Commentary Magazine


Topic: Congress

It’s Time for Congressional Hardball with the State Department

Perhaps no administration in American history has so consciously and willfully politicized intelligence as the Obama administration. Forget the “Bush lied” nonsense: the Bush administration got some of the Iraq intelligence wrong, but the White House was simply amplifying what not only the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency had told it, but also the British, French, German, and Russian governments and the United Nations.

Read More

Perhaps no administration in American history has so consciously and willfully politicized intelligence as the Obama administration. Forget the “Bush lied” nonsense: the Bush administration got some of the Iraq intelligence wrong, but the White House was simply amplifying what not only the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency had told it, but also the British, French, German, and Russian governments and the United Nations.

But the Obama administration has willfully suppressed and denied incontrovertible intelligence for the sake of increasingly tenuous diplomatic goals. Take Russia: President Obama and the Clinton State Department wanted to win agreement on a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (“New START”). Afraid that recognition of Russian cheating on other commitments might undercut the senate’s appetite to trust the Kremlin again, the White House and State Department buried reports about Russian violations of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Ultimately, Obama got his treaty. By the time senators found out the truth, they were furious. The treaty empowered Russian President Vladimir Putin, but perhaps in President Barack Obama’s twisted worldview, that was the point. And Obama got away with it. The Congress did not extract a price for those in the State Department who suppressed the truth.

Obama sought to suppress the truth with regard to Syrian chemical weapons use. Red lines proved ephemeral. The deals held up as a triumph of diplomacy turned were unfulfilled, though Obama would never accept such a formal finding, even suggesting chlorine was not a chemical weapon. Once again, congressmen did nothing beyond making an occasional angry speech.

The Obama administration has taken its willingness to bury intelligence to privilege diplomacy to a new level with regard to Iran. Whatever the original purpose of the Iran talks has gone out the window as Secretary of State John Kerry not only concedes every single American redline, but also crafts an agreement which simply normalizes Iran’s nuclear quest rather than restrain or prevent a nuclear breakout. The latest revelations about the State Department’s disdain for Congress and the law are that Secretary of State John Kerry and his teamfailed to report Iranian sanctions violations as required by the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA). Al-Monitor explained that under INKSNA:

State is supposed to inform Congress every six months of attempts to help the three countries obtain weapons of mass destruction and certain missile technology. The law requires the agency to sanction violators or justify its decision not to. But the department has fallen way behind in recent years, according to a government watchdog report obtained by Al-Monitor. Delays have kept on getting longer, with Congress receiving an update on violations committed in 2011 only in December 2014…. The GAO report is but the latest example of questionable sanctions enforcement that has raised congressional ire in recent months.

Earlier this year, according to Israel, the United States allowed Iran to purchase used airplanes for an airline that the United States has blacklisted for its ties to Hezbollah and the Iranian National Guard. And just this month, a panel of experts for the UN’s Iran sanctions committee said that member states have not been reporting international sanctions violations by Iran. That’s despite widespread evidence of continued arms shipments to Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen in addition to Hezbollah and Hamas.

In short, it appears that Kerry and his staff are slow-balling if not defaulting on their reporting requirements so as not to allow Congress or the public which elects it to demand that U.S. policy be calibrated to the reality of Iranian policy.

Enter Senator Ted Cruz, whom The Free Beacon reports will seek to fine the State Department five percent of its budget for every 30 days it postpones release of the report. While that might seem drastic, it’s long past time Congress held the State Department to account for being out-of-control. Diplomats might believe they craft foreign policy, but the reality is they simply carry it out. Chief foreign policy initiatives come from either the White House or Congress. When the White House acts irresponsibly, as with Jimmy Carter’s proposal to withdraw U.S. forces from the Korean peninsula or the current capitulation to Iran, Congress can step in to constrain the Executive. More often, Congress must intercede to prevent the State Department from downplaying or ignoring evidence that adversaries aren’t going to abide by agreements or play by the rules. Had it not been for senators like the late Jesse Helms, for example, and his spearheading of the PLO Commitments Compliance Act (PLOCCA), the State Department would have continued working with the PLO regardless of its involvement in terrorism. (In my recent book, I contrasted public statements by Clinton-era peace processors like Dennis Ross with now declassified intelligence that they had at their disposal, and it appears even with Congressional reporting requirements, some officials purposely mislead if not lied outright to Congress). Now, Helms and his colleagues never took as drastic a measure as Cruz proposes, but they were willing to delay confirmation hearings and hold individual ambassadors and Foreign Service officers accountable for individual decisions that showed poor conception of the greater U.S. interest, clientitis, or simply poor judgment.

It’s not easy for individual senators or representatives to hold the State Department to account. Foggy Bottom plays dirty. It will fight Congress directly and indirectly. It has long cultivated specific journalists whom it uses to criticize individual senators and representatives. It will suggest that delayed confirmation or withheld money undercuts critical missions and security. For much of the past two decades, Congress simply hasn’t has the resolve to fight what might be a necessary political war of attrition. Senators might give good speeches, but when in the cross hairs of hostile press for a sustained period, they fold.

The inmates should never run the asylum, however. Unless Congress wishes to forfeit its oversight completely, it’s time to fight back. Precedent dictates that it should a bipartisan interest, regardless of which report the State Department withholds. Foggy Bottom might scream bloody murder and will insist that any delays or cuts hurt American foreign policy. Certainly, host nations like having ambassador, but they can function with a chargé. And if the State Department plays dirty, their bluff can be called. Congress must craft any cuts to avoid undercutting security or enabling Kerry and his staff to blame security incidents on Congress, but there is a lot of fat among the margins, even as the State Department complains that it is underfunded.

Obama and Secretary Kerry’s willingness to effectively bypass Congress and ram through a bad Iran deal shouldn’t simply about Iran. It’s just the latest manifestation of a corrupted culture that has forgotten whom it represents and for what purpose it serves.

Read Less

Later-Term Abortion and Science Denial

On Wednesday, the White House responded to the House of Representatives passage of a bill that banned abortions after 20 weeks as another example of conservatives waging a war on women. According to White House spokesman Josh Earnest, the bill was “disgraceful” and “continues to add harsh burdens to the victims of sexual assault, rape and incest.” Democrats vowed that it would never get to the floor of the Senate. If this seems familiar, it’s because we’ve heard this from the pro-choice movement and other liberals every time this issue has been raised in the past. But what was missing from the discussion and the harsh attacks on supporters of the measure as troglodyte oppressors of women was any mention of the feature that appeared on the front page of the New York Times last Thursday highlighting a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine about the viability of premature babies delivered after the 20 week period. The study showed that given care, they had a chance to survive outside the womb. But instead of taking into account medical advances that have transformed late term procedures from just a run-of-the-mill abortion into something that may be indistinguishable from infanticide, all we’re getting from liberals is the same tired rhetoric about “choice.”

