merely attempts to quiet critics as he seeks confirmation to this critical post,” Mr. Schumer said. “But I don’t think so. Senator Hagel realizes the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago.”

Such faith in Hagel’s conversion from a politician who bragged about standing up to the “Jewish lobby” and an opponent of sanctions against Iran as well as an advocate of engagement with Hamas and Hezbollah is remarkable. How is it possible that in the space of only a few months that Hagel could have had such a dramatic change of heart? Given Hagel’s disdain for the current government of Israel and the fact that only last fall he was signing letters expressing opposition to any mention of the use of force against Iran, only the most cynical of partisans could believe for a minute that the Nebraskan’s new positions are a sincere expression of his actual opinions. While Schumer, a powerful senator who has no fear about possible challenges to his seat, may think his seal of approval of Hagel will have no consequences, it is the sort of thing that, at the least, ought to raise the question of what it actually means to be a pro-Israel Democrat these days.

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A lot of the drama was taken out of the battle to confirm Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense today when New York Senator Chuck Schumer endorsed the nomination. Schumer said he had made the decision after a long conversation with his former Senate colleague in which he was, he said, reassured that the new Pentagon chief had changed his mind about the relationship between Israel and the United States as well as his previous views about Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. Schumer directly addressed the concerns that members of the pro-Israel community have expressed about Hagel’s sudden change of heart by saying this:

“I know some will question whether Senator Hagel’s assurances are merely attempts to quiet critics as he seeks confirmation to this critical post,” Mr. Schumer said. “But I don’t think so. Senator Hagel realizes the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago.”

Such faith in Hagel’s conversion from a politician who bragged about standing up to the “Jewish lobby” and an opponent of sanctions against Iran as well as an advocate of engagement with Hamas and Hezbollah is remarkable. How is it possible that in the space of only a few months that Hagel could have had such a dramatic change of heart? Given Hagel’s disdain for the current government of Israel and the fact that only last fall he was signing letters expressing opposition to any mention of the use of force against Iran, only the most cynical of partisans could believe for a minute that the Nebraskan’s new positions are a sincere expression of his actual opinions. While Schumer, a powerful senator who has no fear about possible challenges to his seat, may think his seal of approval of Hagel will have no consequences, it is the sort of thing that, at the least, ought to raise the question of what it actually means to be a pro-Israel Democrat these days.

Let’s specify that many Democrats are sincere and ardent backers of Israel. They are a vital element in the across-the-board bipartisan coalition that has made the U.S.-Israel alliance an integral part of American foreign and defense policy. That is why the tepid response from so many Democrats to the president’s choice of Hagel is so disappointing.

It’s time for a little honesty about Hagel. Were someone with his record and history of incendiary comments about fighting the influence of the “Jewish lobby” and tender-hearted concern for radical Islamists put forward by a Republican president there’s little doubt that Democrats would be fighting each other to get face time in front of network cameras denouncing the nomination, with a publicity hound like Schumer at the front of the line.

After all, this is the same Chuck Hagel that even the National Jewish Democratic Council—a group that is generally blind to the shortcomings of anyone in their party no matter how egregious their transgressions—denounced as unsuitable for high office in 2009 when his name was put forward for a place on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

Democrats who have spent the last four years rationalizing Barack Obama’s inclination to pick fights with Israel and attempts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians enjoyed the election-year Jewish charm offensive in which the administration dropped its previous antagonism toward the Jewish state. But the decision to choose Hagel calls into question whether a second term will mean that the president plans to abandon his pledges on Iran or whether the 2012 cease-and-desist order about U.S. pressure on Israel will expire.

Hagel’s nomination gave politicians like Schumer a chance to show that they had no intention of allowing the president to make fools of them by policy reversals that would contradict his campaign promises on which they had staked their own good names.

But instead of showing some independence as well as common sense about the likelihood that Hagel could be trusted to do the right thing at the Pentagon, Schumer has shown that they will not stick their necks out if it means opposing the president.

