Commentary Magazine


Topic: Congress

Obama Sabotaged AIPAC, Not Netanyahu

The AL Monitor website gained a lot of attention yesterday with a story that alleged that AIPAC was opposed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to a joint session of Congress next week on the Iranian nuclear threat. The conceit of the piece was that the controversy over the speech was undermining the lobby’s ability to maintain ties with both major political parties and that its leaders had pulled out the stops in private efforts to persuade Netanyahu to change his plans. In response to the article, today AIPAC officials spoke out and declared that they never opposed the speech and are, in fact, working hard to try and persuade wavering Democrats inclined to boycott the event in solidarity with President Obama’s position to show up for it. So did AL Monitor get the story wrong in a malicious attempt to undermine Netanyahu?

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The AL Monitor website gained a lot of attention yesterday with a story that alleged that AIPAC was opposed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to a joint session of Congress next week on the Iranian nuclear threat. The conceit of the piece was that the controversy over the speech was undermining the lobby’s ability to maintain ties with both major political parties and that its leaders had pulled out the stops in private efforts to persuade Netanyahu to change his plans. In response to the article, today AIPAC officials spoke out and declared that they never opposed the speech and are, in fact, working hard to try and persuade wavering Democrats inclined to boycott the event in solidarity with President Obama’s position to show up for it. So did AL Monitor get the story wrong in a malicious attempt to undermine Netanyahu?

Whatever the motivations of those who published the piece — and the website is quite hostile to Israel’s government — the answer is clearly no. The current dustup is obviously a disaster as far as AIPAC is concerned. But as much as Netanyahu deserves some of the blame for their dilemma, the second story was just as true. Whatever their feelings about the wisdom of the decision to go to Congress in this manner, AIPAC activists who will be descending on Washington next week aren’t in any doubt about who’s the one who is working to undermine the alliance and the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus: President Obama.

Those inclined to defend both AIPAC and Netanyahu should concede that the basic conceit of the AL Monitor article actually captured a basic truth about the lobby’s purpose and the way it operates. Contrary to the allegations that have been hurled against it by its critics and the left-wing J Street lobby, AIPAC isn’t a creature of the right or slanted toward Republicans. It backs all Israeli governments, whether led by figures of the right or those of the left. And its great achievement over the course of the last 40 years is to have created a truly bipartisan, across-the-board coalition in favor of Israel in Congress and the nation.

So it is hardly surprising that the perception that the Netanyahu speech was a plot cooked up with Republicans to embarrass or insult a Democratic president would create a problem for AIPAC. That’s the way the speech has been treated by most of the mainstream media and the incessant and increasingly bitter attacks on Netanyahu by senior figures in the Obama administration has made AIPAC’s task of smoothing the way for support for both the Kirk-Menendez Iran sanctions bill much more difficult.

It’s also true that, as AL Monitor gleefully reported, leading American Jews have tried to persuade Netanyahu to back off on his plans and that figures in Israel’s defense establishment — many of whom have always disliked and tried to undermine the prime minister’s stands on security issues like Iran for political motivations of their own — have been not so quiet about their dismay about his decision.

Much as those who are rightly up in arms about President Obama’s dangerous concessions to Iran in the nuclear talks are eager to hear Netanyahu, there’s no getting around the fact the speech gave the White House the opportunity to change the subject from the administration’s push for détente with Iran to that of an alleged breach of protocol and the injection of partisanship into the discussion of the issue. This was nothing more than transparent political spin but that doesn’t mean that Netanyahu and his advisers didn’t make a mistake. For weeks, even as news broke about astonishing concessions being offered Iran in the form of a sunset clause that would give Tehran carte blanche to gain a weapon after ten years, Washington has been debating Netanyahu’s chutzpah and the president’s hurt feelings instead of the negotiations or the need for more sanctions. As a result, the odds of a veto-proof majority in both Houses of Congress in favor of a sanctions bill that would have had a chance to hold the administration accountable on the issue is far less likely than it was before the announcement of the speech. That’s because the White House has been able to pick off Democrats who don’t feel comfortable taking sides with Netanyahu against Obama. Can anyone blame AIPAC officials for being frustrated about the Israeli government’s unwillingness to listen to their advice about the consequences of the speech?

But the focus on AIPAC is a sidebar to the real story here.

Though Netanyahu deserves to be criticized for walking into Obama’s trap, the only player in this drama who has consistently sought to inject partisanship or to sabotage the U.S.-Israel alliance has been the president.

It was Obama who discarded his 2012 campaign promises (repeated in his foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney) about ensuring the end of Iran’s nuclear program and instead embarked on a path of appeasement whose goal is a misguided effort to make the Islamist regime a partner on a whole range of political and economic issues. The price for this entente cordial with the ayatollahs is acquiescence to their long-term nuclear ambitions as well as their plan for regional hegemony that is scaring the daylights out of America’s moderate Arab allies.

The decision to turn the Netanyahu speech into a cause célèbre was rooted in the White House’s belief that the only way to derail a new sanctions bill that already could count on massive bipartisan support was to turn Iran into a partisan football. And that’s just what the administration has done by piling on Netanyahu while disingenuously claiming to be defending the alliance.

At this point friends of Israel understand the argument about Netanyahu’s speech is now largely irrelevant. With an Iran nuclear deal that would sink any chance of stopping the Islamist regime from becoming a threshold nuclear power and eventually the owners of a bomb now perhaps only weeks away, the time has ended for recriminations about the way the invitation to Congress was handled. The only thing worth discussing now is what, if anything, Congress and the pro-Israel community can do to derail Obama’s betrayal of principle.

The number of those who boycott the speech will be a barometer of how much success the White House has had in undermining the pro-Israel consensus. Democrats who claim to be friends of the Jewish state and opposed to an Iranian nuclear weapon need to forget about false arguments about partisanship and join with fellow Democrats as well as Republicans in listening to Netanyahu. More importantly, they must help pass the Iran sanctions bill before it is too late to stop the president’s plans for détente with a terror-supporting, anti-Semitic Islamist regime.

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The Anti-Bibi Offensive Reaches the Point of Diminishing Returns

Taken in isolation, it’s hard to fathom exactly what was going through Secretary of State John Kerry’s mind when he attacked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Seeking to discredit the Israeli’s critique of the administration’s efforts to strike a bargain with Iran over its nuclear-weapons program, Kerry dipped back into history and cited Netanyahu’s support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq as proof of his questionable judgment. Netanyahu’s 2002 testimony before the same committee doesn’t qualify him for the title of prophet. But one wonders why no one among the posse of yes-men and flatterers that follow the secretary about on his travels thought to remind him that as lacking in prescience as Netanyahu’s remarks might have been, it was he, in his capacity at that time as a U.S. senator, who actually voted for the war a few weeks after the Israeli’s testimony. But his foolish eagerness to join the administration’s gang tackle of Netanyahu tells us more about the administration’s desperation and the counterproductive nature of its effort to discredit the Israeli than anything else.

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Taken in isolation, it’s hard to fathom exactly what was going through Secretary of State John Kerry’s mind when he attacked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Seeking to discredit the Israeli’s critique of the administration’s efforts to strike a bargain with Iran over its nuclear-weapons program, Kerry dipped back into history and cited Netanyahu’s support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq as proof of his questionable judgment. Netanyahu’s 2002 testimony before the same committee doesn’t qualify him for the title of prophet. But one wonders why no one among the posse of yes-men and flatterers that follow the secretary about on his travels thought to remind him that as lacking in prescience as Netanyahu’s remarks might have been, it was he, in his capacity at that time as a U.S. senator, who actually voted for the war a few weeks after the Israeli’s testimony. But his foolish eagerness to join the administration’s gang tackle of Netanyahu tells us more about the administration’s desperation and the counterproductive nature of its effort to discredit the Israeli than anything else.

After several weeks of feuding over Netanyahu’s alleged breach of protocol in accepting an invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress from House Speaker John Boehner, the breach between the two governments has now reached the stage where it cannot be dismissed as a mere spat. The administration’s commitment to a policy shift on Iran, in which the effort to prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon has been set aside in favor of a push for détente with the Islamist regime, has created more than just a little daylight between Israel and the United States. But what is curious is the way leading figures in President Obama’s foreign-policy team, whether it be Kerry or National Security Advisor Susan Rice, have chosen to treat Netanyahu as a major threat to its objective rather than just the leader of a small, albeit influential, allied country who is not in a position to do anything to stop Obama from doing as he likes.

The most remarkable thing about the piling on the Israeli this week is the disproportionate nature of the attacks. That this treatment has been ordered from the top—which is to say, the president—isn’t doubted by anyone in the know. But in doing so, the administration is now running the risk of losing the advantage it obtained when it was able to use Netanyahu’s blunder about the speech to divert the national discussion from its indefensible position on Iran. Rather than damaging Netanyahu’s credibility and increasing his isolation (an absurd charge since few took notice of Netanyahu’s testimony on Iraq at the time), this all-out offensive is making him seem a more sympathetic figure that deserves a hearing.

Netanyahu has shown remarkably poor judgment in recent weeks that belied the supposedly deft understanding of Washington and American politics that has been his trademark and that of Ron Dermer, his ambassador to the United States. Accepting Boehner’s invitation without clearing it with the White House allowed Obama to make Netanyahu the issue rather than the administration’s opposition to a sanctions bill that would have strengthened its hands in the Iran talks. The prime minister compounded that mistake by then refusing an invitation to meet privately with Senate Democrats because he feared that might constitute an admission that he was colluding with the Republicans.

The administration ought to be wary of overplaying its hand on Netanyahu. After all, no matter how much applause he gets or doesn’t get when he gives his speech to Congress next week, none of that can prevent Kerry from cutting a disastrous deal with Iran if the ayatollahs are ready to make one at all. Given the president’s plans not to present any agreement to the Senate for approval as a treaty and the poor chances of an override of a veto of an Iran sanctions bill, he might be better off ignoring Israeli objections rather than jousting with him.

Though Obama has a reputation as a cold-blooded decision maker, he seems to have let his hatred for Netanyahu get the better of him and ordered his minions to launch a general offensive against Israel in order to crush the prime minister even before he opens his mouth in Washington. Why is he bothering?

The answer is that deep underneath the president’s cool exterior and his conviction that he and only he understands what is right for the country is a fear that Netanyahu’s powerful arguments against appeasing Iran will be heard and believed. That gives the Israeli more credit than he may deserve, but it also reflects Obama’s awareness that if openly debated, his string of unprecedented concessions to Iran can’t be easily defended.

After promising in his 2012 reelection campaign that any deal with Iran would ensure that its nuclear program be eliminated, the president is now preparing to not only guarantee its continued possession of a vast nuclear infrastructure but the phased portion of the current proposal on the table would implicitly grant the Islamist regime the ability to build a bomb after a ten-year period. Just as importantly, the U.S. now seems as indifferent to Iran’s support of international terrorism, its anti-Semitism, threats to destroy Israel, and its push for regional hegemony as it is to the prospect of it being a threshold nuclear power.

In pursuit of this agenda with Iran, the president has ruthlessly played the partisan card (while accusing Netanyahu of doing the same), pushing Democrats to abandon what was formerly a true bipartisan consensus against Iran and seeking to undermine the pro-Israel coalition in Congress. But as long as pundits are discussing or bashing Netanyahu, these issues have been marginalized. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing even when it comes to sniping at the Israeli leader.

Kerry’s absurd overreach against Netanyahu while lamely seeking to defend his current concessions to Iran shows that the administration has reached the point of diminishing returns with respect to the Israeli. Whether Netanyahu was wise to plan this speech is now beside the point. The more the administration seeks to shut him up, the more credence his remarks get. Whereas the address might have been just a Washington story had the White House not gone ballistic about it, it will now be treated as a major international event raising the stakes on the Iran debate just at the moment the administration would like to calm things down. The time has come for the administration to back down and let him talk lest the country listen to Netanyahu’s arguments and realize the president is selling them a bill of goods on Iran.

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GOP Must Find a Way Out of Obama’s DHS De-Funding Trap

With only days to go before a deadline for funding the Department of Homeland Security, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is desperately seeking a way to sell Republicans in both houses of Congress on a plan to get themselves out of the trap that President Obama set for them. His conservative critics aren’t wrong when they say this is nothing more than a GOP surrender that gives up any hope of taking a stand against the president’s extralegal executive orders granting wholesale amnesty to up to five million illegal immigrants. But unless McConnell can persuade House Republicans to go along with him, the understandable desire to defund those parts of the government that will carry out the president’s orders will cause the party to embark on another suicide charge that might prove to be even more disastrous than the 2013 government shutdown.