Read More

On Wednesday, the White House responded to the House of Representatives passage of a bill that banned abortions after 20 weeks as another example of conservatives waging a war on women. According to White House spokesman Josh Earnest, the bill was “disgraceful” and “continues to add harsh burdens to the victims of sexual assault, rape and incest.” Democrats vowed that it would never get to the floor of the Senate. If this seems familiar, it’s because we’ve heard this from the pro-choice movement and other liberals every time this issue has been raised in the past. But what was missing from the discussion and the harsh attacks on supporters of the measure as troglodyte oppressors of women was any mention of the feature that appeared on the front page of the New York Times last Thursday highlighting a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine about the viability of premature babies delivered after the 20 week period. The study showed that given care, they had a chance to survive outside the womb. But instead of taking into account medical advances that have transformed late term procedures from just a run-of-the-mill abortion into something that may be indistinguishable from infanticide, all we’re getting from liberals is the same tired rhetoric about “choice.”

Critics are right about the House bill never becoming law. A Democratic Party that views abortion on demand as a litmus test will never permit its Senate caucus to allow it to obtain the 60 votes it needs to be considered for a vote. Indeed, some in the House are hoping that it will help generate a legal case that could give the Supreme Court a chance to rule on the issue.

But whether it succeeds or not, what is most remarkable about the debate about late term abortion is the way the left continues to treat a procedure that is morally indefensible as sacrosanct. As I wrote last week, the New England Journal study has created a tipping point in terms of the nature of this debate. Sonograms and the advances in prenatal care made over the last 40 years have transformed our understanding of abortion since the Supreme Court legalized it in 1973 with the Roe v. Wade case. Whatever one might think about abortions early in a pregnancy — and there appears to be a clear consensus in the nation behind their legality — late term procedures are a very different thing. If, as the New England Journal study proves, infants have a fighting or good chance of survival during the period covered by the House ban, it is no longer possible to defend these procedures as merely a matter of choice.

Moreover, since the House bill has exceptions dealing with rape, incest and the rare cases where the life of the mother is at stake, the ground on which opponents of the ban must stand is getting narrow and uncomfortable.

Yet nothing we have learned about the procedure appears to be enough to influence the left to change its point of view. They are convinced that any restrictions on abortion, no matter how reasonable or how popular with a public, must be resisted at all costs. This has led them into a position that I have called a new form of denial of science. But unlike their lockstep conformity on global warming theories, the facts about infants being able to live on their own after 20 weeks doesn’t seem to interest them. Unsurprisingly, the New York Times article on the House vote didn’t even reference their own front page article from last week even though that piece acknowledged that the study might well impact the debate about abortion.

Instead of mulling whether the late term abortion ban (passed on the second anniversary of the sentencing of late term abortion butcher Kermit Gosnell for slaughtering infants born alive after such procedures) is politically wise for Republicans or a godsend to Democrats eager to replay their 2012 “war on women” attacks on their foes, we should be discussing the real life implications of medical innovations on public policy. The real issue isn’t the legality of abortion as a whole — which isn’t in question — but the lives of infants who could survive but are now still able to be legally sentenced to a grisly death because of the fears of a political faction that is still in denial about a scientific consensus and medical facts.

Read Less

Zarif: Why Can’t the U.S. be a Dictatorship like Iran?

Speaking in South Africa, where he is cultivating business now that sanctions are collapsing, Iranian Foreign Minster Mohammad Javad Zarif demanded that the Obama administration bypass any Congressional review of the Iran deal. According to the Islamic Republic News Agency, Zarif said:

Read More

Speaking in South Africa, where he is cultivating business now that sanctions are collapsing, Iranian Foreign Minster Mohammad Javad Zarif demanded that the Obama administration bypass any Congressional review of the Iran deal. According to the Islamic Republic News Agency, Zarif said:

“We consider the US government responsible for implementing the [final nuclear] agreement. In our opinion, the Congress bill does not take the load of the commitments off the US government’s shoulder, and in fact makes it heavier. The US government should show that it will act upon the possible agreement between Iran and the P5+1… In our opinion, the bill by the US Congress does not have any effects, and if it does, then the US government has to nullify it.”

How inconvenient and incomprehensible it must be for Mr. Zarif, who has such a history of lying that his lies have even merited widespread use of a twitter hashtag (#ZarifLies), to realize that American leaders are accountable to the people’s elected representatives. And how arrogant and disrespectful it is of Mr. Zarif to demand that President Obama simply ignore the law, should Congress eventually pass a more stringent and biting review process than Senator Corker’s slight-of-hand solution. How sad it is, meanwhile, that Congress largely stands aside as a representative of an undemocratic and unrepentant terrorist-sponsoring regime lectures Congress on how it does its job. Then again, that’s not nearly as sad as an arrogant chief executive and a legacy-seeking secretary of state who rather consult with Iranian leaders than with their own congress.

Read Less

Don’t Give In To Iranian Threats on Iraq

House Republicans have inserted language into the defense authorization act designating Iraqi Kurds and Sunnis as a separate “country” so that they would be eligible to receive at least a fourth of the $715 million that is earmarked for military assistance to Iraq. This has caused an uproar in Iraq, with condemnation coming not only from relative moderates such as Prime Minister Haidar al Abadi and Ayatollah Sistani but also from firebrands such as Muqtada Al Sadr who has issued a direct threat to the U.S.: “If the time comes and the proposed bill is passed, we will have no choice but to unfreeze the military wing that deals with the American entity so that it may start targeting American interests in Iraq and outside of Iraq when possible,” Sadr said.

Read More

House Republicans have inserted language into the defense authorization act designating Iraqi Kurds and Sunnis as a separate “country” so that they would be eligible to receive at least a fourth of the $715 million that is earmarked for military assistance to Iraq. This has caused an uproar in Iraq, with condemnation coming not only from relative moderates such as Prime Minister Haidar al Abadi and Ayatollah Sistani but also from firebrands such as Muqtada Al Sadr who has issued a direct threat to the U.S.: “If the time comes and the proposed bill is passed, we will have no choice but to unfreeze the military wing that deals with the American entity so that it may start targeting American interests in Iraq and outside of Iraq when possible,” Sadr said.

