Commentary Magazine


Topic: John Boehner

The End of “Economic Terrorism”: Dems and the Obstruction Double Standard

The Washington Post has an interesting story on how Democrats, now in the minority in both houses of Congress, have so far fulfilled their intent to clog the legislative pipeline. There are many words in the story, about 1,200 or so. But you understand why the story needed that many words once you complete it and notice the one word the author had to get creative to avoid using, thus necessitating the prolixity of the piece. Never mentioned once is any form of the word “obstruction.”

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The Washington Post has an interesting story on how Democrats, now in the minority in both houses of Congress, have so far fulfilled their intent to clog the legislative pipeline. There are many words in the story, about 1,200 or so. But you understand why the story needed that many words once you complete it and notice the one word the author had to get creative to avoid using, thus necessitating the prolixity of the piece. Never mentioned once is any form of the word “obstruction.”

Now, ordinarily that would be just fine. After all, what the Democrats are doing by using the filibuster and other procedures to prevent even popular legislation from getting through is entirely within their constitutional rights. But of course, we don’t live in ordinary times; we live in the Dark Age of Republican Obstructionist Terror, and therefore the Post should be appalled at what they would normally consider a blatant attempt to burn American democracy to the ground. If, that is, Republicans were doing it.

Last month, Democrats attempted to shut down the Department of Homeland Security unless and until Republicans removed part of the funding bill that Democrats opposed. Republicans blinked, and rather than allow the shutdown that Democrats threatened, pulled the contested part of the bill. Were the two sides reversed, Republicans would be accused of rank economic terrorism. Instead, here’s how the Post describes Democrats’ actions:

Nancy Pelosi had a plan. Democrats were outnumbered, obviously, and she no longer had the power to impose her will the way she did when she was Speaker of the House. But neither did the current speaker, John A. Boehner (R-Ohio.).

With a partial Department of Homeland Security shutdown looming, Pelosi saw a way to torpedo Boehner, and get exactly what she and other Democrats wanted for President Obama. The plan was simple: when Boehner needed her the most, she would not be there for him.

She encouraged her caucus to reject the Speaker’s proposal on a stopgap DHS funding bill, knowing that Boehner could not sufficiently rally his own caucus to pass the bill without Democratic help.

Five days later, Pelosi and Obama got exactly what they wanted: DHS was fully funded without any rollback of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

The Post goes on to explain how Democrats did something similar–though no shutdown was involved–with regard to a bill approving the Keystone pipeline. The pipeline is popular, but opposed by Democratic money man Tom Steyer and fringe environmental extremists (of whom the president is one, thus explaining the White House’s opposition to an energy and jobs bill).

But more importantly, the bill had the votes to pass, which it eventually did on a later re-vote. At the time though, Democratic leadership wanted to take a shot at the GOP leadership to make a point, and Democrats fell in line, even on a bill that had enough of their support to pass. So they blocked that too.

Again: fully within their rights as the minority party. And yet, the Post seems to agree–when conducted by Democrats. When it came to the GOP in the minority, not only did the Post throw the term “obstructionism” around, but the paper’s reporters used it without any qualifiers.

Of course the Post’s opinion writers are going to be hypocrites about this; that’s not of interest here. No one’s expecting intellectual honesty from liberal columnists. In October 2013, a supposedly straight news story carried this headline: “Obama says he feels ‘enormous frustration’ with GOP obstruction.” Not only was “obstruction” the word provided by the Post, not the president, but the whole article was merely reporting on Obama’s complaints. It was a press release disguised as a news story.

For opinion pieces, the Post reveled in hysteria; see this Jonathan Capehart piece titled–seriously–“The GOP is out to destroy the country.” But reporters on the news side of the office shouldn’t also lose their minds. The word “obstruction” shows up in other places it shouldn’t.

I don’t mean to pick on the Post. It’s not as though they invented this obsession over Republican “obstruction” or created the bias in which they participate. But their reporting is in desperate need of a tune-up. Instead of angry accusations of gumming up the works of democracy, the Post tells us Pelosi and Harry Reid are “deftly navigating the big legislative debates to maximum advantage, thwarting the new majorities early ambitions and protecting Obama from the GOP assaults on his agenda.”

The metaphorical violence is always been committed by the GOP, as far as the media is concerned.

The problem with the piece on Pelosi isn’t only that the word “obstruction” doesn’t get thrown around. It’s that the whole structure of the piece is borderline admiration. “Democrats say they are optimistic about holding members together in the next big legislative debates,” we learn. “But they could encounter difficulties in areas where they do not have a rallying cry that resonates as powerfully as immigration and a shutdown.”

This is how a shutdown goes from economic terrorism to powerful rallying cry for a plucky minority party. And it’s also one more reminder to Republicans: the left may make GOP tactics the issue, but they aren’t. It’s never about the means, but the ends. When the left approves of the ends, anything goes.