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With only days to go before a deadline for funding the Department of Homeland Security, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is desperately seeking a way to sell Republicans in both houses of Congress on a plan to get themselves out of the trap that President Obama set for them. His conservative critics aren’t wrong when they say this is nothing more than a GOP surrender that gives up any hope of taking a stand against the president’s extralegal executive orders granting wholesale amnesty to up to five million illegal immigrants. But unless McConnell can persuade House Republicans to go along with him, the understandable desire to defund those parts of the government that will carry out the president’s orders will cause the party to embark on another suicide charge that might prove to be even more disastrous than the 2013 government shutdown.

Let’s specify that Tea Partiers and other GOP stalwarts are right to be outraged about the president’s end-run around the Constitution. The notion that a president has the right to legislate on his own simply because he says he gave Congress time to do what he wanted it to do and must now act since they failed to is absurd as well as reflecting contempt for the rule of law. Regardless of one’s views about the need for immigration reform, the president’s actions constitute an ominous precedent that presage a constitutional crisis as the executive branch runs roughshod over the normal order of government. Indeed, even many Democrats said as much last fall prior to the orders, especially those up for reelection.

But simply because something is wrong and should be stopped doesn’t necessarily mean there is a way to do it that is politically palatable. The orders were given in a way that there is no option for halting their implementation other than defunding the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which now falls under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security. The courts may rule in favor of the 26 states that have sued to halt Obama’s orders. The decision of one federal judge in Texas in favor of that suit has, at least temporarily, stopped Obama in his tracks. But unless that track works—and it is likely that it won’t—the only alternative is defunding DHS.

It is true that Republicans are attempting to keep the rest of Homeland Security operating while preventing INS from doing the president’s will with respect to amnesty. But with Democrats in the Senate filibustering that effort and the president ready to veto that measure even if the Upper Chamber’s minority doesn’t hold on, taking a stand on illegal immigration will shut down the entire department.

While most Americans don’t like the idea of government shutdowns under any circumstances, furloughs for DHS employees right now is about the worst political idea anyone in Washington could come up with. The GOP could probably get away with shutting down the Department of Education or Housing or Health, Education, and Welfare or any number of other federal bureaucracies and not be hurt by it. But defunding DHS at a time of rising concern about terrorism is a political loser as well as arguably very bad policy. It not only creates another liberal narrative about Republican obstructionists trying to stop the government from operating. It also allows the president to change the subject from his lack of a coherent strategy to defeat ISIS to the old tried-and-true meme about Republicans blowing up the government.

Conservatives are right that this isn’t fair. A principled stand by the GOP against Obama’s executive orders isn’t anymore extremist than the Democrats’ refusal to compromise or step back from amnesty. The assumption that Republicans should be blamed for a shutdown is based on biased media reporting that reflects Democratic talking points. Unfortunately, the public seems to have bought it, in no small measure because the GOP’s small-government philosophy seems to make it more likely to act as if the government does deserve to be blown up.

But fair or unfair, it is a matter of political reality. As even Senator Marco Rubio noted today, shutting down DHS is simply unthinkable right now. Thus, the GOP should swallow hard and follow McConnell’s plan by passing a “clean” funding bill for DHS and then having a separate vote on a measure to stop the executive orders that will inevitably fail. If the House balks, it won’t matter that President Obama and the Democrats deserve the lion’s share of the blame for starting the fight with the orders and then filibustering a GOP bill to fund DHS.

Such an outcome is frustrating for party activists that turned out and elected a Republican Senate as well as a GOP-run House. But as infuriating as it may be, they need to realize that the only way to rescind those orders is going to mean electing a Republican president of the United States. And that is a prospect that will be less likely if they wind up shutting down DHS and further damaging their brand as a party at time when they should be gaining ground at the Democrats’ expense on foreign policy.

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Fixing America’s Political System By Making It More Like America’s Political System

Democrats and the media have long tried to blame congressional gridlock on Republican “extremism.” But the truth has always been that the two parties find themselves so far apart these days because while the GOP has become more conservative, the Democrats have moved to their left. And President Obama has, as Josh Kraushaar explains in a trenchant column at National Journal, played a key role in that shift.

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Democrats and the media have long tried to blame congressional gridlock on Republican “extremism.” But the truth has always been that the two parties find themselves so far apart these days because while the GOP has become more conservative, the Democrats have moved to their left. And President Obama has, as Josh Kraushaar explains in a trenchant column at National Journal, played a key role in that shift.

Kraushaar writes that on some high-profile issues, the Democrats in Congress have followed Obama’s lead when electoral considerations would suggest they go their own way. (It’s one reason Obama has been such a disaster for his party’s congressional caucuses in both midterm elections.) On the Keystone pipeline, for example, Obama has pulled his party in line with the environmental extremist base. On Israel, Obama has worked assiduously to drive a wedge between his party and the Israelis, calling into question Democrats’ long pro-Israel history. The unpopular health-care law is another example.

Obama came to office wanting to be a Democratic Reagan by transforming the electorate in his image. “He has indeed transformed the Democratic party to his liking, but failed to get anyone else to follow suit,” Kraushaar writes.

The key part for Democrats, however, is that Obama doesn’t seem to care what happens to his party’s congressional delegations; he has all but ignored Congress even on issues he repeatedly stated he needed their support for. Obama also made clear that he believes in the “I won” mode of politics, exacerbating a system that has seen wave elections in both directions in an increasingly winner-take-all brand of national politics.

So what to do? The Atlantic’s Noah Gordon says that the practice of gerrymandering means not only do we have winner-take-all elections but they’re the kind of elections that “waste” the most votes in doing so. (Gerrymandering is not the polarizing force it’s often made out to be, but it’s nonetheless an absurd practice that should be reformed.) One solution then, Gordon writes, would be for the U.S. to adopt a system of proportional representation, in which parties receive seats in the Congress (or parliament, or Knesset, etc.) proportional to their vote counts:

The American system of government is stable, popular, and backed by the Constitution—and dominated by two political parties. A political system comprised of multiple, smaller parties and shifting coalitions may be unimaginable in America, but it’s the norm in most other democracies. While the United States is one of the world’s oldest democracies, and spreading democracy is a central tenet of the country’s foreign policy, our winner-take-all system itself is among our least-popular exports. In Western Europe, 21 of 28 countries use a form of proportional representation in at least one type of election.

There is, certainly, a fair amount to be said for such a system. And yet I can’t help but notice that we’ve already devised a solution to many of the problems in our current system. Instead of proportional representation, here’s a radical thought: why don’t we try, say, a federal republic.

And Gordon almost gets there himself. Look at how Gordon describes some of the PR systems:

Israel elects all 120 members of its national legislature from a single multi-member district that encompasses the entire country, and the Netherlands does the same with its lower house. But districts that large can lead to over-representation of fringe parties who receive just a small percentage of the vote, as well as giving numerous tiny parties the ability to make outsized demands from big parties if they lack a majority.

Indeed, and if anybody doubts the power of more marginal parties they can take a look at the latest Knesset polls for next month’s election and try to piece together what a governing coalition–any governing coalition–might look like. And in larger countries, it would be unmanageable to have the entire state as essentially one district for the purposes of elections. Gordon takes another step toward a solution:

So larger countries often break themselves down into smaller districts to ensure legislators have some connection to a particular geographic area.

Now we’re getting somewhere. Hey, we’re a large country. How might we follow this advice? Back to Gordon:

In the United States, those geographical areas could be the states.

There it is. Unfortunately Gordon stops there, and just games out how proportional representation would apply to the geographical-areas-otherwise-known-as-states.

But he shouldn’t. The best way to prevent the worst effects of winner-take-all national elections is to have the American system as it was meant to be, with states given far more leeway and government subject to far more local control. Not total control, mind you. But definitely not the top-down approach favored especially by Democrats in which the federal government seeks to impose an inflexible, universal standard on everything from health care to education to drug policy to gun laws to social issues to right-to-life concerns to employment restrictions.

Nothing wastes votes more than nullifying local governance on a grand scale. Yes, there are problems with how America conducts its national elections. And the obsessive focus on national elections is one of them.

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Court Immigration Ruling Doesn’t Solve Congress’s Homeland Security Dilemma

Republicans looking for a way out of their Department of Homeland Security funding tangle got a shot in the arm yesterday when a federal judge in Texas issued a ruling temporarily ordering the federal government to stop any implementation of President Obama’s executive orders granting amnesty to up to five million illegal aliens. Judge Andrew S. Hanen’s decision is a morale boost to those who agree that the president’s effort to bypass both Congress and the usual constitutional order was a blow to the rule of law. But it may not stop Obama’s effort for long and it won’t resolve an impasse in which a Senate Democratic filibuster of a House bill funding DHS has raised the possibility of a shutdown of the department. Hanen bolsters the sense among GOP members that they are right to press this issue. Yet it doesn’t provide them with the means to either block amnesty or to come out of this standoff without looking as bad or even worse than they did during the 2013 government shutdown.

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Republicans looking for a way out of their Department of Homeland Security funding tangle got a shot in the arm yesterday when a federal judge in Texas issued a ruling temporarily ordering the federal government to stop any implementation of President Obama’s executive orders granting amnesty to up to five million illegal aliens. Judge Andrew S. Hanen’s decision is a morale boost to those who agree that the president’s effort to bypass both Congress and the usual constitutional order was a blow to the rule of law. But it may not stop Obama’s effort for long and it won’t resolve an impasse in which a Senate Democratic filibuster of a House bill funding DHS has raised the possibility of a shutdown of the department. Hanen bolsters the sense among GOP members that they are right to press this issue. Yet it doesn’t provide them with the means to either block amnesty or to come out of this standoff without looking as bad or even worse than they did during the 2013 government shutdown.

Hanen is already on record as an outspoken critic of liberal immigration policies, but his ruling was on technical grounds rather than on the constitutionality of the presidential executive orders. With one of the programs granting legal status to those here without permission about to start receiving applications, the decision does stop its implementation. But if, as expected, the administration complies with the requirements to give notice of their procedures, the order might be quickly lifted at the appellate level. Writing from Brownsville, Texas along the border with Mexico, Hanen sided with the states that filed the lawsuit seeking to stop the implementation of the orders and believes they are right to say that the federal government has failed to enforce immigration laws in a way that “drains the states’ resources.” He’s right about that, but it’s far from clear that higher courts will uphold the ruling or even agree that the states have the legal standing to challenge the executive branch’s ability to enforce laws in any way it pleases, even if means acting in a manner that annuls a law passed by Congress.

Although Hanen and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are right to argue that the president’s actions constitute a body blow to the rule of law, the administration may be right to term this ruling a mere “speed bump” on the road to granting millions of illegals the right to stay and work in the country. Though his high-handed behavior constitutes an end run around the Constitution, the president’s defenders may well be right in thinking that the concept of federal supremacy on the question of immigration dooms the lawsuit in the long run. Though House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would love for the courts to provide them with an escape hatch from the dispute over funding DHS, Judge Hanen isn’t likely to provide them with one.

That puts Republicans back in the back in the box in which they’ve been placed by Obama’s audacious decision to do what he said 22 times previously he didn’t have the power to do. If they don’t try and use the power of the purse to prevent Obama from nullifying a law they’ve passed, the GOP grass roots will rightly lambast their leaders for letting Obama get away with murder despite their control of both Houses of Congress. But if they stick to their position that they will not fund DHS without including provisions that will prevent Obama from carrying out his extralegal plans, they will once again be lambasted as a party that is stopping the government from performing its proper functions. Indeed, as disastrous as the 2013 government shutdown over ObamaCare funding was, a more limited shutdown that would affect Homeland Security just at a moment when concern over terrorism is at the top of the national agenda might be even more misguided.

In that sense, the Texas ruling may actually complicate things for Republicans in Washington. Hanen’s decision strengthens their sense that they are very much in the right and Obama in the wrong on the substance of this dispute. It also would make any retreat on the issue even more problematic for a pair of leaders who are already vulnerable to critics within their caucuses who see them as insufficiently tough in dealing with an unscrupulous administration with no respect for the law.

Our John Steele Gordon was right to point out that the engine of their problem is a liberal mainstream media that blames Republicans no matter what happens. The GOP was blamed for the shutdown in 2013 because Senate Republicans stood their ground. Today, when it is the Senate Democrats who are obstructing the passage of a House bill that would fund DHS, the media is still prepared to blame the Republicans for the consequences of their filibuster.