As I stated earlier today, Hagel’s 180 does show that he had to disavow the views that made him the darling of the Israel-bashers if he wanted to be confirmed. Like the president’s campaign pledges, that will make it difficult, although not impossible, for the administration to abandon its stands on opposing containment of Iran or recognition of Hamas.

But the willingness of heretofore pro-Israel Democratic stalwarts to be willing accomplices to Hagel’s charade also tarnishes the reputation of their party on this issue. Whatever else this nomination has accomplished, it has made it more difficult for Democrats to assert that they are every bit as solid on Israel as their GOP foes.

That may not trouble Barack Obama or even Chuck Schumer, but it should worry rank-and-file Democrats who wonder what has happened to their party.

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Schumer Rolls Over, Supports Hagel

Contrary to the Walt-and-Mearsheimer fantasy that there’s some all-powerful “Israeli lobby” pulling puppet strings behind the scenes, Senator Chuck Schumer always had much more of a political incentive to support the administration’s nominee. The only surprise here is how early Schumer caved on Hagel–why not wait until the confirmation hearings started? It sounds like the administration must have made him a pretty persuasive offer

After a 90-minute meeting in the West Wing of the White House on Monday, Mr. Schumer appeared to be mollified on a number of concerns he has with some votes Mr. Hagel made while serving in the Senate and myriad comments he has subsequently made regarding the nuclear threat of Iran and other matters.

“Based on several key assurances provided by Senator Hagel,” Mr. Schumer said in a prepared statement, “I am currently prepared to vote for his confirmation. I encourage my Senate colleagues who have shared my previous concerns to also support him.” Mr. Schumer is likely to have influence over many of his Senate colleagues, particularly Democrats, who have been fretting over the nomination. He called Mr. Hagel Tuesday morning to let him know he was prepared to support him.

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Contrary to the Walt-and-Mearsheimer fantasy that there’s some all-powerful “Israeli lobby” pulling puppet strings behind the scenes, Senator Chuck Schumer always had much more of a political incentive to support the administration’s nominee. The only surprise here is how early Schumer caved on Hagel–why not wait until the confirmation hearings started? It sounds like the administration must have made him a pretty persuasive offer

After a 90-minute meeting in the West Wing of the White House on Monday, Mr. Schumer appeared to be mollified on a number of concerns he has with some votes Mr. Hagel made while serving in the Senate and myriad comments he has subsequently made regarding the nuclear threat of Iran and other matters.

“Based on several key assurances provided by Senator Hagel,” Mr. Schumer said in a prepared statement, “I am currently prepared to vote for his confirmation. I encourage my Senate colleagues who have shared my previous concerns to also support him.” Mr. Schumer is likely to have influence over many of his Senate colleagues, particularly Democrats, who have been fretting over the nomination. He called Mr. Hagel Tuesday morning to let him know he was prepared to support him.

Can’t beat the timing, either. The Emergency Committee for Israel put out a full-page ad in the New York Times this morning, asking readers to call Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s offices to voice their concerns about Hagel. I’m sure the White House wanted to lock down Schumer before there was any real backlash from his constituents. It would have been too much of a gamble otherwise.

Now what happens? The best prediction is that Gillibrand and other “pro-Israel” Democrats follow Schumer, which means a filibuster and unified GOP opposition is the only path left for blocking Hagel. Whether that’s effective largely depends on how much political capital the Republicans want to spend opposing him. With the debt ceiling, immigration, and gun control debates heating up, it’s hard to say.

This fight hasn’t been a total loss so far. The one victory here for the pro-Israel community–if you can call it that–is that Hagel was forced to renounce all of his lunatic policy positions–the same positions that attracted his most fervent supporters in the first place. In a mea culpa letter this morning, he endorsed sanctions against Iran, condemned Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, apologized for his “Jewish lobby” comment, and acknowledged that it came off as anti-Israel. In other words, he renounced almost everything that attracted the anti-Israel lobby that’s been defending his nomination for the past month.

Does he really believe any of it? Probably not. But at least it’s an acknowledgement, by the administration and by Hagel himself, that the “old Chuck Hagel” positions were far outside the mainstream and unacceptable in a defense secretary.

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