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Issue is the Constitution, Not the Shutdown

With time running out to avoid defunding the Department of Homeland Security, almost all of the focus of news coverage of the story has been on the contentious battle between Republicans who are in favor and those opposed to a stand that will lead to a shutdown. There is good reason for this, especially as House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell desperately to try to maneuver to keep their previous promises to avoid another politically damaging government shutdown. But though it’s hard to take our eyes off of the spectacle of impending civil war among Republicans, the real author of this week’s drama doesn’t work on Capitol Hill. President Obama was in Miami last night for a televised infomercial on MSNBC in which he tried to take a victory lap for having started the fight that is causing the shutdown. But despite his efforts to place himself on what he thinks is the right side of history and the slavish applause of the liberal mainstream media for this stand, the real issue today remains Obama’s blatant disregard for the Constitution, not whether or not Boehner and McConnell can find a way out of the corner into which Obama has forced them.

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With time running out to avoid defunding the Department of Homeland Security, almost all of the focus of news coverage of the story has been on the contentious battle between Republicans who are in favor and those opposed to a stand that will lead to a shutdown. There is good reason for this, especially as House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell desperately to try to maneuver to keep their previous promises to avoid another politically damaging government shutdown. But though it’s hard to take our eyes off of the spectacle of impending civil war among Republicans, the real author of this week’s drama doesn’t work on Capitol Hill. President Obama was in Miami last night for a televised infomercial on MSNBC in which he tried to take a victory lap for having started the fight that is causing the shutdown. But despite his efforts to place himself on what he thinks is the right side of history and the slavish applause of the liberal mainstream media for this stand, the real issue today remains Obama’s blatant disregard for the Constitution, not whether or not Boehner and McConnell can find a way out of the corner into which Obama has forced them.

While many conservatives continue to call for the Republican leadership to stand their ground against the Democrats, both Boehner and McConnell understand that this is a losing fight. Even if, as many on the right have aptly pointed out, the DHS shutdown is more symbolic than actual since most of its employees will continue to show up for work, that symbolism is the last thing the GOP needs right now.

At a time when concern over terrorism is on the rise and the country is coming to grips with the president’s inept and halfhearted approach to fighting ISIS and its allies, any defunding measure aimed at any part of the country’s defenses is political poison. Unlike the sequester that continued in place for many months with few citizens noticing, a DHS shutdown is a nonstarter. That’s especially true since it will enable the president to change the topic from his own failures and put the spotlight on a fractious and dysfunctional Congress where both chambers have Republican majorities.

But as bad an idea as a shutdown might be, anyone tuning in to see Telemundo and MSNBC host Jose Diaz-Balart feeding questions to Obama in order to press him to even greater commitments to amnesty policies must realize that the drama in Congress is something of a diversion from the real problem: a president that believes he can legislate on his own without benefit of Congress.

Immigration isn’t the only issue on which Obama’s imperial presidency is flexing its muscles against the Constitution. The Iran nuclear talks seem to be heading toward an American agreement to a deal that would make the Islamist regime a threshold nuclear power now and give it a green light to create a bomb in at least ten years. But the president has no plans to present the most important foreign treaty the U.S. has signed in this generation to the Senate for approval, as the Constitution requires. By not calling it a treaty, he intends to circumvent the law so as to avoid the scrutiny and the judgment of the legislature.

But it is on immigration which the president has made the boldest move toward one-man rule in decades. By signing executive orders that amount to amnesty for up to five million illegal aliens, the president has with a stroke of the pen asserted a power that he previously had said 22 times was not his to exercise. Though a lawsuit brought by 26 states against this measure has had an initial success in a Texas federal court, Obama may be right to feel confident that eventually the courts will back him up on technicalities.

But by issuing orders to the relevant departments to stop enforcing the law mandating the deportation of illegals, the president is actually setting a dangerous precedent. A president who feels entitled to state what laws may or may not be enforced is one untrammeled by the normal constitutional constraints at the heart of American democracy.

While playing to a crowd of immigrants, the president says that the changing demography of the nation mandates a solution to the dilemma of up to 12 million illegals already in the country. But whether you think that Congress is wrong to fail to act on a plan to give them a path to citizenship or not, the notion that laws can still be annulled by presidential fiat is an untenable concept that would be swiftly condemned by Obama’s press cheering sections if it were a case of a Republican undoing some liberal project created by a predecessor.

More to the point, the continuing stream of illegals over the border, lured by promises of amnesty and confident that requests for asylum, whether justified or not, will keep them out of jail, will ensure that Obama’s approach will not solve the country’s problem at the border.

Obama may be right to think he’s won this news cycle as the Republicans seek a path, whether temporary or not, to retreat from their pledges to use the power of the purse to stop the executive orders from being implemented. But more surges of illegals in the future could change the political balance of power on this issue in ways that Democrats confident of Hispanic support don’t currently envision. The only enduring values here are the defense of the Constitution and the rule of law that Obama has trashed, not amnesty for illegals. Whatever happens this week in Washington, if Republicans are faithful to that principle, they won’t regret it in the long run.