John may also be right that in the long run conservatives must stand up to liberal media bias and to attempt to make their slanted coverage the issue rather than lying down and accepting the role of whipping boys for Washington gridlock. But there is a reason why the GOP is always going to be blamed for upsetting the D.C. applecart. That’s because it is the Democrats who always defend the existing system and the prerogatives of big government even when that leads them to trash the Constitution. It is the Republicans who are in the position of trying to halt this runaway train. That is the right thing to do, but even the noblest cause must be conducted in a responsible manner. Defunding DHS at a time when ISIS is burning and beheading people isn’t going to strike most Americans as smart or principled.

I believe Obama’s orders have created a constitutional crisis, but it is not one that can be resolved by budget maneuvers. Nor are the courts likely to follow Hanen’s lead and stop Obama in his tracks, as they ought to do. In the end the only way the president’s extralegal measures can be overturned is by the voters in November 2016. Until then, Republicans would do well to avoid falling into traps set for them by the White House and their media allies.

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Iran Sanctions Can Change History, Not a Netanyahu Speech

The debate about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress next month continues with Democrats continuing to express dismay at what they are wrongly characterizing as an insult to President Obama. The administration’s ability to frame the issue as a conflict between the president and the prime minister has largely succeeded in marginalizing the discussion about Iran’s nuclear program and whether the current negotiations will do much to avert the threat. I have argued that in accepting House Speaker Boehner’s invitation, Netanyahu has walked into a trap and that the net effect of that decision is to lessen the chances that Congress will pass more sanctions. But his supporters and other opponents of Obama’s policies argue that the extreme nature of the danger presented by Iran and a U.S. policy of appeasement require that Netanyahu speak in spite of the controversy over his appearance. These points, made both by Rick Richman and in numerous comments from readers, deserve an answer.

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The debate about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress next month continues with Democrats continuing to express dismay at what they are wrongly characterizing as an insult to President Obama. The administration’s ability to frame the issue as a conflict between the president and the prime minister has largely succeeded in marginalizing the discussion about Iran’s nuclear program and whether the current negotiations will do much to avert the threat. I have argued that in accepting House Speaker Boehner’s invitation, Netanyahu has walked into a trap and that the net effect of that decision is to lessen the chances that Congress will pass more sanctions. But his supporters and other opponents of Obama’s policies argue that the extreme nature of the danger presented by Iran and a U.S. policy of appeasement require that Netanyahu speak in spite of the controversy over his appearance. These points, made both by Rick Richman and in numerous comments from readers, deserve an answer.

Richman and other advocates for Netanyahu sticking to his plans are right when they say the peril presented by a nuclear Iran is grave. At best, President Obama’s current policies seem aimed at tolerating Iran becoming a nuclear threshold state in exchange for Tehran agreeing to some sort of détente with the United States. This is a colossal mistake. Even if Iran were to keep its promises about not building a bomb, which it almost certainly would not, it would mean a U.S. seal of approval for Iranian hegemony over the Middle East in which they could use their allies in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, and Yemen to destabilize moderate Arab regimes and conduct a two-front war against Israel. Another possible scenario is that while indefinitely dragging out the talks with the United States, Iran is able to break out to a nuclear weapon, a step that would, as the president himself has said, would be a “game changer” that could plunge the region into violent chaos as well as threatening the security of the West.

Presented with these awful choices, Richman and other supporters of the speech say that what is needed is for Netanyahu to come to Washington to warn Congress and the American people about what lies ahead. In making these arguments, there have been many comparisons between the prime minister and Winston Churchill. We are told that Netanyahu’s speech could, like Churchill’s warnings against appeasement of Nazi Germany, turn the tide against Obama’s stand. When stacked against the existential threat presented to the future of Israel, we are told that this “issue goes far beyond politics and protocol” and therefore obligates Netanyahu to go to Congress.

This is a serious argument. But as much as the dangers it speaks of are real, it doesn’t necessarily follow that a Netanyahu speech or any speech at this point will do much about it. It also ignores the fact that to dismiss the impact of politics on this effort is to engage in magical thinking.

Let’s remember that this episode began as part of an effort to rally bipartisan support for the bipartisan Iran sanctions bill proposed by Senators Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez. Republicans’ control of the Senate meant that, unlike last year when then-Majority Leader Harry Reid had torpedoed an earlier version of this bill, chances of success were excellent. The only question was if President Obama could persuade enough Democrats to sustain the veto of the bill he threatened in his State of the Union speech, but the odds appeared to be against him as most pro-Israel members of his party were on record as supporting more sanctions.

The Kirk-Menendez bill is not a magic bullet. By itself it cannot derail Obama’s push for appeasement of Iran since the president could use the waivers in the bill to avoid enforcing it even if it became law despite his veto. But it could make it much harder for him to keep negotiating indefinitely if the Iranians do not accept the weak offer currently on the table. And it could force a congressional debate on the terms of a deal that allowed Iran to keep its nuclear infrastructure if the Islamist regime took yes for an answer and gave the president the deal he is begging them to sign.

What supporters of the Netanyahu speech steadfastly refuse to acknowledge is the fact that his intervention in the debate has had a disastrous impact on the chances of passing Kirk-Menendez. By giving the White House the distraction it needed, it changed the terms of the discussion from one over Obama’s indefensible opposition to a measure that would strengthen his hand in the negotiations to one about the questionable wisdom of having a foreign leader become a player in an American legislative debate.

That the way this was brought about as the result of underhanded administration tactics and even outright lies about the supposed breach of protocol involved in Boehner’s invitation is beside the point. It doesn’t matter that Netanyahu’s intention was to trump Obama’s stand on Iran and not to become a pawn in the endless struggle between Republicans and Democrats on the Hill. What matters is that this is how the administration and its media allies played the story and that is how a lot of Democrats, a party that has many friends of Israel in its ranks, are interpreting these events.

What the pro-Israel community was hoping to achieve this year was a bipartisan push for an Iran sanctions bill that might hobble Obama’s Iran strategy. What it got instead was something that has been, however unfairly, converted into a duel between Obama and Netanyahu in which Kirk-Menendez and Iran policy have become sidebars to a tussle that is more reminiscent of the fights between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

Were a Netanyahu speech on Iran the sort of event that could, by itself, transcend this political mess and change the nature of the discussion about the nuclear issue, it might be justified. But despite the rather profligate comparisons between the prime minister and Churchill, that is an argument that doesn’t hold water.

Netanyahu is a fine speaker and he has the advantage of being right on the issue. But nothing he says, however eloquent, can overcome the baggage that he would be carrying with him into the House chamber. The story will not be so much about the nature of a threat, about which members of both parties are well aware, but the duel with the White House and the absent Democrats. Netanyahu may speak some great truths that may someday be looked back upon as prescient. But he is not the towering figure that his fans think he is. The record number of standing ovations he received during his 2011 speech to Congress was a product of the bipartisan support he had at the time. By allowing himself to be outmaneuvered so badly by Obama, he no longer can count on the same kind of backing. Churchillian rhetoric doesn’t make a speaker a Churchill.

Moreover, despite the obsession by many on the Zionist right with the idea that saying something true is a transcendent value, it is not as important as accomplishing something tangible. Speeches don’t always change the course of history. After all, even Churchill’s brilliant statements in the House of Commons opposing Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler did not prevent the Munich agreement from being signed. What was necessary in 1938 was not a good speech but a parliamentary majority against appeasement that might have averted World War Two and the Holocaust. The same is true today. We don’t need a great clarifying address about Iran. What we need is a coalition of Republicans and Democrats to pass a bill that will undermine Obama’s willingness to give Iran what it wants. If Netanyahu’s speech makes that harder—and that is exactly what it is doing—then friends of Israel should be urging him not to give it.

What is even more troubling about some of the comments from supporters of Netanyahu’s speech is that some of them seem to actually welcome the prospect of the splintering of the bipartisan pro-Israel coalition and view its transformation into a more cohesive and straightforward anti-Obama faction with approbation. That is neither in the interest of Israel or the alliance with the United States. Indeed, such a trend would destroy decades of hard work on the part of AIPAC and its army of activists who have striven to make the case that support for Israel transcends party allegiances.

It is understandable that the existential nature of the threat from Iran should give rise to high emotions and the need to cast anything related to the issue in apocalyptic terms. They see a decision to concentrate on the sanctions and to forget about a counterproductive tactic as surrender and weakness rather than wisdom. When faced with the horrible prospect of an Iranian bomb, some pro-Israel activists seem to embrace the emotional satisfaction of a direct rhetorical challenge to Obama rather than the hard practical political work of passing a bill that might do more to change history for the better than a speech. The prime minister should be smart enough to pass on this sort of immature and magical thinking. So should his American friends.

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Must Netanyahu Give That Speech?

With every passing day, more Democrats are claiming they will boycott Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s scheduled speech on Iran sanctions to a joint session of Congress next month. This is, as I wrote earlier, largely the result of a partisan campaign by the president and his blind partisan supporters and not because what Netanyahu is planning to do is some sort of outrageous or unprecedented stunt. But unfair or not, there is no getting around the fact that Netanyahu’s hope that he could replicate his triumphant 2011 appearance before Congress is not realistic. In response, the prime minister and his backers are saying that this is beside the point and insist that he has a duty to come to Washington to tell the truth about Iran to a Congress and an American people that are in desperate need of that message. That sounds quite noble and is, to a certain extent, true, as Americans have been getting a lot of misinformation about the issue in recent weeks. But it is also beside the point. The painful truth is that although he is in the right on the issue and Obama quite wrong, the prime minister is helping to derail the debate on Iran and will continue to do so as long as he persists in his determination to give the speech.

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With every passing day, more Democrats are claiming they will boycott Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s scheduled speech on Iran sanctions to a joint session of Congress next month. This is, as I wrote earlier, largely the result of a partisan campaign by the president and his blind partisan supporters and not because what Netanyahu is planning to do is some sort of outrageous or unprecedented stunt. But unfair or not, there is no getting around the fact that Netanyahu’s hope that he could replicate his triumphant 2011 appearance before Congress is not realistic. In response, the prime minister and his backers are saying that this is beside the point and insist that he has a duty to come to Washington to tell the truth about Iran to a Congress and an American people that are in desperate need of that message. That sounds quite noble and is, to a certain extent, true, as Americans have been getting a lot of misinformation about the issue in recent weeks. But it is also beside the point. The painful truth is that although he is in the right on the issue and Obama quite wrong, the prime minister is helping to derail the debate on Iran and will continue to do so as long as he persists in his determination to give the speech.

Let’s specify again, lest there be any confusion as to the rights and wrongs of the issue, that President Obama’s opposition to the bipartisan bill sponsored by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Robert Menendez is utterly illogical if his goal is to actually pressure Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. If, however, as seems more than evident, the president’s objective is détente with Iran, then his opposition to Kirk-Menendez makes perfect sense. And that is why the bipartisan majority that already existed within both houses of Congress for sanctions should persist in their plans to pass a bill and, if necessary, override Obama’s threatened veto.

But the idea that the factor that will ensure such a vote is a speech by Netanyahu is farcical.

Though he and his supporters speak as if members of Congress need to hear a speech from him in order to understand the issue, this is an issue that Congress has been debating for years. Interested members have gotten regular briefings and know very well Israel’s cogent argument in favor of more pressure on the Iranians. The only difference between last year when large majorities backed an earlier version of Kirk-Menendez and now is that Harry Reid is no longer in a position to prevent a vote on it in the Senate.

Despite the talk of a Netanyahu speech as indispensable, the chances of amassing a veto-proof majority were actually better before the announcement of House Speaker Boehner’s invitation than now. Weeks ago, the administration was resigned to a veto fight that they knew they stood a good chance of losing. But thanks to Netanyahu’s foolish decision to walk into the trap that Obama laid for him, they seem confident that they can, at worst, sustain the veto.

Netanyahu provided Obama and his allies with the perfect distraction from his Iran policy and the president has made the most of it. Democrats speak of the invitation as an underhanded plot even if we now know that the White House was informed of the plan before Netanyahu accepted the invite. And many of them have bought the White House’s argument that his trip is an insult to the first African-American president. They have deftly exploited partisan tensions between the parties on the Hill and even played the race card in a despicable effort to get the Congressional Black Caucus to give momentum to the boycott of Netanyahu.

This is terrible, but it is now a political fact that Netanyahu and his backers must acknowledge. The longer Washington is discussing whether the prime minister should come to Congress, the lower the chances of passing sanctions.