Naturally, faced with such threats, the administration is lobbying hard to take the offending language out of the bill. The White House is firmly committed to the fiction of Iraq as a unified country and it will not budge from it—especially not when Iranian-backed militias are threatening the U.S. if it starts arming Sunnis who are deadly enemies of the Shiite extremists. The threat is not an idle one—Sadr and his ilk spent years attacking U.S. forces with Iranian help during the Iraq War. But the threat should be not be debilitating either: the U.S. and its Iraqi allies beat the extremists once before and could do it again, if necessary.

It is disheartening if not surprising to see the administration so abjectly caving in to such threats. What the White House is doing is giving Baghdad a veto over U.S. policy in Iraq—and since Iranian agents are the most powerful actors in Baghdad, that means giving Tehran a veto over U.S. policy.

Now, the designation of Sunnis and Kurds as a “country” may be needlessly provocative—they are not independent countries and U.S. policy should not necessarily be to break up Iraq into separate countries. But, while the U.S. should not be trying to create multiple countries in the land area of Iraq, nor should it be hewing so closely to the ideal of Iraqi unity that we refuse to directly arm the Sunni tribes which offer the best, indeed the only way, to beat ISIS without allowing Iraq to fall entirely into Iranian hands. Instead of trumpeting the Sunnis as a separate “country,” the U.S. government would be better advised to quietly start providing them arms and training notwithstanding the disapproval of the Iranian-dominated Iraqi government. But Obama refuses to do this, which is why House Republicans have understandably tried to force his hand.

The larger issue is that at the moment the U.S. manifestly fears Iran and Iran does not fear the U.S. The Obama administration is deathly afraid of doing anything to offend Tehran, whether imposing a no-fly zone over Syria, which would ground the air force of Tehran’s puppet Bashar Assad, or directly arming the Sunnis of Iraq, which would break the Iranian stranglehold over the Iraqi security forces. The Obama administration is afraid not only that Iran might walk out of the nuclear talks but also that it might start once again using its terrorist proxies to target American interests—a strategy it has pursued for decades.

Those are not unreasonable fears, but let’s keep some perspective: the U.S. is the world’s only true superpower, a country with the mightiest military on the planet. Iran is a middle-tier power, a rogue state that is punching above its weight because we are not effectively opposing Iranian designs. The more we show fear in the face of Iranian intimidation, the more emboldened the mullahs become, and the less likely it becomes we will get a nuclear accord on any reasonable terms.

Read Less

In Praise of the Cannibals that Took Down Jim Wright

In addition to the normal obituaries, the death of former Speaker of the House Jim Wright yesterday has set off a round of breast beating about the decline of civility in American politics. Wright’s forced resignation in 1989 as the House Ethics Committee prepared to rule on charges of accepting improper gifts from a political supporter is widely seen as the seminal moment in our political history when the culture of the Capitol changed forever. The taking down of Wright by a bold group of members of the heretofore powerless and quiescent Republican minority caucus led by Newt Gingrich is regarded as the tipping point when the old go-along-to-get-along style of Congressional life was transformed into the cutthroat hyper-partisan ethos that typifies the dysfunctional nature of DC politics today. But while Wright’s small band of admirers are entitled to celebrate a man whose take-no-prisoners style of leadership did as much as Gingrich to make Washington an even nastier place that it was before, let’s not waste too much time mourning the pre-Wright/Gingrich era of Congress. We may not like the way it works today but change was both inevitable and necessary.

Read More

In addition to the normal obituaries, the death of former Speaker of the House Jim Wright yesterday has set off a round of breast beating about the decline of civility in American politics. Wright’s forced resignation in 1989 as the House Ethics Committee prepared to rule on charges of accepting improper gifts from a political supporter is widely seen as the seminal moment in our political history when the culture of the Capitol changed forever. The taking down of Wright by a bold group of members of the heretofore powerless and quiescent Republican minority caucus led by Newt Gingrich is regarded as the tipping point when the old go-along-to-get-along style of Congressional life was transformed into the cutthroat hyper-partisan ethos that typifies the dysfunctional nature of DC politics today. But while Wright’s small band of admirers are entitled to celebrate a man whose take-no-prisoners style of leadership did as much as Gingrich to make Washington an even nastier place that it was before, let’s not waste too much time mourning the pre-Wright/Gingrich era of Congress. We may not like the way it works today but change was both inevitable and necessary.

Even author John Barry, whose largely admiring book about Wright’s reign in Congress was adapted for a piece published today in Politico magazine about the former speaker, admits that his ruthless tactics embittered an otherwise placid Republican leadership. Up until that moment, the Republicans looked like a permanent minority in the House having only run it for four years (1946-48 and 1952-54) since 1930. It was Gingrich and his pack of hard-boiled conservatives that refused to roll over and play dead that changed things as well as creating a new reality in which the GOP has run the House for all but four years since 1994. Part of that effort was a willingness to mix it up with a Democratic majority that was complacent and often corrupt in the easygoing manner that used to characterize Congressional life.

In his farewell address to the House, Wright castigated his tormentors that had rooted out evidence of shady dealings as a pack of cannibals who threatened to turn “vilification” and “negative campaigning” into permanent factors in politics. Though he had done much to undermine the quiet civility of the institution, he urged his listeners to heed his fate and not let it be repeated. This sounds prescient to a lot of people who today lament the same factors that have made bipartisanship rare in Congress. After the last 25 years of scorched earth tactics employed by both parties, this permanent warfare between Democrats and Republicans is believed to have soured Americans on politics as well as preventing Congress from doing the nation’s work.

But such pious platitudes tell us nothing about what was wrong with politics in Jim Wright’s time and even less about today’s problems.

Despite the impulse to paint the pre-Gingrich era as a time of halcyon bipartisan comity, that’s a myth. If the parties were not at each other’s throats as much as they are today it’s because leading members on both sides of the aisle were complicit in a political culture that allowed incumbents to grow fat on deal making that feathered each party’s nest while not doing much for the country. The only remedy to this casual and accepted corruption was a stiff dose of partisanship that added a measure of accountability to a Congress that had long since come to believe that it was above the law.

Moreover, the notion that a Washington dominated by centrist Democrats and Republicans was better at doing the country’s business is an even bigger myth. In practice all that meant was a Congress in which the liberal Democrat leadership could always count on liberal and moderate Republicans to go along with their whims with minimal protest. What Gingrich and his friends did was to set the stage for the birth of a conservative caucus whose goal was not share in the booty to be had in promoting a bloated big government. Instead, their purpose was to reduce the size of government that could only be fed by more taxes and even greater spending intended to bribe the voters into perpetuating this dismal scheme.