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Republicans Should Declare War on the Mainstream Media

On February 27, funding for the Department of Homeland Security will run out unless Congress authorizes a new appropriation. The House passed such a bill some time ago, funding the department but denying funding for the immigration policies that President Obama instituted by executive order, despite the opinion of nearly everyone, including President Obama—22 times no less—that the president lacks the authority to issue such executive orders.
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On February 27, funding for the Department of Homeland Security will run out unless Congress authorizes a new appropriation. The House passed such a bill some time ago, funding the department but denying funding for the immigration policies that President Obama instituted by executive order, despite the opinion of nearly everyone, including President Obama—22 times no less—that the president lacks the authority to issue such executive orders.
The Republican majority in the Senate has been trying to begin debate on this appropriations bill ever since. Unlike Harry Reid when he was majority leader, Mitch McConnell is willing to entertain amendments proposed by the minority and vote them up or down. The Democrats will have none of it. Three times the measure has been brought up and three times the Democratic minority has used the filibuster to prevent debate from even beginning. John Boehner, being interviewed by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, said that “… the House has done its job under the Constitution. It’s time for the Senate to do their job.”

But Wallace said:

I understand there’s two sides to the argument. Here’s the bottom line: the deadline is less than two weeks from now. And the fact is that you and Congress are going to be out on recess for the next week. Can you promise the American people with the terror threat only growing that you’re not going to allow funding for the Department of Homeland Security to run out?

Why is it up to Boehner to bend instead of the Democrats doing so? The answer is simple. As Jonah Goldberg tweeted, “So when GOP holds up things in Dem-run Senate, GOP is to blame. When Dems hold things up in GOP-run Senate, GOP is to blame. I see a trend.” Even Chris Wallace—the fairest and best of the Sunday morning talk show hosts—thinks that when push comes to shove on Capitol Hill, it is the Republicans who must yield, even when they hold majorities in both houses as they do now. Why? Because that is the way the mainstream media will always play the story.

What should Boehner do? I think he, and every Republican, should do what George H.W. Bush did to Dan Rather as the 1988 presidential race was heating up: eat the mainstream media alive. They are the enemies of the Republican Party and should be treated as such. Stop trying to curry favor because you won’t get it. Bush laid a trap for Rather, insisting on the interview being live so it couldn’t end up on the cutting room floor. It totally flustered Rather, greatly energized Bush’s campaign, put the kibosh on his too-much-a-nice-guy image, and helped mightily to propel him to the White House. Make mainstream media bias the issue. Throw loaded questions and those premised on liberal assumptions back in their faces. Accuse them of bias when they are biased. Don’t be Mr. Nice Guy.

Why have the Republicans been such wimps when dealing with the media? The reason, I think, is that the Republicans were the minority party in this country from 1932 to 1994. The Democrats held the House for all but four of those 62 years and the Senate for all but ten of those years. In far too many ways, the Republicans still act as the minority party, begging for crumbs from the media. But they now hold more political offices, at both the federal and state levels, than at any time since the glory days of Calvin Coolidge. Instead they should, in dealing with the media, emulate Joan Crawford, at least as depicted by Faye Dunaway in Mommy Dearest, dealing with the board of Pepsi Cola (warning, she doesn’t use ladylike language).

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A Strategic Retreat for Netanyahu?

Reuters is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering making changes to his planned speech to Congress to placate his critics and lower the temperature on his split with the White House over Iran sanctions. If true, it’s the right call on Netanyahu’s part. And both possibilities floated in the article are reasonable alternatives to the initial plan.

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Reuters is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering making changes to his planned speech to Congress to placate his critics and lower the temperature on his split with the White House over Iran sanctions. If true, it’s the right call on Netanyahu’s part. And both possibilities floated in the article are reasonable alternatives to the initial plan.

The fact that the story leaked at all is a good indication that Bibi’s office has been searching for a way out of this impasse and wants to quiet the furor over the speech. If he’s not going to give the address to a joint session of Congress, he certainly wants the press to stop acting like he is. As Jonathan pointed out last night, Netanyahu walked into a trap–but that doesn’t mean that, out of pique or pride or stubbornness, he has to stay there. Sometimes you just get beat, and the Obama White House, which created the drama by not objecting to the invitation until after Bibi accepted it and then throwing a public fit, won this round.

No matter how well Netanyahu and Ambassador Ron Dermer know American politics, partisan gamesmanship is pretty much all Obama’s team thinks about, and this is their home turf anyway. Being right isn’t always enough in politics–a lesson Netanyahu is re-learning now. As Reuters reports:

As a result, Israeli officials are considering whether Netanyahu should speak to a closed-door session of Congress, rather than in a prime-time TV address, so as to drain some of the intensity from the event, a source said.

Another option is for the prime minister to make his speech at the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington the same week, rather than in Congress.

“The issue has been under discussion for a week,” said a source close to the prime minister’s office. “(Netanyahu) is discussing it with Likud people. Some say he should give up on the speech, others that he should go through with it.”

A story like this getting to the media usually means one of two things: either Netanyahu is the force behind the u-turn and he wants to create some momentum and political space for it, or some of those close to him want to force his hand. The answer to that question is often irrelevant; the idea that Netanyahu plans to change the speech will take on a life of its own now.

The story can also serve another purpose: to help Netanyahu save face in retreat. The Reuters story warns it may be too late for Bibi to change course, because it’ll look like he’s being pushed around:

If he withdraws now it may make him look weak with core voters. Furthermore, he needs an opportunity to play up his tough-on-Iran credentials before election, with national security an overriding issue for voters.