It’s time for Netanyahu to come to grips with the question of what his real goal is here. If it’s to help the Republicans and Democrats who are working hard to pass this bill, he should know it’s time for him to find an excuse to back down and not give the speech. His is a powerful and eloquent voice, but what Congress needs to hear now is the sound of Democrats like Menendez and his colleagues making the case for sanctions, not a foreign leader, albeit from a country that most members of the House and the Senate regard with affection. It is only when he removes himself as a distraction from this debate that sanctions advocates will have a chance to get the focus back on Obama’s indefensible policies rather than Netanyahu’s supposed chutzpah.

I know admitting this goes against the grain for many in the pro-Israel community who want the satisfaction of seeing Netanyahu openly challenge Obama. But their emotional gratification from having the prime minister proudly stand up for his country’s interests again on the big stage of Capitol Hill is nothing beside the damage this discussion is doing to the chances for passage of Kirk-Menendez.

On the other hand, if Netanyahu’s agenda here is more about providing a compelling visual in the weeks before Israeli voters go to the polls to elect a new Knesset, he’s not only undermining the cause he says he values, he’s also rolling the dice with the Israeli voters. It may be that they will like the imagery of Netanyahu speaking truth to Congress. After all, Obama has alienated Israelis for years with his decisions and, as polls continue to show, they don’t trust him. But Israelis may also note the absence of many Democrats and draw some negative conclusions.

In 2011, members of both parties gave him dozens of standing ovations while he spoke to Congress. The demonstration was not only reminiscent of a previous Congress’ embrace of Winston Churchill, it was also a direct rebuke of Obama for seeking to ambush Netanyahu and to tilt the diplomatic playing field against Israel. Though the White House hasn’t played fair, there will be no such triumph this time. More to the point, no matter how well he speaks, his message will be obscured by the controversy over his invitation. He may say it is his duty to give the speech, but if his objective is to help pass Kirk-Menendez, there is a better argument to be made that it is his duty not to give it.

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Can Iran Be Trusted On Nukes? Can Obama?

Though a vote won’t be held on a new Iran sanctions bill until late March, the question of what is exactly going on in the talks between the West and Tehran deserves more attention. The chattering classes have focused largely on a pointless dispute about whether Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will speak to Congress in March about Iran. But the real issue is the substance of the current negotiations. As a Washington Post editorial noted yesterday, the clear intent of the Obama administration is to acquiesce to Iran’s demands to be allowed to keep its nuclear infrastructure as well as treat the regime, as a legitimate regional power in the Middle East is no longer in much doubt. That leaves observers asking two very important questions. One is whether Iran can be trusted to keep the terms of any nuclear deal it signs. The other is whether the Obama administration can be trusted to hold the Iranians accountable.

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Though a vote won’t be held on a new Iran sanctions bill until late March, the question of what is exactly going on in the talks between the West and Tehran deserves more attention. The chattering classes have focused largely on a pointless dispute about whether Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will speak to Congress in March about Iran. But the real issue is the substance of the current negotiations. As a Washington Post editorial noted yesterday, the clear intent of the Obama administration is to acquiesce to Iran’s demands to be allowed to keep its nuclear infrastructure as well as treat the regime, as a legitimate regional power in the Middle East is no longer in much doubt. That leaves observers asking two very important questions. One is whether Iran can be trusted to keep the terms of any nuclear deal it signs. The other is whether the Obama administration can be trusted to hold the Iranians accountable.

As the Post points out, the danger inherent in the administration’s Iran policy is that by letting them keep thousands of centrifuges and a nuclear stockpile that could be quickly re-activated to allow it to build a weapon, the terms currently being discussed will, at the very least, allow the Islamist regime to become a threshold nuclear power. Though he continues to insist, as he has since he first started running for president in 2007, that he won’t let Iran get a nuclear weapon, the president doesn’t seem to have a problem with that. Why? The answer is that Obama believes that the U.S. and Iran have common interests that will allow them to cooperate together in the region and that the ayatollahs have too much to gain from a reconciliation with the West in terms of their nation’s economy to want to risk it all by building a bomb.

But the problem with that formulation is that it is fundamentally mistaken. Iran has no interest in America’s need for regional stability and preserving moderate Arab regimes allied with the West, let alone protecting the existence of the state of Israel. To the contrary, it hopes to threaten both the Arab states and Israel via the threat of a nuclear weapon as well as keeping the pressure on them through the use of its Hezbollah terrorist auxiliaries and allied terror groups like Hamas. Yet Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon as well as its progress on ballistic missiles means that this is a problem that concerns the entire West and not just Israel and the Arabs.

That is why the bipartisan sanctions bill proposed by Senators Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez is so important. It provides at least a measure of accountability to the process since it raises the price for Iran for dragging out negotiations or for continuing to refuse to accept even another weak deal with the West like the interim agreement signed in November 2013.

Even more to the point, is the question of whether even a weak deal, such as the one Obama and Kerry embraced in 2013 can be enforced by this or subsequent administrations. To date, the administration has refused to take seriously charges that the Iranians are already cheating on the interim deal. The dynamic of the process is such that the president views any such questions or even threats of more sanctions with hostility because he sees them as a threat to his goal of a rapprochement with Iran.

This is problematic because so long as Iran believes that Washington won’t take violations of a nuclear deal seriously, it will feel free to push the envelope on more cheating. Since the president has already conceded that, as the Post wrote, “a process that began with the goal of eliminating Iran’s potential to produce nuclear weapons has evolved into a plan to tolerate and restrict that capability,” it is difficult to believe the Islamist regime will think it need worry about the president abandoning a process to which he has become so devoted no matter what they do.

That brings us back to the question of the sanctions bill. Realists must understand that even if the bill is passed and then a threatened presidential veto is overridden, Congress can’t stop Obama from negotiating with Iran and coming up with a bad deal. Nor is it likely that it will be able to force him to put such a treaty to a vote as the Constitution demands since the president will seek to evade that requirement.

Indeed, even if the bill were to become law, the president could also use waivers in the legislation to prevent its enforcement. This is something of a poison pill that was forced on its sponsors by both political expediency (getting more Democratic votes) and legal technicalities (existing sanctions laws also have waivers that could be used by Obama to thwart this bill). But to the credit of both Kirk and Menendez, they have attempted to write their waivers in such a way as to constrict the president from wantonly ignoring the intent of Congress. Though this and other administrations have used waivers to flout the meaning of laws, doing so in this case will involve not merely a desire on the part of the president to ignore Congress but a willingness to lie about Iran’s conduct.

This is a president who has already demonstrated on a host of issues but most notably on immigration that he is not constrained by the normal Constitutional order or even the rule of law. That means that it is difficult to have confidence that any waiver, no matter how carefully it is drafted, will be able to force the president to hold Iran accountable.

That, in a nutshell, is the problem with the Iran talks. It’s not just that given its record as well as its regional and nuclear ambitions, Iran is not to be trusted. It’s that President Obama can also not be trusted to pursue a policy that is aimed at stopping Iran from becoming a threshold nuclear power. Without such accountability, there is no reason for Congress or the American people to trust the outcome of the negotiations.

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Want to Reverse Obama’s Amnesty Orders? Elect a GOP President.

Yesterday, the House of Representatives acted to defend the Constitution. It passed a bill funding the Homeland Security Department that included provisions that will ensure that the government will enforce immigration laws and prevent it from carrying out President Obama’s executive orders granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. House conservatives can now say they have voted to protect the rule of law against a president determined to act on his own authority in contravention to his constitutional obligations. But if this bill has little chance of surviving a Democratic filibuster in the Senate or of obtaining a veto-proof majority in both Houses if it should make it to the president’s desk, the question remains what exactly can Republicans do to restrain the president’s lawless behavior? The answer for both House Speaker John Boehner and his more conservative critics is: not much.

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Yesterday, the House of Representatives acted to defend the Constitution. It passed a bill funding the Homeland Security Department that included provisions that will ensure that the government will enforce immigration laws and prevent it from carrying out President Obama’s executive orders granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. House conservatives can now say they have voted to protect the rule of law against a president determined to act on his own authority in contravention to his constitutional obligations. But if this bill has little chance of surviving a Democratic filibuster in the Senate or of obtaining a veto-proof majority in both Houses if it should make it to the president’s desk, the question remains what exactly can Republicans do to restrain the president’s lawless behavior? The answer for both House Speaker John Boehner and his more conservative critics is: not much.

That’s not the answer Tea Party activists and other members of the GOP base want to hear. The idea that the ability of Boehner and other Republican congressional leaders to restrain the president is limited, even now that the Senate is in their hands, seem inexplicable to many who believe that the only thing lacking in the Republican caucus is the will to take on Obama. But the more you map out the possible scenarios facing Republicans seeking a legislative fix to the president’s executive orders, not even a shutdown of DHS will halt the amnesty project. If that is true, and unfortunately it is, then at some point the GOP will have to concede at least temporary defeat and move on to other issues even if that will leave at least part of the base damning them as RINO weaklings.

The congressional math on the immigration tangle isn’t hard to figure out. Though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would probably like to pass the House bill, he may not have the votes to prevent a filibuster by Democrats seeking to defend the president’s prerogatives even if he could count on all 54 Republicans to vote with him, which he can’t. Even if he could get cloture and pass the bill, neither McConnell nor Boehner can muster the supermajorities needed to override such a veto. At that point, the only alternatives involve actions that will lead the GOP into a government shutdown scenario that will only hurt them and help Obama. Even worse, since the agencies that will administer the president’s amnesty plans run on fees collected from the illegals and other immigrants, even that wouldn’t stop the orders from being carried out.

This is frustrating for Republicans and not just because it will leave some conservatives wondering what the point was of electing GOP majorities if they can’t get their way on an issue that hinges on protecting the regular constitutional order by which the legislature passes laws that the executive branch must then enforce.

The strength of the Republican position is that it is defensible regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the president’s policy goals. For a president to simply order a government agency to stop enforcing legally binding laws sets a dangerous precedent. So, too, does the spectacle of a president unilaterally declaring his right to make as well as enforce laws simply because Congress didn’t do as he asked.

But even if you think the broken immigration system must be reformed and a solution found for the 12 million illegals already here and who are unlikely to be all deported, the prospect of Homeland Security simply stopping enforcement is dismaying. Though many of those threatened with deportation are sympathetic, such as the illegals profiled today by the New York Times, the idea that laws can be ignored with impunity, either by immigrants or the president, undermines the notion that we are a nation of laws not men.

This is a battle worth fighting. But it must be acknowledged that picking fights, even righteous ones, that you can’t win isn’t smart.

To those who ask what was the point of electing a Republican Senate if Obama is to get his way, the only answer is that if you are going to eventually reverse the president’s orders, it will have to include electing a president as well as GOP congressional majorities. Only a Republican president, elected in part by the outrage many Americans will feel about their laws being trashed, can roll back the damage Obama is doing to the fabric of our democracy.

The groundwork for that reversal of fortune will also have to involve a Republican Congress behaving sensibly and showing that the party can govern constructively while seeking wherever possible to push back against Obama’s imperial instincts. That will not satisfy those who declare that the republic won’t survive another two years of the Obama presidency. But policy based on apocalyptic predictions is neither a sober party platform nor a strategy for victory. Republicans have made their statement about immigration. Once their gambit fails, like it or not, they will have to move on and prepare the groundwork for the defeat of Hillary Clinton.

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An Obama-Gohmert Gridlock Alliance?

As a new Congress was sworn in today, the White House fired the first shot over the Republican leadership’s bow when spokesman Josh Earnest indicated that President Obama would veto a bill authorizing the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Considering that this is one of the first items the GOP-controlled House and Senate will consider in the coming days, the president’s warning that he will veto it no matter what it looks like when passed put a fork in any happy talk about cooperation or bipartisan problem solving. Though many Democrats are unhappy with Obama’s clear appetite for confrontation with Republicans even over a measure that is largely popular with the public, the president is not without some allies in his effort to prevent the House and the Senate from accomplishing anything in the next two years. The 25 Republican House dissidents who voted against John Boehner’s reelection as speaker of the House stand ready to assist the White House in an effort to continue the war to the death between the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

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As a new Congress was sworn in today, the White House fired the first shot over the Republican leadership’s bow when spokesman Josh Earnest indicated that President Obama would veto a bill authorizing the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Considering that this is one of the first items the GOP-controlled House and Senate will consider in the coming days, the president’s warning that he will veto it no matter what it looks like when passed put a fork in any happy talk about cooperation or bipartisan problem solving. Though many Democrats are unhappy with Obama’s clear appetite for confrontation with Republicans even over a measure that is largely popular with the public, the president is not without some allies in his effort to prevent the House and the Senate from accomplishing anything in the next two years. The 25 Republican House dissidents who voted against John Boehner’s reelection as speaker of the House stand ready to assist the White House in an effort to continue the war to the death between the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Of course, the 25 GOP dissenters led by Representatives Louie Gohmert of Texas and Dan Webster of Florida view themselves as the president’s most implacable foes. Their dissatisfaction with Boehner stems from what they view as his readiness to make deals with the Democrats when what they want from their leader is a scorched earth policy with respect to the White House. But despite their mutual hostility, Obama and the Gohmert Republicans have a common agenda. Just as the president has no intention of working with Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on anything substantive, these Tea Partiers are intent on preventing anything that smacks of compromise. Indeed, these members may turn out to be the president’s last line of defense against a congressional leadership that hopes to put the onus for gridlock on Obama.