Stopping this gravy train hasn’t been easy and Republicans, specifically the ones who led Congress during much of the George W. Bush administration, eventually succumbed to the same big spending temptations. They were in turn defeated in 2006 before the party returned to their small government roots for big wins in 2010 and 2014 that won them back control of Congress.

It’s also true that Gingrich was toppled from his perch as Speaker by the same kind of vengeful ethics criticism that allowed him to take Wright’s scalp. But rather than lamenting how awful it was for both of these men to be taken down in this measure, we should be celebrating a system that could hold even figures as powerful as Wright and Gingrich liable for their actions. Rather than denounce those who go after such people, we should be cheering efforts that bring a much-needed spirit of accountability to Capitol Hill. Congressional leaders should be afraid of being caught in unethical behavior. That isn’t cannibalism; it’s democracy. Instead of singing dirges for the decline of civility, we should be worried about the ever-present danger of allowing a permanent political class to take power in Congress intent on profiting from legislative pork that robs the taxpayers. If the only alternative to that is more partisanship than we should be cheering those preparing the pot to boil up Speakers and other politicians who want to emulate Jim Wright.

Read Less

Spies Who Live in Glass Houses Shouldn’t Throw Stones

The Wall Street Journal rattled some teacups with its article today claiming that Israel is spying on the American team negotiating with Iran and sharing the results with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. It should be noted that in the article itself Israeli officials deny that they were spying on the U.S.; they say they got their information from spying on the Iranians and from information freely shared with them by the French, who are more interested in keeping the Israelis informed than the Americans are. Whether the Israeli defense is true or not I don’t know. But either way there is nothing particularly shocking going on here.

Read More

The Wall Street Journal rattled some teacups with its article today claiming that Israel is spying on the American team negotiating with Iran and sharing the results with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. It should be noted that in the article itself Israeli officials deny that they were spying on the U.S.; they say they got their information from spying on the Iranians and from information freely shared with them by the French, who are more interested in keeping the Israelis informed than the Americans are. Whether the Israeli defense is true or not I don’t know. But either way there is nothing particularly shocking going on here.

As a general matter, let us stipulate that allies should minimize the extent to which they spy on each other, if only because such revelations can be embarrassing and damaging. But the reality is that almost everyone does it. The only notable exception I’m aware of is the “Five Eyes”—the U.S., Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada—which have been closely cooperating in intelligence matters since World War II. The U.S. certainly spies on allies such as France and Germany, as we discovered from Edward Snowden’s leaks.  And they spy on us.

For that matter the U.S. also spies on Israel. In fact it was through such spying that Israel discovered the alleged Israeli spying. As the Journal notes: “The White House discovered the [Israeli] operation, in fact, when U.S. intelligence agencies spying on Israel intercepted communications among Israeli officials that carried details the U.S. believed could have come only from access to the confidential talks, officials briefed on the matter said.”

So U.S. officials are in no position to be pointing fingers at Israel. If the Journal account is to be believed, the administration is less upset by the Israeli espionage than by the Israelis sharing what they discovered with legislators: “The espionage didn’t upset the White House as much as Israel’s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program, current and former officials said.”

Let me get this straight: The administration believes that it must at all costs keep not only close allies such as Israel in the dark about the negotiations but also lawmakers who have a duty to ratify treaties. The only grounds I can see for the administration stance is that Obama is preparing to reach a generous deal with Iran that he knows will upset lawmakers and allies, and he is trying to keep the terms a secret until it is a fait accompli in the hopes of ramming it through using executive prerogative alone. This is well within the president’s power to do but it is hardly a wise way to proceed with such a momentous agreement.

One suspects that the Israeli espionage may have leaked out now for the same reason that the administration insists on pummeling Prime Minister Netanyahu repeatedly in public: as a way to delegitimize the Israeli position (which also happens to be the majority position of both houses of Congress) in the Iran debate. This is a dangerous game that Obama is playing. At stake is nothing less than Israel’s security as well as that of other American allies located near Iran—to say nothing of US interests in the region.

Is Israel supposed to sit blind, deaf, and dumb while this is going on? While it would be better if Israel didn’t feel compelled to spy on the U.S. (just as it would be better if the US didn’t feel compelled to spy on Israel), this is not an instance such as the Jonathan Pollard case, which was just stupid spying, disrupting the alliance for no good reason. (Pollard was providing “nice to have” information not “must have” information.) This is a matter of survival for the Jewish State. So, while Netanyahu has made some missteps in his dealing with Obama, such as challenging his negotiating position before Congress, this is an instance where Israeli actions are understandable: If the U.S. refuses to share what could be life or death information with Israel, the Jewish State will get its information however it can. If it were put in a similar position, the U.S. or any other nation would act in the same way.

Read Less

Obama’s UN Gambit on Iran Deal Trashes the Constitution

Earlier this week, 47 Senate Republicans sent a letter to Iran’s leaders warning them that a nuclear deal struck with their country by President Obama that was not submitted to Congress for ratification would not have the force of law. For this act of lèse-majesté toward the president, Democrats and the mainstream media labeled them as traitors, law-breakers, and obstructionists. There wasn’t much doubt that, as the secretary of state has now admitted, they were right about the deal not being legally binding if went unratified by the Senate. But it now appears their attempt to sound the alarm about the president making an end run around the Constitution’s requirement that treaties be ratified by Congress downplayed the problem. Rather than merely ignoring Congress, the administration will be taking the issue to the United Nations where Security Council votes could not only dismantle the international sanctions imposed on Iran but also impose legal obligations on the United States that might well be binding. In doing so the president is not only displaying contempt for Congress, he’s realizing the worst fears of those who worry about the UN impinging on American sovereignty and the Constitution.

Read More

Earlier this week, 47 Senate Republicans sent a letter to Iran’s leaders warning them that a nuclear deal struck with their country by President Obama that was not submitted to Congress for ratification would not have the force of law. For this act of lèse-majesté toward the president, Democrats and the mainstream media labeled them as traitors, law-breakers, and obstructionists. There wasn’t much doubt that, as the secretary of state has now admitted, they were right about the deal not being legally binding if went unratified by the Senate. But it now appears their attempt to sound the alarm about the president making an end run around the Constitution’s requirement that treaties be ratified by Congress downplayed the problem. Rather than merely ignoring Congress, the administration will be taking the issue to the United Nations where Security Council votes could not only dismantle the international sanctions imposed on Iran but also impose legal obligations on the United States that might well be binding. In doing so the president is not only displaying contempt for Congress, he’s realizing the worst fears of those who worry about the UN impinging on American sovereignty and the Constitution.