The louder the opposition to Netanyahu’s speech became, the more it looked like giving in would be conceding to the mob. But leaking this now changes the story. Obama’s attack dogs in the mainstream press might simmer down a bit, and they may even want to run with this to box Netanyahu in by furthering the storyline that he’s a reasonable guy and is willing to back off and defer to Obama.

In other words, the Netanyahu administration could take advantage of American reporters’ desire to please their king in the White House. It’s part of what has worked against Netanyahu from the start here. Initially, the administration spun the New York Times into writing that Obama hadn’t been consulted before Netanyahu accepted Speaker Boehner’s invitation. That was false, but the White House knew the Times would print it even if it weren’t true if it painted Israel in a negative light. Which they did.

The Times has since corrected their story, in essence conceding the fact that this whole drama was cooked up by Obama. But the key for the White House was just to give the false story a head start so it became conventional wisdom. Which is what happened. So Politico’s recent story on the controversy contains this line: “The fact that neither Boehner nor Dermer cleared the speech first with the White House…” followed by another reference to claims that “Boehner politicized the speech by inviting Netanyahu behind the White House’s back.” Politico recently hired two veteran foreign-policy hands as editors, but you can tell even publications like Politico still look over the New York Times’s shoulder to copy the Grey Lady’s notes instead of digging for the truth.

Were Bibi to back down here, he would also highlight another fact the media is missing: Obama’s latest stunt, pressuring Democrats (and his vice president) to publicly spurn the Israeli prime minister, is one more example of the wrecking ball Obama has been taking to the pro-Israel left. This is another case of Netanyahu being right not being enough; he’s got to find a way to preserve bipartisan support for Israel despite Obama’s efforts to split Congress and align Democrats against Jerusalem.

If that means retreating, so be it. Sometimes that’s what it takes. And the ball is in Bibi’s court; Obama refuses to be the bigger man here, so someone has to step up.

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The Obama-Bibi Speech Row: Enough Blame to Go Around

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s high-profile speech before Congress has already backfired even before it was delivered. It is designed to rally support in Congress for extra sanctions on Iran in case nuclear talks fall through. But instead the controversy over the speech is driving Democrats to embrace President Obama’s soft-on-Iran position out of party loyalty if nothing else. Some are even talking about boycotting the speech. In a U.S.-Israel relationship that has already been deeply troubled during the Obama administration, this is another low point.

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Prime Minister Netanyahu’s high-profile speech before Congress has already backfired even before it was delivered. It is designed to rally support in Congress for extra sanctions on Iran in case nuclear talks fall through. But instead the controversy over the speech is driving Democrats to embrace President Obama’s soft-on-Iran position out of party loyalty if nothing else. Some are even talking about boycotting the speech. In a U.S.-Israel relationship that has already been deeply troubled during the Obama administration, this is another low point.

Who’s fault is that? I would ascribe blame both to Netanyahu and Obama.

Start with the prime minister: As Jonathan and others have argued, his decision to accept a speaking invitation from Speaker Boehner without consulting with the administration first was a diplomatic and political blunder. It upset the normal protocol and allowed Obama’s aides to claim that Bibi is (a) posturing for political advantage in Israel just prior to an election and (b) interfering in American domestic politics–even if British Prime Minister David Cameron just did the same thing by lobbying lawmakers, at White House request, against imposing additional sanctions now.

Bibi would have been smart to emulate the Cameron example and limit his own actions and those of his representatives to quiet conversations with senators and representatives–there is no need for a high-profile address to a joint session of Congress when the Israeli government’s views are already known. Bibi has always prided himself on an insider’s knowledge of American politics and a sure touch in getting Israel’s message out. But in this case his political judgment deserted him.

However I believe that Obama also deserves a fair amount of opprobrium for turning this into such a high-profile blowup–indeed Bibi would never have been tempted to do an end-run around the president if didn’t feel that this particular president was inveterately hostile to Israel. The proper reaction for the president, when he found out about the address, would have been to call up Bibi privately and ream him out–while at the same time instructing his aides to leak word that he was perfectly supportive of the speech. That is how allies treat one another: confine differences of opinion to private communications while making a front of unity for public consumption.

But that’s not how Obama and his crew operate. These are, after all, the same folks who last year were quoted calling Netanyahu “chickenshit.” The same folks who are never satisfied with any concession that Bibi makes–whether a freeze on settlements or an apology to Turkey for the Israeli raid on the Gaza Flotilla. The same folks who perpetually apply pressure to Bibi while letting Abu Mazen, the Palestinian president, slide by for all his actions undermining the “peace process.”

So it is no surprise that the administration has been leaking word that Israel will pay a “price” for the speech and openly campaigning for the recall of Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer who is accused of being a Republican apparatchik.

As numerous commentators have noted, it would be nice if the famously cool Obama ever showed half the level of anger against Syria, Iran, North Korea, ISIS, or Russia that he routinely displays against Israel.

So I blame Obama for escalating this crisis–and I blame Netanyahu for playing into his hands.