After all the huffing and puffing from some on the right, the effort to unseat Boehner as speaker today was written off by many as a flop. Though 25 Republican members failed to vote for their party’s leader, Boehner’s victory was never in doubt. Aided by the absence of a number of members from New York who were attending Mario Cuomo’s funeral and others who were kept away by bad weather, the final result left Boehner with a clear majority of those present (216 out of 408 there) if not of the entire House. But while the 25 anti-Boehner dissidents were a motley crew with no leader or anything remotely resembling a credible alternative candidate, the speaker was given a reminder that a not-insignificant faction of the House Republican conference sees anything other than efforts to defund offending government departments as weakness.

It can be argued that Boehner is actually in a stronger position today than he was two years ago when he was last sworn in. The increased majority won by Republicans has created a new GOP caucus that has a larger faction of reliable supporters of the speaker and his effort to govern rather than merely obstruct. Though the 25 dissenters outnumber those who voted against Boehner in January 2013, Boehner may well have more support now than he did then among Republicans.

But the ability of Gohmert, Webster, and others who lust only for combat with the White House to tie Boehner up in knots should not be underestimated and the speaker election illustrated the determination of his foes. Though there was never a chance that anyone other than Boehner would win, had so many members not been absent, the Tea Party might have been able to force a second ballot. That means that in the coming months there may be moments when obstructionists on the right will force Boehner to rely on Democratic votes to get things passed that he needs.

That creates the possibility of a perfect storm in which the right and a left led by the president will seek to forestall any genuine effort to compromise and pass tax bills or any of the other bills for which a bipartisan majority might be found.

Make no mistake about the president’s willingness to cut deals with Boehner and McConnell. The Keystone veto threat is just the tip of the iceberg of confrontation. If the president won’t compromise on an issue that he used to represent as not a particularly big deal, then there is no chance that will do so on other more important topics. With nothing to lose and imbued with the belief that the way to carve out a legacy is by executive orders and memoranda rather than compromise legislation, Obama isn’t looking for ways to accommodate Republicans. Instead, he is hoping that the Gohmert Republicans will hamstring any efforts to get majority support for bills long before legislation finds its way to his desk for him to veto.

Having spent the last Congress successfully branding the GOP leadership as a bunch of obstructionists, the truth is, Obama is actually hoping that his Tea Party allies will prevent Boehner from fulfilling his vow to pass legislation that a Senate controlled by his party won’t be burying as it did in the past four years. The real obstructionist here is a president who is so eager for confrontation that he can’t even wait until Keystone is passed to threaten a veto. The test for Boehner will be in whether he can sufficiently marginalize the gang of 25 and their sympathizers before they team up with Obama to replicate the last two years of gridlock.

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Grading Congress: A Bipartisan Failure

“The least-productive Congress in modern history drew to an abrupt close late Tuesday,” the Washington Post reports, echoing the conventional wisdom about this Congress: it’s terrible because of how rarely it legislates its nosy way further into your life. Yet this is also a good opportunity to point out that while this narrative is wrong in how it measures the value of a Congress, it’s not completely wrong. That is, an un-legislating Congress is not as inactive as it seems, and this tends to fool not only the left but also limited-government conservatives as well.

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“The least-productive Congress in modern history drew to an abrupt close late Tuesday,” the Washington Post reports, echoing the conventional wisdom about this Congress: it’s terrible because of how rarely it legislates its nosy way further into your life. Yet this is also a good opportunity to point out that while this narrative is wrong in how it measures the value of a Congress, it’s not completely wrong. That is, an un-legislating Congress is not as inactive as it seems, and this tends to fool not only the left but also limited-government conservatives as well.

First, the obvious. Passing few laws is better than passing bad laws. Grading a Congress by how “productive” it was would be like grading a war by how many bombs were dropped. As the legislative branch, Congress should have goals. Those goals should not be numerical, and members of Congress should not be engaged in federal busywork. Yesterday, CBS’s White House correspondent Mark Knoller tweeted out some last-minute governing done by Congress and the president. For example, he tweeted: “By Act of Congress and Presidential Proclamation, tomorrow is Wright Brothers Day.”

According to the media’s scorecard, this Congress would have been better had it used every day of the year to make such proclamations. We wouldn’t even need a classical calendar anymore: “The president is scheduled to attend a fundraiser this coming Led Zeppelin Day, followed by a speech in Iowa on Dunkin Donuts Iced Dark Roast Blend Day.” Thanks Congress!

And though it wasn’t an act of Congress, a second proclamation was noted by Knoller: “Also by presidential proclamation, today marks the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.” If there is anything that so ably demonstrates the obsessive delusions of the governing class, it is that basic math now must be affirmed by presidential proclamation.

We don’t need, and shouldn’t want, legislating for its own sake. On a more serious note, bad legislation results in far worse than such proclamations. As I and others have noted, the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of police came about because he was engaged in commerce in a market created by the government’s nanny-state regulations run amok. (As James Taranto points out, while liberals initially scoffed at this plain truth it appears Mayor Bill de Blasio “implicitly” acknowledges it.)

Another example: studies show mandatory calorie counts in restaurants are ineffective in changing eating habits, but Reason magazine this week drew attention to “the deleterious effect of this mandate on the estimated twenty million women and ten million men who struggle with eating disorders during their lifetimes (Wade, Keski-Rahkonen, and Hudson, 2011). For those working toward recovery, this policy impedes a foundational part of their efforts.”

The government’s “just do something” instincts often take the form of experimenting on the citizenry. They usually turn out to be bad laws, poorly conceived and detrimental to the people. But they stay on the books. We don’t need a Congress that believes it has a responsibility to legislate as an end in itself.

However: a total lack of legislating can have deleterious effects on the effort to keep government limited and transparent as well. As the Economist noted last year in an article on the wordiness and complexity of modern laws:

As the number of new laws has fallen, their average length has increased (see chart). Because relatively few bills pass, a congressman with a proposal will often try to hitch it to an unrelated must-pass bill. When 500 lawmakers do this at once, the result is laws that make “War and Peace” look like a haiku. …

If longer bills were merely a byproduct of cleaner government, that would be a reason to celebrate. But they also reflect a more open form of corruption. Complex systems reward those who know how to navigate them. Over the past decade, Washington has added more households whose income puts them in the top 1% than any other city in America. Many of them made money from government contracting in the defence and security boom the (sic) followed September 11th 2001. But plenty made their money lobbying to slip clauses that benefit their clients into mega-bills that no one can be bothered to read. Long laws suit them rather well.

The Economist puts some of the blame on the anti-earmark crusade, which removed one tool for lawmakers to corral votes, especially from those on the other side of the aisle. But even aside from that issue and the one of lobbying, it remains a fact that–as conservatives rightly point out–there are very few “must-pass” bills.

This is one way to create a Cromnibus. Shoving a year’s worth of legislating into one bill isn’t limited government. It’s binge governing. Liberals are wrong to assume that the number of bills passed by a Congress tells you how valuable that Congress has been. But conservatives make a similar mistake. A year’s worth of legislating is a year’s worth of legislating, no matter how you slice it. And if you’re going to do such an amount of lawmaking, it’s far better to do so in pieces, when there is transparency and debate on what is actually being voted on.

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The Last Day of Congressional Democrats

The outcome of tomorrow’s Louisiana Senate runoff election is not in much doubt. With the most recent state poll showing Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy with a whopping 26-point lead over incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, it is a virtual certainty that the last vote of the 2014 midterms will ensure that the GOP will have a 54-46 Senate majority in January. Even before the votes are counted, the result is being rightly touted as the end of the Democratic Party in the South. But while the reasons for this are worth examining, it’s also important to point out that the implications of this trend have more than a regional impact. Just as the Democrats have developed a built-in advantage in the Electoral College in presidential elections, a new solid South in the hands of the Republicans means they have now acquired an equally potent edge that should allow them to retain control of Congress for the foreseeable future.

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The outcome of tomorrow’s Louisiana Senate runoff election is not in much doubt. With the most recent state poll showing Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy with a whopping 26-point lead over incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, it is a virtual certainty that the last vote of the 2014 midterms will ensure that the GOP will have a 54-46 Senate majority in January. Even before the votes are counted, the result is being rightly touted as the end of the Democratic Party in the South. But while the reasons for this are worth examining, it’s also important to point out that the implications of this trend have more than a regional impact. Just as the Democrats have developed a built-in advantage in the Electoral College in presidential elections, a new solid South in the hands of the Republicans means they have now acquired an equally potent edge that should allow them to retain control of Congress for the foreseeable future.

As Nate Cohn writes in the New York Times’s Upshot section, though most put the shift of the South into the GOP column down to race, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Democrats survived and even thrived at times in the Deep South decades after Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” enabled Republicans to flip the region into the GOP column in presidential elections. But the steady drift of the Democratic Party to the left on social, cultural, and economic issues has now alienated most voters in these states and left moderate Democrats like Landrieu increasingly isolated from both their constituencies and their national party.

As Cohn notes, blaming this solely on alleged white racism or on a backlash against President Obama ignores the fact that Democratic losses in the South can be traced to the way the party has embraced liberal issues that energize its northern and urban base but which alienates southerners:

Yet nonracial factors are most of the reason for Mr. Obama’s weakness. The long-term trends are clear. Mr. Kerry, for instance, fared worse than Michael Dukakis among most white Southerners, often losing vast swaths of traditionally Democratic countryside where once-reliably Democratic voters had either died or become disillusioned by the party’s stance on cultural issues. It seems hard to argue that the Democrats could have retained much support among rural, evangelical Southern voters as the party embraced liberalism on issues like same sex marriage and abortion.

The loss of so many House seats in the South for Democrats is often also blamed on gerrymandering. But there, as much if not more than anyplace in the country, it’s the Voting Rights Act that is at fault. By piling as many black voters as possible into absurdly shaped majority-minority districts, the legislatures have obeyed the law’s mandate and ensured the survival of a large number of black Democrats. But given the fact that southern whites now vote for Republicans in the same kind of uniform manner as blacks do for Democrats, the practice has also made it impossible to create swing districts in the South.

It is true that the two southern states where a majority of the population was born elsewhere—Virginia and Florida—remain competitive for the Democrats. But elsewhere, white Democrats are becoming a rarity.

This changes nothing in presidential elections since Republicans have been winning most of the South since Lyndon Johnson was president. But the collapse of support for moderate southern Democrats gives the GOP a built-in advantage in retaining both House and Senate majorities. Many have claimed the Republicans’ 2014 victory will be short-lived since the 2016 election map forces them to defend so many seats, including a number in states where Democrats should be expected to prevail especially in a presidential year. But the losses of seats in West Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Louisiana strips away the Democrats’ firewall that might have enabled them to mount a quick comeback in 2016 with what is expected to be a strong presidential candidate on the top of the ticket.

Pundits have spent most of the last two years focusing exclusively on the problems Republicans have experienced with minority voters in an electorate that gets less white every year. But, as I noted yesterday, the Democrats’ decision to expend all their political capital on ObamaCare when they controlled Congress from 2008 to 2010, rather than concentrating on economic issues, made a return to power for the GOP inevitable. They appear to be making the same mistake now by enacting policies—now via lawless executive orders issued by President Obama rather than legislation—on immigration that alienate more white middle and working class voters while not significantly improving their already dominant position with minorities.

All of this presents serious problems to a Democratic Party that is no longer competitive in southern states. By tying their fate so firmly to a strategy based on black and Hispanic voters, Democrats are telling a large portion of the nation to go jump in a lake. Though whites are no longer as numerous as they once were, they still are a large majority of the population. That means the GOP’s hold on white males in particular is so great as to now make their abandonment of the Democrats a far greater demographic disaster than the problems Republicans have with Hispanics.