It’s important to clarify what is at stake in this argument about whether Congress should vote on an Iran deal. The administration claims that Congress’s only role in the process would be to eventually vote to eliminate sanctions on Iran if it is deemed in compliance with any arrangement agreed to by the president. Some go even further. Think tank scholar Jeffrey Lewis, who has argued that a bad nuclear deal with Iran that allowed it to become a threshold nuclear power and perhaps eventually a possessor of a weapon is better than no deal at all, told the Daily Beast that “Congress is inventing a role for itself that it doesn’t have” and that the fuss about the UN’s role is just the province of those with “extremist views” about sovereignty.

Lewis is proof that ignorance of the Constitution is no bar to attaining eminence as an “expert” about this issue. Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the founding document of our republic is actually quite clear about the “invented” role of the Congress in this business:

[The President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur…

The administration may claim the Iran deal is not a treaty but something else–but that is sheer sophistry, especially given the importance of the issue. Lest there be any doubt about the authority of the executive to act on its own without the advice and consent of the Senate, The Federalist Papers, written by the authors of the document, explain the issue. In Federalist No. 75 written by Alexander Hamilton, the issue is made clear. The Founders believed that it was not wise to let treaties be solely the business of the legislative branch but neither should the president be left on his own to make deals with foreign powers without being held accountable:

However proper or safe it may be in governments where the executive magistrate is an hereditary monarch, to commit to him the entire power of making treaties, it would be utterly unsafe and improper to intrust that power to an elective magistrate of four years’ duration.

This is very much to the point for a president who believes he can override the will of Congress by using executive orders to legislate or to order that laws may not be enforced on immigration. President Obama is not a monarch but an “elective magistrate” whose powers derive from and are constrained by the Constitution that he is sworn to uphold in his oath of office.

But how much more egregious is an action that not only seeks to marginalize or ignore Congress but which empowers international bodies with no accountability to the American people or their Constitution and laws to override the will of the legislature? You don’t have to be a paranoid conspiracy theorist that fears that the United Nations will soon rule in place of the U.S. government to see the problem here. As Harvard Law Professor Jack Goldsmith explains at the Lawfare blog, the decision to use the UN Security Council as the engine for the dismantling of sanctions prior to any vote in Congress on an Iran deal “transforms a non-binding agreement with Iran into a binding obligation under international law.”

Seeking approval of the United Nations rather than that of Congress for an agreement with Iran isn’t merely the act of a partisan who fears that a Republican-controlled Senate will disagree with him. It is a rank act of disrespect for the Constitution and is of a piece with Obama’s theory of government in which the president (so long as his name is Obama) may govern on his own without the restraints the law and our political traditions have imposed on all of his predecessors.

Under these circumstances, all the arguments, pro and con, about the merits or the political utility of the letter by the 47 Senate Republicans are rendered irrelevant. The president has done everything possible to make Iran a partisan issue in which Democrats will feel obligated to support him regardless of their personal convictions about his push for détente with the Islamist regime or the way this endangers Israel and America’s moderate Arab allies. But his decision to go to the UN rather than Congress transforms this from a partisan football to a matter on which all Senators, regardless of party, need to step up and make it clear that they will not let the president trash the Constitution in order to get his way on Iran. Congress must be allowed an up-or-down vote on the Iran deal before it is put into effect. Not the UN.

Read Less

Calling a Bad Iran Deal By Its Right Name

Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and condemned the letter signed by 47 Republican senators warning that any agreement with Iran that was not ratified by Congress would not be legally binding. But despite all of the secretary’s huffing and puffing that was cheered and echoed in the mainstream liberal press, his statement in which he conceded that the deal would not be legally binding confirmed the truth of what the letter asserted. Yet the arguments about the Senate letter and even the brazen plans of the administration to refuse to submit any nuclear agreement with Iran to Congress for ratification have sidelined the necessary debate that we are not currently having about the merits of Kerry’s efforts. Fortunately, Foreign Policy has now published a piece that is a good deal more honest about the administration’s efforts than Kerry or President Obama has been. Jeffrey Lewis writes to say that contrary to the assertions of the secretary and the president, a “bad deal with Iran is better than no deal at all.” Though he’s dead wrong, this is exactly the discussion we should be having about Iran right now.

Read More

Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and condemned the letter signed by 47 Republican senators warning that any agreement with Iran that was not ratified by Congress would not be legally binding. But despite all of the secretary’s huffing and puffing that was cheered and echoed in the mainstream liberal press, his statement in which he conceded that the deal would not be legally binding confirmed the truth of what the letter asserted. Yet the arguments about the Senate letter and even the brazen plans of the administration to refuse to submit any nuclear agreement with Iran to Congress for ratification have sidelined the necessary debate that we are not currently having about the merits of Kerry’s efforts. Fortunately, Foreign Policy has now published a piece that is a good deal more honest about the administration’s efforts than Kerry or President Obama has been. Jeffrey Lewis writes to say that contrary to the assertions of the secretary and the president, a “bad deal with Iran is better than no deal at all.” Though he’s dead wrong, this is exactly the discussion we should be having about Iran right now.

Throughout the last two years of negotiations with Iran, both Obama and Kerry have specified that they will walk away from the talks rather than sign a bad deal that won’t accomplish America’s goal of stopping the Islamist regime from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Considering that they have extended the current talks with Iran three times after deadlines expired as Iran refused to make concessions shows this promise to be nothing more than rhetoric. But their hypocrisy nevertheless pays tribute to what they understand to be the imperatives of U.S. security policy. Even though the president is clearly intent on not only signing a deal at any cost but also using it as a springboard for a new era of détente with Iran, he understands that open advocacy of appeasement is not something the American public will tolerate. So they are obligated to treat the endless series of concessions and retreats from U.S. security principles as actually great victories for the cause of non-proliferation even if these are transparent deceptions.

This is, after all, the same President Barack Obama who promised in his foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney that any deal struck with Iran would obligate the regime to close down its nuclear program. But in the subsequent two years, he has not only recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium but also demonstrated a willingness to let it keep thousands of centrifuges and even offered to sunset any restrictions on their efforts after a decade. Given the lack of transparency about Iran’s current efforts and the dynamic of any such deal in which the U.S. and its allies will be doing everything to pretend that the agreement is a success, not only will Iran be able to cheat its way to a bomb; it may also be able to get one even by complying with the deal.