Israel’s close relationship with the U.S. will survive this crisis and will, I predict, become much warmer under whoever succeeds Obama. Even under Obama, the U.S. remains the most pro-Israel country in the world simply because the American people are the most pro-Israel in the world. But there is no question that damage has been done to this “special relationship” and it could turn out to be long-lasting damage if this spat drives more Democratic politicians to become as critical of the Jewish state as many grass-roots leftist activists already are.

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Want to Reach Out to Minorities? GOP Must Prioritize School Choice.

Republicans continue to beat themselves up about their need to do better among minorities. But unfortunately for the GOP, most of the outreach that’s been tried seems to rest primarily on pandering, whether on immigration to Hispanics or thinking that merely showing up at a hostile venue, as Rand Paul has done, will be enough to win the votes of people who believe Republicans are inveterately hostile to their interests. But there is an issue of paramount importance to minorities, especially the poor, that is just waiting for Republicans to seize in the next election: school choice. With Democrats effectively chained to the teachers’ unions because of their financial support for their campaigns, the cause of giving parents the ability to take their children out of failing public schools is the true civil-rights issue of the 21st century.

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Republicans continue to beat themselves up about their need to do better among minorities. But unfortunately for the GOP, most of the outreach that’s been tried seems to rest primarily on pandering, whether on immigration to Hispanics or thinking that merely showing up at a hostile venue, as Rand Paul has done, will be enough to win the votes of people who believe Republicans are inveterately hostile to their interests. But there is an issue of paramount importance to minorities, especially the poor, that is just waiting for Republicans to seize in the next election: school choice. With Democrats effectively chained to the teachers’ unions because of their financial support for their campaigns, the cause of giving parents the ability to take their children out of failing public schools is the true civil-rights issue of the 21st century.

A discussion of school choice as a civil-rights issue is something you aren’t likely to hear much about in the mainstream media. Indeed, outside of Fox News, you probably haven’t heard much about the issue, even in the week designated as “School Choice Week” by advocates. They got something of a boost from House Speaker John Boehner, a longtime supporter of the cause, who hosted an event on Capitol Hill that got almost no national coverage. But while racial hucksters like Al Sharpton and his enablers in the Obama administration seek to exploit violent tragedies to promote division, they pay little or no attention to the priorities of struggling families whose most urgent need is to provide a decent education for their children.

Indeed, it is a scandal that one of the most ambitious experiments in school choice—a vouchers program in the nation’s capital that gave underprivileged kids chances to go to good private schools such as the one that the First Family’s kids attend—was sunk by President Obama and a Democrat-controlled Congress in his first term. Around the country, families line up to take part in lotteries for chances for a place in charter schools and other alternatives to their local public institutions and face odds that generally range from one out of 300 or worse.

But long after it became apparent that competition and increased parental involvement made other choices—whether charter schools or private alternatives—give kids more of a chance to succeed, the teachers’ unions continue to obstruct or sink efforts to promote school choice. Wherever their Democratic Party allies prevail—whether in the White House or in places like New York City where Mayor Bill de Blasio has made good on his campaign promises to the unions and has worked to diminish school choice—children remain trapped and the nation suffers.

Without a good education, minority and poor kids have a dim future. Demonstrations against law enforcement and demonizing the police are a poor substitute for real hope, but that is exactly the bargain that the president and the rest of his party have been offering some of their most loyal voters.

GOP candidates who want to really reach out to minorities to need start and end with education reform that isn’t held hostage to unions that care more about tenure and avoiding holding poor teachers accountable for their performance. Democrats are chained to those unions. That is an opening Republicans should exploit.

Rather than paying lip service to the goal of outreach, conservatives need to realize that this issue is their best, perhaps their only, opportunity to break through to minority voters. Instead of letting it be a throwaway line in speeches with no follow up, they need to start prioritizing school choice from now until November 2016.

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Obama Politicized Iran Sanctions; Not Israel’s Ambassador

Ron Dermer came to Washington in 2013 with a target on his back. Israel’s ambassador to the United States was a close associate of Prime Minister Netanyahu and lambasted as not only the “brain” of a leader widely disliked by liberal Jews but also tainted because of his former close ties with American conservatives. So it is not exactly a surprise that much of the criticism that has been focused on Netanyahu’s acceptance of an invitation to address a joint session of Congress on the issue of Iran sanctions is being directed at Dermer. But even if you think, as I do, that the decision to give the speech at this time is a mistake, it’s important to recognize that much of the opprobrium being hurled at the ambassador is deeply unfair. While Dermer is being accused of undiplomatic interference in U.S. politics and flouting protocol, it is the White House that has politicized an issue that would otherwise be a matter of bipartisan consensus, not the Israeli Embassy or even House Speaker John Boehner.

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Ron Dermer came to Washington in 2013 with a target on his back. Israel’s ambassador to the United States was a close associate of Prime Minister Netanyahu and lambasted as not only the “brain” of a leader widely disliked by liberal Jews but also tainted because of his former close ties with American conservatives. So it is not exactly a surprise that much of the criticism that has been focused on Netanyahu’s acceptance of an invitation to address a joint session of Congress on the issue of Iran sanctions is being directed at Dermer. But even if you think, as I do, that the decision to give the speech at this time is a mistake, it’s important to recognize that much of the opprobrium being hurled at the ambassador is deeply unfair. While Dermer is being accused of undiplomatic interference in U.S. politics and flouting protocol, it is the White House that has politicized an issue that would otherwise be a matter of bipartisan consensus, not the Israeli Embassy or even House Speaker John Boehner.