In a sense today may be the last day of the Southern Democratic Party. But it may also be the last day when the national Democratic Party had any hope of returning to power in the Senate for some time to come.

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Netanyahu Chooses the Lesser of Two Evils

Some observers were a bit surprised by the relieved tone with which Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu greeted the news that the Iran nuclear talks were being extended for another seven months. While most skeptics of President Obama’s push for détente with Iran were rightly angry about the decision to send the talks into a second overtime period, Netanyahu played it cool saying that “no agreement was preferable than a bad agreement.” After months of heightened tension between Israel and the United States, in the willingness of the prime minister to opt for a low-key approach to this crucial issue Netanyahu is clearly opting to avoid another open breach with the U.S. But the question hanging over this is why the Israelis have chosen to downplay what everyone knows is a disagreement that is threatening to tear the U.S.-Israel alliance apart and what he hopes will happen in the next few months while Iran continues to run out the clock on the West.

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Some observers were a bit surprised by the relieved tone with which Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu greeted the news that the Iran nuclear talks were being extended for another seven months. While most skeptics of President Obama’s push for détente with Iran were rightly angry about the decision to send the talks into a second overtime period, Netanyahu played it cool saying that “no agreement was preferable than a bad agreement.” After months of heightened tension between Israel and the United States, in the willingness of the prime minister to opt for a low-key approach to this crucial issue Netanyahu is clearly opting to avoid another open breach with the U.S. But the question hanging over this is why the Israelis have chosen to downplay what everyone knows is a disagreement that is threatening to tear the U.S.-Israel alliance apart and what he hopes will happen in the next few months while Iran continues to run out the clock on the West.

Despite not criticizing the extension, Netanyahu made it clear that he is appalled by the direction in which the talks are heading. Had the Iranians accepted the West’s current offer, “the deal would’ve left Iran with the ability to enrich uranium for an atomic bomb while removing the sanctions.” He believes the only deal with Iran that makes sense is one that “will dismantle Iran’s capacity to make atom bombs,” a formula he takes to mean no uranium enrichment of any kind rather than the compromise put forward by Secretary of State John Kerry which would for all intents and purposes allow them to become a nuclear threshold state.

Seen from that perspective, the Israeli relief about the continuation of the talks seems misplaced. If Netanyahu doesn’t like the deal Kerry put on the table over the past weekend that Iran rejected, he should expect to be even less pleased with subsequent offers that the West will make in order to entice Iran to finally sign even a weak nuclear agreement that will give President Obama the sham foreign-policy success that he so badly needs.

Indeed, as Dennis Ross, the longtime State Department peace processor and subsequently a special advisor to the Obama administration on Iran and the Persian Gulf said today, Iran has showed no flexibility in the nuclear talks. The history of the last two years of discussions that led up to the interim deal signed last November (which relaxed sanctions and gave tacit recognition to Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium in exchange for measures that did little to halt the Islamist regime’s nuclear progress) and the subsequent standoff in the current talks has been marked by a steady Western retreat from its positions. Throughout this period, the U.S. has shown “flexibility” rather than standing up for its principle and as a result has thrown away the considerable economic and political leverage it had over Tehran.

There’s little question that any negotiations in the seven more months that have been added to the yearlong quest for a final agreement are likely to yield even more concessions. Indeed, why should the Iranians who have stood their ground throughout this process, demanding and getting a steady stream of Western retreats on issues such as enrichment, the number of centrifuges Iran is allowed to operate, and the future of its stockpile of nuclear fuel, and allowed other issues such as the need to divulge the extent of its nuclear military research, the future of its plutonium plant at Arak, its ballistic missile program, and support for international terrorism to be kept off the agenda of the negotiations?

So what possible good can come out of the delay?

One obvious possibility is that Iran is so now so confident in their ability to string Obama, Kerry, and company along that they will never sign any deal. In one sense that would be a disaster since it would mean the West had wasted two more years on futile negotiations while Iran got even closer to realizing its nuclear goal. However, another failure to get Iran to sign would force the president to come face to face with the fact that his policies had failed and drop his push for appeasement in the hope of creating a new détente with Iran.

Clearly, Obama would not abandon his hopes for a rapprochement with Iran without a struggle. But it remains possible that Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will never agree to any deal no matter how favorable it might be for his country. If so, that sets the stage for the imposition of the sort of tough sanctions—amounting to an economic embargo on Iran and the halting of all oil sales—that could bring the country to its knees.

But for that to happen, it will be necessary for Congress to ignore Obama and Kerry’s pleas and enact the next round of sanctions now in order to have them in place and ready when the negotiations fail. By piping down now, Netanyahu is rightly adding weight to the bipartisan majority in Congress in favor of increasing the economic restrictions on doing business with Iran. Moreover, by not publicly opposing the administration’s decision, the Israelis are making it clear to both Congress and the American public that their goal is not the use of force but rather an effort to recreate the strong position the West held over Iran before Kerry folded during the interim talks last year. Another pointless spat with Obama would be a needless distraction that would undermine support for sanctions.

A choice between a “terrible” agreement and a postponement that also seems to play into Tehran’s hands is not one anyone outside of Iran should relish. Yet a lot can happen in seven months. Though there is a very real possibility that the next round will yield more concessions and an even weaker deal, the chance exists that a combination of Iranian rejectionism and congressional action will create a turnabout that will force the U.S. to stop appeasing the Islamist regime and return to a policy based on strength and common sense. If so, Netanyahu’s decision to choose the lesser of two evils and keep his powder dry this week will turn out to be a smart move he won’t regret.

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Pass an Immigration Bill? What’s the Point?

Republicans are still fulminating about last week’s presidential power grab, and with good reason. President Obama’s executive orders granting legal status to 5 million illegal immigrants were contrary to proper constitutional order as well as the will of an American people that had just issued a rebuke to his policies and his party in the midterm elections. But the onus right now seems to be on the GOP to come up with a coherent response to the president on immigration, whether a strategy to push back on his orders or on the issue itself. In particular, the president has challenged Republicans to “pass a bill” if they don’t like what he’s done. But while that sounds logical, the president’s actions are nothing more than a partisan trap. By effectively neutering the rule of law via mass “selective prosecution,” what Obama has done is to vindicate the positions of the most extreme opponents of immigration reform.

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Republicans are still fulminating about last week’s presidential power grab, and with good reason. President Obama’s executive orders granting legal status to 5 million illegal immigrants were contrary to proper constitutional order as well as the will of an American people that had just issued a rebuke to his policies and his party in the midterm elections. But the onus right now seems to be on the GOP to come up with a coherent response to the president on immigration, whether a strategy to push back on his orders or on the issue itself. In particular, the president has challenged Republicans to “pass a bill” if they don’t like what he’s done. But while that sounds logical, the president’s actions are nothing more than a partisan trap. By effectively neutering the rule of law via mass “selective prosecution,” what Obama has done is to vindicate the positions of the most extreme opponents of immigration reform.

The genius of Obama’s amnesty for illegals via executive orders is not that he has somehow championed the underdog or ensured the Hispanic vote for the Democrats for generations to come, as many Democrats are saying. The orders, which can be reversed if the GOP wins back the White House in 2016, won’t permanently change anything for the illegals. And Hispanics weren’t flipping to the Republicans even if the House had passed the Senate immigration reform bill last year. What the orders have done though is dashed the House and Senate GOP leadership’s hopes for setting a governing agenda by making bipartisan cooperation a toxic phrase in the majority caucuses next year. While there may be deals to be made on trade, taxes, or the use of force in the Middle East, Obama has ensured that much of the Republican Party’s energies will be wasted on futile attempts to stop his unilateral immigration policies. Even more to the point, immigration reform is dead on arrival for the next two years.

It should be remembered that Republicans were divided on immigration in the Congress that is just reaching the end of its term. A significant faction in the Senate backed the comprehensive bipartisan reform bill passed by the upper body. There were significant numbers in the House GOP caucus that favored tackling border enforcement even if the majority wanted no part of the Senate bill.

Opponents of even going that far had two standard replies to those favoring such measures. The first argued that any deal promising a free pass to illegals already here would generate another surge of illegals coming in. The second said that it was impossible to trust President Obama to actually carry out border enforcement measures if his real agenda here rests with granting legal status to illegals.

In response, reform advocates made points about the current problem being de facto amnesty and pointed to the advantages of strengthening the border and then dealing with the issue of those already here.

Those opposing immigration reform are wrong in terms of the big picture since this is an issue that requires attention and legislation to deal with a problem that won’t go away by itself. But they were right about both the impact of amnesty and the president’s reliability on enforcement. Last summer’s surge of illegals at the Texas border put to rest the notion that there is no connection between talk of granting amnesty and the rate of illegal entries. That is true even if Obama’s measures wouldn’t actually apply to those coming over the border. And now that Obama has single-handedly eviscerated the notion that the rule of law applies to immigration matters, he has handed reform advocates an irrefutable argument that any legislation on the matter is impossible since the president has no credibility on enforcement matters.

Even more to the point, Obama has placed Republican leaders in the position where they must respond to his end run around the Constitution even though there is little likelihood that anything, whether a lawsuit or even selective funding cutoffs that will impact the government’s ability to carry out the amnesty plan (though this is the most promising idea), will stop him from doing whatever he likes until January 2017. That will allow the White House and its media cheering section to label the new Congress as a pack of obstructionists even if the president is the one who has needlessly provoked the argument by going back on his past promises to refrain from acting like an emperor rather than a president.

Thus, the president’s challenges to “pass a bill” aren’t merely unpersuasive. Rather than an effort to prompt needed legislation, they are taunts that are actually intended to foment more obstruction and partisan warfare.

Those who know the country needs a legislative remedy to a broken immigration system knew that the odds were against success even before the president’s moves. But by acting in this manner he has made it certain that no such efforts can possibly succeed in the next Congress and also silenced those who tried to answer the arguments of those opposed to reform. The appropriate response to “Pass a bill” is that the president should try enforcing the law first. Obama has not only damaged the cause of immigration reform, he has done something that seemed impossible a couple of years ago: made anti-immigration advocates look smart.

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Congress Must Rescue Administration Held Hostage by Iran

This morning’s announcement that the West has formally agreed to extend its nuclear talks with Iran for another seven months confirms something that we already knew about Obama administration attitudes on the issue: it is far more afraid of disrupting any chance for détente with the Islamist regime than in sticking to its principles or its promises about halting the threat posed by Tehran’s program. But while sending the talks into a second overtime period allows Iran to keep moving ahead with its nuclear program and lets Secretary of State John Kerry and his negotiators to relax a bit, this decision should wake up Congress. The failure of the administration to escape the trap that it has set for itself by letting the next stage of the talks drag on endlessly should re-energize the existing bipartisan coalition in favor of toughening sanctions on Iran to get back to work and pass a new bill.

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This morning’s announcement that the West has formally agreed to extend its nuclear talks with Iran for another seven months confirms something that we already knew about Obama administration attitudes on the issue: it is far more afraid of disrupting any chance for détente with the Islamist regime than in sticking to its principles or its promises about halting the threat posed by Tehran’s program. But while sending the talks into a second overtime period allows Iran to keep moving ahead with its nuclear program and lets Secretary of State John Kerry and his negotiators to relax a bit, this decision should wake up Congress. The failure of the administration to escape the trap that it has set for itself by letting the next stage of the talks drag on endlessly should re-energize the existing bipartisan coalition in favor of toughening sanctions on Iran to get back to work and pass a new bill.

It should be remembered that a year ago in the aftermath of the signing of a weak interim deal with Iran, the administration successfully fended off efforts to increase sanctions on the Islamist regime by claiming that doing so would disrupt the negotiations. President Obama and Kerry both promised that the next round of talks would have a limited time frame that would prevent Iran from continuing the same game that it has played with the West for the last decade.

Tehran has been trying to run out the clock on the nuclear issue since George W. Bush’s first term in the White House. It has easily exploited two administrations’ efforts at engagement and diplomacy during this time frame and has gotten far closer to its goal of a bomb as a result. Even more importantly, with each round of negotiations it has forced Obama and America’s allies to retreat on its demands. Last year its tough stance forced Kerry to give up and ultimately agree to tacit Western acceptance of Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium.

In the last year, it has also successfully gotten the U.S. to retreat on issues such as the number of centrifuges it is allowed to operate and the future of its stockpile of nuclear fuel, and kept other issues such as the need to divulge the extent of its nuclear military research, the future of its plutonium plant at Arak, its ballistic missile program, and support for international terrorism off the agenda. Proposed Western concessions have grown to the point of the absurd, such as the suggestion about disconnecting the pipes between the centrifuges. At the same time Iran has also stonewalled the International Atomic Energy Agency on demands for more inspections and transparency.