That is, by virtually any diplomatic definition, a bad deal in that it will mean that Iran must immediately be considered a threshold nuclear power and that its possession of what even the president called a “game changing” weapon is inevitable. That will immeasurably aid Tehran’s quest for regional hegemony and give its terrorist auxiliaries (Hezbollah) and allies (Hamas) even more confidence to continue attacks on Israel. It will also destabilize moderate Arab countries that must, as Saudi Arabia has demonstrated, look to get their own nuclear program to defend themselves.

But Lewis is not constrained by the same political boundaries that require Obama, Kerry, and their apologists to pretend that what is happening will be a good deal.

Lewis admits that the deal is bad by the criteria the administration has established. The deal will not end the danger Iran poses to its neighbors. At best, it will slow down Iran’s progress toward a bomb, not eliminate or foreclose such a possibility as we’ve been told. But he says that such a bad deal will be preferable to walking away from the talks because the West has neither the will nor the ability to stop Iran by means short of war. He wrongly mocks the Senate Republicans for their criticism by saying that they have no definition of what a good deal would be. Even worse, he blames North Korea’s march to a bomb as being somehow the fault of the Bush administration for its belated efforts to get tough with Pyongyang.

He’s right that the Bush administration failed miserably with respect to North Korea as it first depended on diplomacy and concessions to end the threat and then watched different tactics also fail. But the problem didn’t start with Bush. Instead, it began earlier when Obama’s current chief negotiator with Iran, Wendy Sherman, was crafting another bad deal with North Korea while working in the Clinton administration. The moment the West started making concessions to the West and bribing the North Koreans to stop working toward a bomb, the mad Communist dictatorship knew it had won.

The same test applies to the current negotiations.

In classic Obama administration style, Lewis offers us false choices about Iran saying the choice is between a bad deal that might retard their progress and walking away which will mean an Iranian race to a bomb. To the contrary, what the Obama administration could have done—and could still do if it had the wisdom and the guts—was to pursue the policy that led Iran to return to the talks in 2013. Tough sanctions (that the Obama administration opposed when Congress debated them) should have been kept in place and then strengthened. With oil prices declining, Iran’s economy might be brought to its knees. U.S. leadership might have imposed a true economic blockade of Iran that could have weakened the Islamist leadership to the point where it might have given up its nuclear toys. That could still happen even though every passing year that Obama has wasted in his vain pursuit of an entente with a regime that despises the West and seeks only regional hegemony makes such a result harder to achieve.

Appeasement of Iran will not slow its path to a nuclear weapon; it will merely guarantee what the president repeatedly vowed would never happen becomes a reality.

But at least Lewis is telling us what we are getting as a result of Kerry’s diplomacy: a bad deal. Congress should oppose it and insist that it be given a chance to vote on this disaster in the making.

Read Less

Iran and the Perils of One-Man Rule

The letter sent by 47 Republican senators to Iran’s leadership is provoking predictable cries of outrage from liberals and Democrats. Obama administration supporters are decrying the missive as a blatant attempt to sabotage U.S. diplomatic efforts to end the standoff over Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. By warning Tehran that any deal approved by President Obama may be revoked by his successor after January 2017, the GOP caucus is opening itself up to charges of extending partisan warfare to foreign policy. But the letter, intended as much as a shot fired over the bow of the president as it was a lesson in the U.S. Constitution for the ayatollahs, made an important point. No matter what you think about the administration’s blatant push for détente with the Islamist regime, the president’s plans to craft an agreement that will not be submitted to Congress for approval means the senators are correct about its status in law. More importantly, they are highlighting an issue that transcends the nuclear question, even though that is a matter of life and death. A president that seeks to ignore the constitutional separation of powers cannot complain when his critics point out that his fiats cannot be expected to stand the test of time.

Read More

The letter sent by 47 Republican senators to Iran’s leadership is provoking predictable cries of outrage from liberals and Democrats. Obama administration supporters are decrying the missive as a blatant attempt to sabotage U.S. diplomatic efforts to end the standoff over Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. By warning Tehran that any deal approved by President Obama may be revoked by his successor after January 2017, the GOP caucus is opening itself up to charges of extending partisan warfare to foreign policy. But the letter, intended as much as a shot fired over the bow of the president as it was a lesson in the U.S. Constitution for the ayatollahs, made an important point. No matter what you think about the administration’s blatant push for détente with the Islamist regime, the president’s plans to craft an agreement that will not be submitted to Congress for approval means the senators are correct about its status in law. More importantly, they are highlighting an issue that transcends the nuclear question, even though that is a matter of life and death. A president that seeks to ignore the constitutional separation of powers cannot complain when his critics point out that his fiats cannot be expected to stand the test of time.

The impact of the letter on the Iranians is a matter of speculation. The Islamist regime needs no instructions from Republicans about how to protect their interests as they’ve been successfully stringing along Western governments for more than a decade in nuclear negotiations. In particular, they have scored a series of diplomatic triumphs at the expense of the United States as President Obama has abandoned his past insistence that Iran give up its nuclear program and instead offered concession after concession to the point where the deal that is being offered to the regime is one that will let them keep their infrastructure and will “sunset” restrictions on it. If they truly intend to take advantage of this craven retreat by the putative leader of the free world as opposed to more prevarication until the clock runs out on their march to a weapon, then nothing his Republican opponents say are likely to scare them out of it.

Moreover, the Iranians may believe that the same dynamic that has worked in their favor during the course of the negotiations may similarly ease their fears once such a bad deal is in place. Even a Republican president who has campaigned against appeasement of Iran and understands the dangers of an agreement that will make it possible for Iran to get a bomb either by cheating or, even worse, by abiding by its terms, will be hard-pressed to reverse it. America’s allies will fight tooth and nail against re-imposition of sanctions on an Iran that they want to do business with no matter what that terror-supporting regime is cooking up.

The campaign against reversal will also center on the straw-man arguments used by the president and his apologists to bolster their effort to appease Iran. We will be told that the only alternative to a deal that allows Iran to become a threshold nuclear power is war and not the return to tough sanctions and hard-headed diplomacy that President Obama jettisoned in his zeal for a deal.

But by planning to bypass Congress and treat his pact with Iran as merely an executive decision over which the legislative branch has no say, the president is steering into uncharted waters. Like his executive orders giving amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants that usurp the power of Congress to alter laws governing this issue, a nuclear deal that is not ratified by the Senate, as all treaties must be, can be treated as a presidential whim that is not binding on his successors. If it can be put into effect with only the stroke of a pen, it can just as easily be undone by a similar stroke from another president.