Even Dermer’s predecessor Michael Oren–whose background was as a historian, not a political adviser like Dermer, and was therefore a less polarizing figure–learned that being the ambassador from a Netanyahu-led government was no easy task in Obama’s Washington. But Dermer was doubly handicapped because of his close ties with the prime minister. That’s ironic because being his confidant made him an ideal person to serve as an envoy to his country’s sole superpower ally.

Dermer is resented by the left-leaning figures that dominate Israel’s foreign ministry as well as by most of the members of Israel’s press corps in Washington, who lean left just like most of their American colleagues. If that didn’t place him behind the 8-ball, Dermer also had been involved in a memorable spat with the editors of the New York Times in 2011 when he publicly turned down their offer—on behalf of Netanyahu—of space on their op-ed pages because he rightly said the avalanche of anti-Israel pieces they publish made such a piece mere tokenism designed to cover up their bias.

So Dermer can hardly be surprised that the Times devoted a piece in today’s paper to piling on the ambassador.

Let’s acknowledge, as I have written a few times over the past week, that accepting Boehner’s invitation to address Congress on the issue of Iran sanctions was a blunder. Such a flamboyant intervention by an Israeli leader into a congressional debate in which the White House was on the other side was asking for trouble. It diverted attention from the president’s indefensible opposition to strengthening his hand in negotiations with Iran by making it clear that the Islamist regime would pay a high price for further delay and refusal to give up their nuclear ambitions. It allowed the administration to change the subject from its pursuit of détente with Iran to Netanyahu and undermined efforts to rally Democratic support for sanctions.

But even if we accept that Dermer and Netanyahu were wrong, it wasn’t the Israelis who politicized the sanctions debate. That was the fault of the White House.

Up until Obama entered the White House, opposition to Iran and support for sanctions was a matter of bipartisan consensus. Though his rhetoric about stopping Iran has always been good, the president has opposed virtually every sanctions bill that has been proposed, including some that he now brags about having brought Iran to the table. An overwhelming majority of both Houses of Congress comprising members of both parties have supported increased sanctions on Iran for the past two years. The only consistent opponent has been the president. It is he who has sought to make sanctions a partisan issue by leaning on Democrats to oppose the measure out of loyalty to him. He has also stooped to exploit the resentment many Democrats feel toward Speaker Boehner as a reason to back his stand on Iran. Though Dermer may have erred by not consulting with the White House about Boehner’s invitation, the decision to turn this into a major kerfuffle is purely a product of administration politics, not an understandable desire on the part of the Israelis to aid those backing sanctions.

Let’s also note the hypocrisy of many of his critics. The same people crying foul about Dermer and Netanyahu didn’t protest when British Prime Minister David Cameron lobbied members of the Senate on behalf of Obama’s stand on Iran. Some of those veteran American diplomats who are piling on are also guilty of having very short memories. One of the key witnesses against Dermer in the Times article is former State Department official Daniel Kurtzer who said it was unheard of for a diplomat to go behind the back of a country’s government and work with its domestic opponents. But Kurtzer and the rest of the peace processers who worked for a number of administrations over the last 25 years have been guilty of doing just that whenever a Likud prime minister was in power. Both Presidents Clinton and Obama have worked tirelessly to undermine and defeat Netanyahu throughout his three terms in office in ways that Dermer and his boss would never dream of trying to do to Obama.

Say what you will about the mess that Dermer and Netanyahu find themselves in and for which they bear some responsibility. But the prime minister’s scheduled speech has become a diplomatic cause célèbre due to the partisan political games being played by the White House, not the Israelis. It is Obama that is undermining the U.S.-Israel alliance by seeking to appease Iran, not the efforts of Dermer to rally Americans behind a stand that is in the best interests of both countries.

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Lame Duck? Yes. Boehner Halts Obama’s Brief Winning Streak.

The prevailing political narrative of the last few weeks has been all about how President Obama has seized the initiative back from the Republican victors in November’s midterms. But the president’s winning streak—at least as far as prevailing in the daily struggle to dominate the news cycle—may be over. Though most accounts of the State of the Union followed the White House talking points that claimed his proposals would help the middle class, the fact that one of them would have taken away a key college savings plan that helped ordinary taxpayers did not escape the attention of the public or his Republican foes. As a result of the anger the idea generated, the president waved the white flag on the idea today and withdrew his proposal to eliminate 529 college savings accounts. Though much of the rest of his Robin Hood budget that is long on left-wing populist rhetoric and short on economic sense won’t be passed either, this particular defeat demonstrated just how disingenuous the president’s pose as defender of the middle class truly was.