After last year’s interim deal was signed, the administration easily fended off congressional efforts to toughen sanctions by saying they weren’t needed to strengthen the hands of Western negotiators and openly talked of the danger of demonstrating ill will toward Tehran that would scuttle the talks. The president and his foreign-policy team also labeled skeptics about this deal and advocates of more sanctions as warmongers.

But a year later it’s clear that the skeptics were right and everything the administration promised about the next round of talks was either mistaken or an outright lie. Though Kerry claimed that the interim deal had achieved its goal of halting Iran’s progress, the truth is that nothing it accomplished can be easily reversed. In exchange for dubious progress, the U.S. sacrificed its considerable economic leverage in the form of loosening sanctions. Iran now believes with good reason that it can end the sanctions without giving up its nuclear ambition.

By turning the promised six months of talks to pressure Iran into a year plus seven months, the president and Kerry have broken their word to Congress and played right into the hands of the ayatollahs. It’s possible that seven more months of ineffectual pressure on Iran will yield another weak deal that will ensure it will soon become a threshold nuclear power while at the same time allowing Obama to announce a much-needed foreign-policy success and the fulfillment of his campaign pledges on the issue. But given the promises that were made about the previous two deadlines, what confidence can anyone have in America’s willingness to draw conclusions about the talks if Iran doesn’t yield?

Even if we are operating under the dubious assumption that any deal reached under these circumstances could be enforced or achieve its goal, the failure of the president to enforce the current deadline telegraphs to Iran that it needn’t worry about any other threats from the West. If the U.S. wouldn’t feel empowered to push Iran hard now with oil prices in decline and the current sanctions (which Obama opposed in the first place) having some impact on the regime’s economy, why would anyone in Tehran take seriously the idea that there will be consequences if they don’t make concessions or sign even another weak deal? Though Kerry talked about building trust with Iran, the only thing that can be trusted about this process is that the Islamists have played him and his boss for fools.

That is why Congress must step in now and immediately revive the bipartisan bill proposed by Democratic Senator Robert Menendez and Republican Senator Mark Kirk that would tighten the noose around Iran’s still-lucrative oil trade. Just as the current sanctions that Obama and Kerry brag about were forced upon them, the only way this administration will negotiate a viable deal with Iran is to tie its hands by passing a new sanctions bill.

It should also be pointed out that the alternative to Kerry’s appeasement of Iran is not the use of force. Tougher sanctions that will return the situation to the point where it was last year before Kerry caved on the interim deal provide the only chance to stop Iran by means short of war.

It may be that outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will block a sanctions bill in the lame duck session just as he did last year despite the support of an overwhelming majority of members from both parties. But if he does thwart action, the new Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican majorities in both houses should act quickly to pass a bill that will impose real penalties on Iran.

The commitment of Obama and Kerry to détente with Iran has made them, in effect, hostages of the Islamist regime in these talks. The only way they can be rescued from their own folly is action by Congress.

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Obama’s Dangerous Race for an Iran Deal

With only two weeks to go before the deadline for the end of the current round of nuclear talks with Iran, the Obama administration has been conducting what can only be considered a full-court press aimed at producing a deal before November 24. This is in marked contrast to the relaxed attitude toward the previous deadline for the talks that passed in June and was extended to the fall. It also seems to contradict the behavior of Washington’s European negotiating partners who seemed to be reconciling themselves to yet another extension in the familiar pattern of stalling that has always characterized Iran’s conduct of the negotiations. But though the latest talks in Oman ended without agreement, the flurry of diplomatic action raises the question of whether President Obama believes he needs to get a deal done now before Republicans take control of the Senate in January.

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With only two weeks to go before the deadline for the end of the current round of nuclear talks with Iran, the Obama administration has been conducting what can only be considered a full-court press aimed at producing a deal before November 24. This is in marked contrast to the relaxed attitude toward the previous deadline for the talks that passed in June and was extended to the fall. It also seems to contradict the behavior of Washington’s European negotiating partners who seemed to be reconciling themselves to yet another extension in the familiar pattern of stalling that has always characterized Iran’s conduct of the negotiations. But though the latest talks in Oman ended without agreement, the flurry of diplomatic action raises the question of whether President Obama believes he needs to get a deal done now before Republicans take control of the Senate in January.

The end of the talks in Oman without an accord is likely not a sign that the deadline won’t be met. The Iranians are past masters of the art of wearing down their Western interlocutors. A year ago, the Iranians’ tough tactics resulted in Secretary of State John Kerry’s decision to sign onto a deal that tacitly endorsed the Islamist regime’s “right” to enrich uranium and keep their nuclear infrastructure. Now they are similarly hammering Kerry in sessions where he continues to demand that Tehran accept what President Obama referred to yesterday as “verifiable lock-tight assurances that they can’t develop a nuclear weapon.” But since Iran has no intention of giving such assurances, they believe Kerry will, as he has before, decide that Western demands are just too difficult to achieve and accept far less in order to produce a deal.

But while the deadlines were originally sold to the U.S. public as evidence that the administration was serious about stopping Iran, the potential for a cutoff in the talks seems to be affecting Obama and Kerry far more than it is the Iranians. With sanctions already having been loosened and Europeans clamoring for an end to all restrictions on doing business with the regime, Tehran seems unmoved by the prospect of an end to the negotiations. By contrast, the administration seems genuinely fearful that November 24 will pass without diplomatic success.

Selling the U.S. public and Congress on yet another extension would be embarrassing but, given Obama’s success in squelching past criticisms of his Iran policy, would not be that much of a stretch. So long as he could pretend that the Iranians were negotiating in good faith, skeptics could be put down as warmongers who oppose diplomacy. But instead of slouching toward another round of seemingly endless negotiations, the Obama foreign-policy team is acting as if the deadline matters this time.

It is theoretically possible that this means the president intends to treat an Iranian refusal to sign as the signal for ratcheting up pressure on Tehran. Tightening rather than loosening of sanctions might recover some of the ground the president has lost in the last year. But few in Washington or anywhere else think this is likely. Years of on-and-off secret talks with the Iranians, including the recent revelations of the president’s correspondence with Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, show that Obama’s goal centers more on détente with the regime, not halting its nuclear project.

That leads to the inevitable conclusion that the motivation for the diplomatic frenzy is not so much fear of having to get tough with Iran as it is fear that a Republican-controlled Congress will prevent the implementation of another weak deal. There’s little doubt that without outgoing Majority Leader Harry Reid to help the president stall advocates of tougher sanctions, Congress will pass a new bill that will hold the administration and Tehran accountable. A deal that allows Iran to become a threshold nuclear power—something that seems almost certain given the administration’s habit of accepting Tehran’s no’s as final and then moving on to the next concession—will set off a major battle in the Senate even if Obama does try to evade the constitutional requirement of submitting it to the Senate for a vote.

But the president’s fear of having to present such a dubious deal to the public seems to be inspiring him to present a weaker, not a tougher position to Iran. The Iranians know this and are standing their ground in the expectation that rather than walking away from the table, Obama will accept another bad deal in order to get it all done before McConnell is running the Senate.

But rather than treating this as a partisan matter, both Republicans and Democrats in the Congress should be alarmed at the prospect of the president holding a fire sale of vital American interests merely to avoid having to carry on his appeasement of Iran while being held accountable by a GOP-run Senate. No matter what terms the president presents to the public, there seems little chance that any of them can be enforced in the absence of more United Nations inspections of Iranian facilities, which are still being denied by the ayatollahs or an end to ongoing cheating on the interim agreement. Nor should either party be comforted by the idea that the president will be relying on the trustworthiness of his pen pal Khamenei at the same time the latter is tweeting out a steady barrage of anti-Semitic and genocidal threats toward Israel.

If there is anything more dangerous than a deliberate campaign of engagement with Iran, it is the current race to a deal that can’t be verified and won’t put an end to the regime’s nuclear ambitions. This should be a signal for responsible members of both parties that it is time to pass the tougher sanctions that Obama successfully defeated last winter.

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What’s Wrong with the American Economy?

Growth in the American economy since the year 2000 has averaged 1.7 percent per annum. That’s about half of what it averaged in the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton years. Unemployment, especially in the broader measures, remains stubbornly high five years after the recession of 2007-2009 ended. What’s going on?

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Growth in the American economy since the year 2000 has averaged 1.7 percent per annum. That’s about half of what it averaged in the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton years. Unemployment, especially in the broader measures, remains stubbornly high five years after the recession of 2007-2009 ended. What’s going on?

According to Peter Morici, an economics professor at the University of Maryland (and the bow-tied star of TV commercials for Kyocera office equipment) the problems lie in five key areas. 1) Poorly enforced trade agreements that allow China to manipulate its currency and export more goods to the United States, costing U.S. jobs. 2) Counterproductive energy policies that reduce domestic production, and therefore jobs, and cause more oil to be imported. 3) Burdensome regulations and taxation, such as restrictive licensing requirements and the highest corporate tax in the developed world. 4) Crony capitalism that reduces competition in the private sector in exchange for political contributions. 5) Disincentives to work, such as ever-expanding entitlements.

The good news is that, unlike the economic problems faced by many countries, all of these problems are amenable to reform. The bad news is that reforming the status quo, which always has determined defenders, requires strong presidential leadership and a Congress capable of acting in the national interest, not just in its members’ interests.

Right now, of course, we have neither. Even Democrats are beginning to notice that the Obama presidency is notably lacking in leadership. And Congress is more dysfunctional than it has been in a very long time. The latter problem can be at least partially ameliorated in a month. The former will have to wait until 2017.

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The Constitution and the War on ISIS

When President Obama announced last night that the United States was now committed to the destruction of the ISIS terrorist group operating in Iraq and Syria, there was one conspicuous omission from the speech. He will not ask Congress for a vote authorizing the campaign. That suits most members of the House and Senate—who are not eager to cast a vote for or against war on the eve of the midterm elections—just fine. But it begs the question of whether his decision is constitutional or wise.

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When President Obama announced last night that the United States was now committed to the destruction of the ISIS terrorist group operating in Iraq and Syria, there was one conspicuous omission from the speech. He will not ask Congress for a vote authorizing the campaign. That suits most members of the House and Senate—who are not eager to cast a vote for or against war on the eve of the midterm elections—just fine. But it begs the question of whether his decision is constitutional or wise.

In his speech, the president brushed over the question of a congressional vote when he said:

I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL, but I believe we are strongest as a nation when the president and Congress work together. So I welcome congressional support for this effort in order to show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger.

While he’s right about the majority of Congress supporting action at this moment, many in the House and Senate believe they must be formally consulted. While agreeing with the president’s dubious assertion that the terrorists were not Islamic, Senator Rand Paul believes Congress needs to authorize any military action against the group. The libertarian called for “an up or down vote” on the use of force and said authorizing strikes without one was “unconstitutional.”

Is he right? The president’s position on this is precarious but it is not completely illogical.

Last year when the president flirted with taking action in Syria against the Bashar Assad regime after it crossed the “red line” he had enunciated on its use of chemical weapons, he deferred to Congress saying he could not take action on his own. Now he claims he has the authority to order the use of force that he didn’t have last year. The difference is that the administration believes a conflict with ISIS falls under the rubric of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force voted by Congress in the wake of the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda whereas a fight with Assad would not.

That makes some sense but ironies abound.

The first is that, as the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake writes today, fighting ISIS on the basis of a resolution against al-Qaeda makes no sense. The two groups are not the same thing and are actually in conflict with each other so how can a congressional resolution against one allow the president to fight the other?

Even more embarrassing for Obama is the recollection that, as Lake recalls, Obama specifically eschewed the right of the president to act in this manner in the absence of “an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” Though the president can assert, with some justice, that ISIS potentially does pose such a threat, given that he repeated his boasts about defeating al-Qaeda and killing Osama bin Laden in his speech, using the resolution from a war he has pretended to have won to fight a new one against a different group is absurd if not illegal, as Lake asserts.

The fact that in May 2013 the president also asked Congress to repeal this very same resolution and vowed never to sign laws to extend that mandate only adds another layer of hypocrisy to the discussion.

Yet even if we were to assume that the president is right that the 2001 law applies to the new conflict, his decision not to ask Congress for a vote is a mistake.

The reasons for his choice are obvious.

First of all, the president was burned last year when it was clear that he didn’t have support for a Syria resolution even though his initial inclination to strike Assad was correct. The president has always been uncomfortable working with Congress and after nearly six years in office has more or less given up on the idea. Even though the odds would be in his favor after the universal revulsion felt by Americans about ISIS atrocities, Obama simply hasn’t the patience or the ability to cajole the House and the Senate to back him.