The difficulty of undertaking such a revision should not be underestimated. No president will lightly reverse a foreign-policy decision with such serious implications lightly. That is why an agreement that grants Western approval to Iran’s nuclear ambitions is so dangerous. That it is part of a comprehensive approach to Iran that, despite last week’s disclaimers issued by Secretary of State John Kerry, indicates that the U.S. is prepared to accept the regime’s efforts to achieve regional hegemony makes it even more perilous. Congress needs to act soon to both impose tougher sanctions on Iran and to ensure that any deal must be submitted to it for approval.

But Iran still had to be put on notice that a deal that is not approved by Congress can and should be reversed by the next president. One-man rule may make sense in Tehran, but not here. This is not a question of partisanship but a defense of both the Constitution and the security of the nation. The Iranians should know that this deal is unpopular and will have no legitimacy without congressional ratification. Rather than sabotaging diplomacy, the letter is necessary pressure on the president to remember his oath to preserve the Constitution rather than to recklessly risk the country’s safety on Iranian détente.

Read Less

The Speech and Friedman’s Recycled Slurs

The Obama administration is determined to treat Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on Iran as a non-event. As negotiations with Iran continued, the White House and its apologists in both Congress and the press dismissed Netanyahu’s pointed criticisms of the nuclear deal President Obama is offering the Islamist regime and acted as if he hadn’t proposed a sensible alternative to his policy of appeasement and acceptance of Iran as a threshold nuclear power and, in the long run, one with weapons capacity. But that isn’t enough for some of Obama’s partisans in the media who aren’t satisfied merely to see the administration continue on its path to disaster but wish to use this controversy to delegitimize the entire pro-Israel coalition in Washington. Unsurprisingly, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is at the head of the pack in this regard but his column about the speech was a triumph of incoherence and specious arguments even by the debased standards by which he has operated on the Grey Lady’s op-ed page. Worse than that, the speech gave the writer an excuse to recycle anti-Semitic slurs he floated the last time Netanyahu spoke to Congress.

Read More

The Obama administration is determined to treat Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on Iran as a non-event. As negotiations with Iran continued, the White House and its apologists in both Congress and the press dismissed Netanyahu’s pointed criticisms of the nuclear deal President Obama is offering the Islamist regime and acted as if he hadn’t proposed a sensible alternative to his policy of appeasement and acceptance of Iran as a threshold nuclear power and, in the long run, one with weapons capacity. But that isn’t enough for some of Obama’s partisans in the media who aren’t satisfied merely to see the administration continue on its path to disaster but wish to use this controversy to delegitimize the entire pro-Israel coalition in Washington. Unsurprisingly, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is at the head of the pack in this regard but his column about the speech was a triumph of incoherence and specious arguments even by the debased standards by which he has operated on the Grey Lady’s op-ed page. Worse than that, the speech gave the writer an excuse to recycle anti-Semitic slurs he floated the last time Netanyahu spoke to Congress.

Friedman didn’t claim that Netanyahu misrepresented the facts about the proposed Iran deal or even dispute the danger that an Iranian bomb would represent. His problem is with what is to him an even more dangerous idea: that the security interests of Israel and the United States might overlap. He asserts that a weak deal that might prevent Iran from getting a bomb for ten years would be perfectly adequate as far as defending American security even if, as he seems to be implying, it might not be what is good for Israel or the Arab nations in the region that are every bit as upset with the administration policy as the Jewish state. Demands that Iran give up its nuclear infrastructure, something that President Obama promised in his 2012 foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney would be integral to any deal struck by the United States, are simply unrealistic and therefore must be dismissed even if that’s what most Israelis and Arabs think is necessary for their security.

Friedman’s right about one thing. A nuclear deal with Iran would only work if the regime changed its nature and was ready to “get right with the rest of the world,” as President Obama put it. But though he likes to pose as a tough-minded analyst, he leaves unsaid the fact that no serious person thinks Iran is moderating under its current government. Nor is logical to believe that it would do so if that tyrannical, terror-supporting, anti-Semitic regime were to get the major economic boost and political prestige that would it get from a nuclear deal with the United States.

But by the end of his column, Friedman runs out of ideas or even the energy to try and square his prejudices with the facts and simply lets loose with an anti-Netanyahu rant. He argues that if Netanyahu really wanted support for his position on Iran, he’d make concessions to the Palestinians even though he knows very well that those wouldn’t bring the region one inch closer to peace. In fact, Netanyahu has the tacit support of most of the Arab world for his speech. It’s only the Obama administration and others obsessed with the idea that détente with Iran is possible that didn’t like it.

Friedman concludes his piece by saying that it “rubs me the wrong way” to see a foreign leader pointing out the mistakes of an American president in front of Congress. But in that paragraph he lets us on to his real problem with the speech and the entire discussion about Iran: the existence of a solid pro-Israel coalition in Congress that thinks Netanyahu’s concerns are worth a hearing. Friedman says, “I have a problem with my own Congress howling in support of a flawed foreign leader.”

With this phrase he reminds us of his reaction to Netanyahu’s last speech to Congress in 2011. At that time, Friedman couldn’t restrain his bile and claimed that the ovations the prime minister received were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby,” a smear that was reminiscent of the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis about a vast Jewish conspiracy controlling U.S. foreign policy to benefit Israel. The point of that thinly disguised piece of anti-Semitic invective was to delegitimize supporters of Israel who had the temerity to back Netanyahu against the Obama administration’s assault on the alliance between the two democracies.

Friedman didn’t go quite as far as that sort of libel this time though his contempt for a Congress “howling” in support of Netanyahu betrayed his animus. But he did let down his hair a bit in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2. Friedman claimed the only reason Netanyahu received tumultuous applause for his brilliant speech was that he was speaking in “Sheldon’s world” a reference to casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a leading Jewish philanthropist and pro-Israel political donor.

Whatever you may think of Adelson’s politics, the point of that comment is to reintroduce Friedman’s 2011 slur about Congress being purchased by a ruthless Jewish minority. This is a classic anti-Semitic trope in which Jews are accused of using money to insinuate themselves into power and subverting the interests of the nation in favor of their own agenda. It is, of course, pure tripe, since support for Israel is overwhelming throughout the country and undiminished by either the media barrage against Netanyahu or the efforts of the administration to distance itself from the Jewish state.