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The prevailing political narrative of the last few weeks has been all about how President Obama has seized the initiative back from the Republican victors in November’s midterms. But the president’s winning streak—at least as far as prevailing in the daily struggle to dominate the news cycle—may be over. Though most accounts of the State of the Union followed the White House talking points that claimed his proposals would help the middle class, the fact that one of them would have taken away a key college savings plan that helped ordinary taxpayers did not escape the attention of the public or his Republican foes. As a result of the anger the idea generated, the president waved the white flag on the idea today and withdrew his proposal to eliminate 529 college savings accounts. Though much of the rest of his Robin Hood budget that is long on left-wing populist rhetoric and short on economic sense won’t be passed either, this particular defeat demonstrated just how disingenuous the president’s pose as defender of the middle class truly was.

As Seth Mandel noted last week, the elimination of the 529 accounts had little to do with helping middle-class taxpayers or promoting education. The point of the plan was to expand the power of government and its loan racket that exploits the students it purports to help.

Obama’s apologists at the New York Times tried to spin this attack on those trying to save for college as somehow a break for them since the administration claimed that other proposals would offset this loss. But what taxpayers know is that such deals always backfire. New breaks may or may not have worked out as the president claimed. But the elimination of the 529 accounts would have been permanent. In the game of tax breaks, citizens are always playing against the house in a government casino where the house always wins.

So it was little surprise that Republicans planned to resist the plan with Speaker John Boehner demanding that the president withdraw his proposal before the House even considered the rest of the budget. But what happened in the last week is that even Democrats understood that what Obama was trying to shove down the nation’s throat was a knife in the back to those trying to save for their children’s college education. In the end, the White House had no choice but to give up.

Obama’s executive orders on immigration and boasts about recent good economic news helped fuel an aggressive approach that has given the press the impression that the president can avoid being a lame duck in the last two years of his second term. But no amount of spin or high-handed extra-constitutional actions can enable the president to impose all of his agenda on the nation. Nor can the near unanimous applause of the media allow him to sell a measure that strips taxpayers of one of their few defenses against the ravages of the Internal Revenue Service as a gift to them.

This was more than what even the Times termed a “flubbed launch.” It was a crucial moment that exposed the presidential Merry Men as mere thieves preying on the middle class, not its saviors. Conservatives who have been back on their heels this month should take heart. The Obama comeback remains what it has always been: mere smoke and mirrors designed to spin the weakest recovery since the Second World War as a time of prosperity and an excuse for more liberal looting of the Treasury and citizens’ wallets. Boehner’s successful demand shows that he’s still in charge of the budget and Obama really is a lame duck.

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J Street Ally Promotes Anti-Semitic Slander

Yesterday on the Sunday morning talk shows, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough attempted to walk back some of the most intemperate off-the-record comments from administration officials about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress about Iran sanctions. But even as he reaffirmed the strength of the alliance, some of the president’s supporters continued to not only campaign for Netanyahu to cancel his acceptance of House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation but to denigrate the Israeli leader. Among the most vocal was Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth, who told radio talker Stephanie Miller that the invite was “close to subversion” and accused the bipartisan pro-Israel majority in Congress of dual loyalty. That should leave the Jewish group that has embraced Yarmouth—the left-wing lobby J Street—with some questions as to whether they are prepared to draw a line between their own campaign against Netanyahu and slander of Israel and pro-Israel members of Congress.

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Yesterday on the Sunday morning talk shows, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough attempted to walk back some of the most intemperate off-the-record comments from administration officials about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to speak to Congress about Iran sanctions. But even as he reaffirmed the strength of the alliance, some of the president’s supporters continued to not only campaign for Netanyahu to cancel his acceptance of House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation but to denigrate the Israeli leader. Among the most vocal was Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth, who told radio talker Stephanie Miller that the invite was “close to subversion” and accused the bipartisan pro-Israel majority in Congress of dual loyalty. That should leave the Jewish group that has embraced Yarmouth—the left-wing lobby J Street—with some questions as to whether they are prepared to draw a line between their own campaign against Netanyahu and slander of Israel and pro-Israel members of Congress.

J Street is currently promoting a petition on its website demanding that Congress delay Netanyahu’s speech. They say the problem is timing, coming as it does weeks before the Israeli election in March. But unlike those Israelis and Americans like myself that think Netanyahu is showing poor judgment because the issue of his invitation is aiding the administration’s efforts to fight increased sanctions on Iran, J Street’s concern is just the opposite. They worry that Netanyahu’s speech may help rally Americans behind the new bipartisan sanctions legislation. They probably are also concerned about whether the speech might help Netanyahu’s reelection prospects.

J Street’s priority here is support for Obama and his policy of appeasing Iran in negotiations that are supposed to be aimed at halting Tehran’s nuclear program but which are instead increasingly aimed at promoting detente with the Islamist regime. But as discreditable as those positions are, they are a far cry from Yarmuth’s incitement.

As it turns out, the relationship between Yarmuth and J Street is close. The group’s website is also promoting an effort to get more members of Congress to sign a letter co-authored by the Kentucky congressman urging the administration to put the creation of a Palestinian state at the top of America’s foreign-policy agenda. Though couched in the language of support for a two-state solution, the letter ignores or minimizes the Palestinian rejectionism and culture of intolerance for Zionism and Jews that is the real obstacle to peace and places the onus for a solution to the conflict on Israel. Seen in the context of Yarmuth’s statements, it is hard to see it as anything but the latest effort from the left to promote pressure on the Jewish state.