Moreover, though many members of Congress are unsettled by this usurpation of authority, they are more than happy not to be asked to cast a difficult vote sending the nation to war in the weeks before the midterm elections. Outside of critical voices like Paul, few in either the House or the Senate are upset about being given a pass by the White House.

But both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are wrong.

The president would be immeasurably strengthened by a new vote, especially when you consider that he would be almost certain to win it. Having called the nation to take part in war, albeit on the cheap without ground troops, choosing to avoid a vote while weakly welcoming the legislative branch’s support smacks of the same cavalier attitude toward the Constitution that animates his stands on immigration and the environment. Avoiding the controversies that have embroiled the administration on those issues would lift this conflict out of the partisan squabbles that characterize virtually everything that happens in Washington these days.

Even more important is that such a vote would make it clear that the nation was united and ready to pay the price, be in treasure or blood, to defeat ISIS. Arming himself with that support would be what a true wartime president—one that was able not only to articulate the reasons for fighting but also prepared to stick out a long hard fight—would do.

But this risk-averse president who has been dragged kicking and screaming into this fight by an American people who are outraged and fearful about ISIS rather than his own judgment isn’t willing to do it. A call for a vote would be a sign of respect for the separation of powers in the Constitution as well as a unifying gesture as the U.S. embarks on a new chapter of a war on terror that began 13 years ago today on 9/11. But Obama appears as indifferent to the former as he is uninterested in the latter. While it is to be hoped that his half-hearted approach to this conflict will be successful, this is not a good start to a war that may prove more difficult than he thinks.

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Congressional Residency Scandals Are Bunk

It’s hard to muster much sympathy for U.S. Senators. But let’s pause for a moment and commiserate with Mary Landrieu and Pat Roberts, two senators who apparently don’t own homes in the states they represent. While the symbolism of their decisions resonates in an era in which the public rightly resent Washington and the political class that call it home, the residency gap actually tells us more about changing public expectations of members of Congress than it does about their connection to home.

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It’s hard to muster much sympathy for U.S. Senators. But let’s pause for a moment and commiserate with Mary Landrieu and Pat Roberts, two senators who apparently don’t own homes in the states they represent. While the symbolism of their decisions resonates in an era in which the public rightly resent Washington and the political class that call it home, the residency gap actually tells us more about changing public expectations of members of Congress than it does about their connection to home.

Roberts, who has represented Kansas in the Senate since 1996, had a near political death experience in a primary against a Tea Party challenger largely because of revelations that his official Kansas residence is the home of a supporter to whom he only pays rent when he is there campaigning. His Freudian slip in which he said he only lived in the state when he had an election challenge understandably didn’t sit well with fellow Kansans. Indeed, the 78-year-old is so unpopular these days that he might actually be in danger of losing a safe Republican seat in a 3-way general election race in which an independent rather than the Democratic nominee is the bigger threat.

Facing a similar barrage of criticism is Democrat Mary Landrieu who is also one of the most endangered of a group of red state incumbent senators up for re-election. It turns out Landrieu doesn’t own a residence in Louisiana but instead sleeps in her old room in her father’s home in New Orleans when in the state. The fact that she and her husband list their Capitol Hill home as their residence in official documents doesn’t help her persuade voters that there is nothing fishy about bunking with dad.

Like Roberts’s opponents, GOP challenger Bill Cassidy is making a meal out of these revelations and arguing that this proves that the senator is not only part and parcel of the DC liberal establishment but also out of touch with Louisianans.

For Landrieu, who is already dealing with a scandal about her use of government funds to pay for campaign expenses and the overall burden of being a member of Barack Obama’s party in a very red and conservative state, this might really be the tipping point in a race that already seemed to be going against her. In a year in which the GOP may be on the verge of taking back control of the Senate, Landrieu’s failure to have her own place to crash in while in Louisiana may prove to be a very expensive mistake.

But while not having your own home in the state you represent is a perfect metaphor for the idea that politicians go native once they roost in the Capitol, let’s also understand that this is more than a bit unfair.

For most of our history, members of the House and Senate were not expected, as they are today, to race back and forth between their districts and states and Washington every week to show constituents they care. Instead, they simply moved themselves to Washington for the duration of each lengthy session. Their children (such as former Vice President Al Gore, the son of a Tennessee senator) were educated in Washington and only saw “home” in the summers. But in the age of jet travel and increased media attention, members of Congress are now generally expected to spend weekends at home and tend only to stay in the Capitol during the week.

That requires them to have two places to live. Though they make far more than the average American, it’s not enough for those who are not wealthy to maintain themselves in two homes. That leaves them with the choice of whether their main residence is going to be in their states or in Washington. Many opt for the former and bunk in Spartan style in shared apartments or even their offices during the week. Others, whether because of a desire to keep their families together or because of their spouse’s career, have their main home in the DC area and have a less substantial arrangement in their constituency. This is an especially tough decision for those who don’t hail from states that are in easy commuting distance from the capital.

There’s nothing immoral about either choice. As long as we expect these people to live in two places and pay them only enough to live decently in one, we can’t expect anything else. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not in favor of a pay increase for Congress (or at least not until they pass a balanced budget and stop spending our money like drunken sailors). But the question of residency is about symbolism not substance.

In the case of Roberts, it does look like he hasn’t actually lived in Kansas much but given that these days Congress is pretty much in continuous session (as opposed to previous eras when recesses were far longer), can his lack of a home there really be held against him in the absence of proof that he doesn’t perform adequate constituent service or speak up for the interests of his state? The same applies for Landrieu who at least can say she actually grew up in the place she stays in when in Louisiana.

We do have a right to expect our representatives and senators to retain a primary allegiance to their districts and states and resentment of those politicians who have largely abandoned their constituents and aligned themselves with lobbyists and party establishments deserve the criticism they get. Politicians should be smart enough to maintain a credible proof of residency in the places where they vote, a test that Roberts may have failed. But such scandals are strictly gotcha politics. There may be good reasons for citizens of Kansas and Louisiana to oust their senators but this isn’t one of them.

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Why AIPAC Matters and Its Critics Don’t

Critiques of AIPAC that predict the end of the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus in Congress and the nation are old hat. After the Walt-Mearsheimer Israel Lobby smear campaign and the subsequent media offensive seeking to prop up the left-wing J Street alternative, one would have thought the well had run dry in this genre. But the editors at The New Yorker thought otherwise and commissioned Connie Bruck to rehash some of the same tired material about an out-of-touch Jewish establishment in service to an extremist Israeli government in a lengthy new article. But the bad timing of the publication of the piece illustrates exactly why Bruck’s thesis about AIPAC’s loss of influence is wrong.

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Critiques of AIPAC that predict the end of the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus in Congress and the nation are old hat. After the Walt-Mearsheimer Israel Lobby smear campaign and the subsequent media offensive seeking to prop up the left-wing J Street alternative, one would have thought the well had run dry in this genre. But the editors at The New Yorker thought otherwise and commissioned Connie Bruck to rehash some of the same tired material about an out-of-touch Jewish establishment in service to an extremist Israeli government in a lengthy new article. But the bad timing of the publication of the piece illustrates exactly why Bruck’s thesis about AIPAC’s loss of influence is wrong.

The pro-Israel lobby has had its ups and downs and as Bruck’s article, which devotes a great deal of space to the history of the organization, demonstrates. The problems generally occur when Israel’s friends run into confrontations with sitting presidents and those stories always end the same way. Whether it was Ronald Reagan and his decision to sell AWACS radar planes to Saudi Arabia or Barack Obama’s attempts to head off plans for tough sanctions on Iran, no matter how much support AIPAC can amass on Capitol Hill, no lobbying group can beat the occupant of the mansion at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue if they go all in on a specific issue.

But even an attempt to write a critical history of AIPAC must acknowledge that it has helped forge a U.S.-Israel alliance whose enduring strength transcends party loyalties as well as the changing names of presidents and cabinet secretaries. As Bruck is forced to acknowledge in the lede of her piece, this summer’s congressional action to give Israel more funding for its Iron Dome missile defense system in the midst of the ongoing war in Gaza was a triumph for the lobby. It as also a timely rebuke from the leadership of both congressional caucuses to an Obama administration that had gone out of its way to try and delay the delivery of ammunition supplies to the Israel Defense Forces as part of its strategy to pressure the Jewish state into halting its counterattack on Hamas in Gaza and agreeing to unsatisfactory cease-fire terms. That two bitter foes like Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell who normally couldn’t agree to back a resolution saying the sky was blue would unite on behalf of Israel in this manner, with the Senate agreeing to delay its summer recess in order to get the measure passed, shows that AIPAC’s clout is undiminished. The fact that this is so despite the fact that, for all of its reputation as the most powerful lobby in Washington, AIPAC hasn’t nearly the money or the influence of other lobbies such as that of the oil or pharmaceutical industries only makes their achievement even more amazing.

But Bruck’s main point in a piece where she tries hard to work in quotes from the organization’s critics is not so much as to try and make a weak case about it losing ground on Capitol Hill. Rather it is to claim that AIPAC is out of touch with liberal American Jews who are increasingly distancing themselves from the Jewish state and who view Israel’s center-right government with distaste.

This is the same argument put forward over and over again by people like author Peter Beinart, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, and was rehashed in the same newspaper on Sunday in another lengthy rant by British analyst Antony Lerman. They believe Israel’s refusal to make peace and insistence on occupation and rough treatment of the Palestinians disgusts most liberal Jews in the Diaspora, especially the youth that has grown up in an era in which the Jewish state is seen as a regional superpower rather than as the one small, besieged nation in the midst of Arab enemies determined to destroy it.

But the problem with this argument is that no matter how many times liberal critics of Israel tell us how disillusioned they are with the reality of a Jewish state at war, they invariably neglect, as did Lerman and Bruck, to discuss why it is that the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews see things differently. The point is, no matter how unsatisfactory the status quo may seem to most Israelis, unlike their Diaspora critics, they have been paying attention to events in the Middle East during the last 20 years since the Oslo Accords ushered in an era of peace negotiations. They know that Israel has repeatedly offered the Palestinian Authority peace deals that would have given them an independent Palestinian state in virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem and that it has been turned down flat every time.

Rather than Israel needing to finally take risks for peace, as liberal critics keep insisting, the Jewish state has done so repeatedly. It brought Yasir Arafat and the PLO back into the territories and empowered them and rather than trading land for peace, it got the terrorism and horror of the second intifada. It withdrew every last soldier, settler, and settlement from Gaza in 2005 and instead of creating space for a productive and peaceful Palestinian state, it got a Hamas-run Islamist state that has rained down thousands of rockets on Israeli cities and used international aid funds and materials to build tunnels to facilitate terrorism.

This cruel reality has destroyed the once dominant left-wing Israeli political parties, but American liberals haven’t paid much attention to it or anything the Palestinians do or say. This is especially instructive this summer as Hamas launched a terror war that illustrated even for those not paying close attention that when it says it wants to end the “occupation,” it is not discussing the future of the West Bank but reasserting its goal to eradicate Israel and slaughter and/or evict its Jewish population.

It is true that American Jewry is changing in ways that may eventually cripple its ability to be a coherent force on behalf of Israel as well as its other vital interests. But, contrary to the liberal critics, that has little to do with the policies of Israeli governments and everything to do with statistics about assimilation and intermarriage that speak to a demographic collapse of non-Orthodox Jewry.

That’s a serious problem as is the ongoing tension with an Obama administration whose barely concealed hostility to the Netanyahu government is making mischief on several fronts, including negotiations for a nuclear deal with Iran that seems headed toward appeasement of the ayatollahs rather than a fulfillment of the president’s campaign pledges to prevent Tehran from acquiring a weapon.

But it doesn’t point toward the irrelevance of AIPAC, let alone the ascendance of J Street, its left-wing rival that has gained virtually no ground on Capitol Hill or anywhere else during an administration that should have been their ally.

AIPAC counts because it is connected to the reality of a Middle East where Israel remains the sole democracy and a vital American ally while the Palestinians continue to embrace terror and reject peace. So long as that is the case, Congress and the overwhelming majority of the American people will remain firmly on Israel’s side and, by extension, AIPAC. Though we should expect that its critics will continue to carp away on the sidelines and predict its doom, so long as they ignore what the Palestinians do or say, they will remain irrelevant or sink into the same kind of conspiratorial anti-Semitism that sank Walt and Mearsheimer.

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