Friedman then claimed that had Netanyahu spoken to the real America, rather than the Congress that is supposedly owned by the Jews, he would have gotten a different response. His example of a real American venue is the University of Wisconsin. It’s true that if Netanyahu or any friend of Israel were to speak at a leftist enclave such as the one in Madison, they would not be cheered. But who, other than Friedman, actually thinks that opinion there is representative of anything but the prejudices of liberal academics.

But the truth is, as a poll suggest, most Americans agree with Netanyahu on Iran, not Obama or Friedman. That’s why Friedman’s canard about Congress, Adelson and the “Israel lobby” is a lie. But like Obama’s Iran policy, Friedman is as undaunted by the prospect of repeating untruths about Israel as his newspaper is unashamed about printing them.

Read Less

Can Congress Wait to Act on Iran?

The wisdom of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to fast track legislation requiring the administration to submit any nuclear deal with Iran to Congress for approval may depend on how seriously you take the noise coming out of the nuclear talks that an agreement may soon be reached. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told NBC News yesterday that the countries were “very close” to a deal. At the same time, a “senior State Department official” said an “understanding” with Iran about the outlines of a deal by the end of the month was the goal of the talks. Both statements make it clear that the administration is expecting that it will have something it can tout as a success. If true, that puts both McConnell and Senate Democrats in an interesting position until the March 24 date for the negotiations to conclude. If, as they have promised, Democrats will filibuster votes on the bills requiring Congressional approval and the imposition of harsher sanctions on Iran, until then, they may be facilitating the outcome they oppose. But if McConnell pushes too hard on the issue now, he may be ruining the chances of a bipartisan veto-proof majority for these measures after the deadline.

Read More

The wisdom of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to fast track legislation requiring the administration to submit any nuclear deal with Iran to Congress for approval may depend on how seriously you take the noise coming out of the nuclear talks that an agreement may soon be reached. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told NBC News yesterday that the countries were “very close” to a deal. At the same time, a “senior State Department official” said an “understanding” with Iran about the outlines of a deal by the end of the month was the goal of the talks. Both statements make it clear that the administration is expecting that it will have something it can tout as a success. If true, that puts both McConnell and Senate Democrats in an interesting position until the March 24 date for the negotiations to conclude. If, as they have promised, Democrats will filibuster votes on the bills requiring Congressional approval and the imposition of harsher sanctions on Iran, until then, they may be facilitating the outcome they oppose. But if McConnell pushes too hard on the issue now, he may be ruining the chances of a bipartisan veto-proof majority for these measures after the deadline.

McConnell is taking plenty of flak for deciding to use Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress about the threat from Iran to push forward the legislation proposed by Republican Bob Corker and Democrat Bob Menendez for a quick vote. That’s because weeks ago Menendez and other Democrats publicly told the White House they would hold off on their plans to push for any legislation on Iran until after the March 24 deadline for the end of the current round of talks expired. That concession came in the wake of the furor over the announcement of Netanyahu’s speech that was treated by Democrats as an insult to President Obama hatched by Republicans and the Israeli government.

However, this willingness to wait a few weeks was not a sign that Menendez was any less interested in opposing the president’s appeasement of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Menendez has been among the fiercest advocates of a tougher stance on Iran in the Congress. But McConnell’s move embarrassed him and other Democrats who were trying not to burn their bridges to the White House in spite of the disagreement. Indeed, even some Republican supporters of the anti-Iran bills worried that the majority leader was endangering the chances of maintaining the bipartisan coalition that backs these measures. As Senator Lindsey Graham noted, anything that lessened the chances that large numbers of Democrats will eventually vote for the two bills may be a mistake.

That’s the same reason so many in the pro-Israel community have worried about the way the administration has shamelessly manipulated a controversy over the Netanyahu speech that the White House did so much to promote and exacerbate. Until the announcement of the speech, The Corker-Menendez and the Kirk-Menendez bills seemed to have at least a fighting chance of veto-proof majorities. But the ability of the White House to manipulate the false issues of a breach of protocol and the supposed “insult” to President Obama from the speech, that enabled the administration to pick off wavering Democrats from the ranks of sanctions supporters.

The smart play would seem to be for McConnell to wait until March 24 and then bring both bills to the floor in the hope that a large number of Democrats will buck the president and give Congress the right to a say about an Iran deal.

But the urgency about stopping the rush to détente with Tehran isn’t just a function of McConnell’s desire to wrong-foot the president as the clock winds down until March 24. It is entirely possible that by then a deal or at least an “understanding” with Iran will be in place making it even easier for the president to persuade Democrats not to support measures intended to limit the impact of an agreement with Iran.

As Netanyahu rightly pointed out in his speech, the stakes here couldn’t be greater and have little or nothing to do with the feud between the prime minister and the president. A nuclear deal that leaves Iran in possession of all of its nuclear infrastructure including thousands of centrifuges and which hinges on a Western belief that a relatively short “breakout” period to a bomb is enough of a deterrent to prevent the Islamist regime from building a weapon is a disaster for the security of the West, moderate Arab states and Israel. If, as even President Obama hinted, the deal will include a sunset clause that will end sanctions and any restrictions at some point, then what is happening is not so much a Western seal of approval on Iran becoming a nuclear threshold state but a deferred acquiescence to it getting a bomb.

That makes it imperative that the terms of the deal be debated by Congress and subjected to an up or down vote. Passing such a bill after Iran signs will be harder so its easy to understand why McConnell wants one now. But that may be a terrible mistake.

Although time is a factor here, the only chance to do something to check the president or at least to hold him accountable is to get 67 votes in place in favor of the two Iran bills. That will require considerable Democratic support. Though some of the Democrats who made the promise to Obama may be wavering, Menendez deserves some deference from McConnell. Without his help, the bipartisan majority on Iran will collapse. After all, even if a deal is made with Iran, that won’t be the end of the debate. President Obama doesn’t need any help from Republicans that will make it easier for him to avoid being called to account.

Worries about diplomacy outstripping the ability of Congress to pass laws designed to impede the president’s reckless disregard for the truth about Iran are real. But rushing these bills won’t solve the problem. Counting on Iran doing what Obama wants it to do may not be a safe bet meaning that the need for action on March 24 may be just as if not greater than it is today. The American public is also likely to be supportive of any effort to restrain Obama on Iran. The bogus claims about the Netanyahu speech notwithstanding, Congressional leaders need to avoid taking actions that will make it harder for Democrats to back legislation seeking to slow the rush to appeasement.

Read Less

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?

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less




Pin It on Pinterest

Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.