Yarmuth’s interview laid bare the animus for Israel that lies behind some of the bland “pro-Israel, pro-peace” statements that serve as a cover for some of J Street’s supporters’ true intentions.

Yarmuth starts by claiming that his Jewish identity gives him particular standing to speak on Israel but then proceeds to claim that most of those who do back the Jewish state and those who seek to defend its security are merely in it for the money. Echoing some of the worst elements of the Israel Lobby thesis about support for the Jewish state, Yarmuth says members only back Israel to get campaign donations and accuses its backers of putting its interests above those of the United States:

“And you know, a lot of it has to do with fundraising — I’m sure some of it is sincere support for Israel,” Yarmuth said.

“You know, I’m a Jewish member of Congress, I’m a strong supporter of Israel, but my first obligation is to the Constitution of the United States, not to the Constitution of Israel. And unfortunately, I think, some of the demands that are made of members by AIPAC and some strong Jewish supporters are that we pay more attention — I guess we defer — to Israel more than we defer to the United States.”

Echoing the slanders of the pro-Israel community made by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, Yarmuth also said the acclaim with which Netanyahu was greeted during his speech to a joint session in 2011 was bought and paid for by AIPAC:

“And, you know, I was there in the chamber in 2011, when Netanyahu spoke, and there he got I don’t know how many standing ovations. And I was in Israel shortly thereafter, and believe me, the Israelis pay very, very close attention to events like that. And I just — the first thing out of virtually every Israeli’s mouth was: ‘What was with all the standing ovations?’ And I said: ‘Well, AIPAC was meeting in Washington that week, and the gallery was full of AIPAC members, and every one of the members all wanted to see — make sure that their constituents saw them stand up.’

Neither Yarmuth’s faith nor his relationship with J Street can justify these remarks. They are an echo of the worst sort of anti-Semitic stereotypes put about by Israel haters. Like the authors of the Israel Lobby smear and others who seek to discredit the bipartisan across-the-board pro-Israel coalition in Congress, Yarmuth fails to understand that support for Israel is part of this nation’s political DNA. It transcends party politics or region. Members of Congress back Israel because it is both good public policy and good politics. That’s because Israel is beloved by the vast majority of Americans, whether they are Jewish or not.

I understand that rabid Obama supporters like the leaders of J Street will back him in anything he does, even in appeasement of Iran, though doing so endangers Israel. One doesn’t have to think it’s smart for Netanyahu to intervene in a debate that the pro-sanctions side can win without him (in fact, it may be easier without the speech since the alleged breach of protocol gave Obama an issue that could cause some weak-willed Democrats to sustain a veto of sanctions) to understand that this kind of pushback against the speech has nothing to do with what is best for the U.S. or Israel. Yarmuth’s vile accusations show that the motivation here is to marginalize those who whose support for Israel’s safety means more to them than loyalty to Obama. The real “subversion” going on here isn’t an invitation to an allied leader to speak to Congress, but the willingness of a rogue member of Congress and his allies to trash the alliance with the Jewish state in order to promote the presidential agenda.

If J Street is serious about the “pro-Israel” part of its slogan, it must repudiate Yarmuth. If it doesn’t, a group that had little credibility as a backer of the Jewish state will be rightly branded as an ally of its enemies rather than its friends.

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Boehner’s Invite: To Bibi or Not to Bibi

The drama surrounding House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress about sanctions on Iran got a little more complicated today. But while the timing of the event was moved, the controversy over the visit continued to obscure the debate over the real issue: the president’s antipathy to any actions that might upset Iran. Thus, rather than put the White House on the defensive as Boehner hoped it would, the announcement about Netanyahu served to distract the media from what otherwise might have been the story of the day: the fact that Democratic Senator Robert Menendez aptly characterized the administration’s position on sanctions as something that “sounds like talking points coming out of Tehran.”

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The drama surrounding House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress about sanctions on Iran got a little more complicated today. But while the timing of the event was moved, the controversy over the visit continued to obscure the debate over the real issue: the president’s antipathy to any actions that might upset Iran. Thus, rather than put the White House on the defensive as Boehner hoped it would, the announcement about Netanyahu served to distract the media from what otherwise might have been the story of the day: the fact that Democratic Senator Robert Menendez aptly characterized the administration’s position on sanctions as something that “sounds like talking points coming out of Tehran.”

Faced with criticism for accepting the invite without consulting with the administration, the date of the event was pushed back from February 11 to early March when it will coincide with the annual AIPAC Conference in Washington. But anyone who thinks that this will cool down the tensions that had arisen between the President Obama and the Israeli government is wrong. The White House made a point of saying today that the president would not meet with Netanyahu while he was on this visit to the United States. This is a snub that is consistent with past practices about foreign leaders on the eve of their own elections (as Netanyahu will be prior to the March Knesset election) but also one that sent a clear message about Obama’s disdain for the prime minister.

Meanwhile, the debate over whether it was appropriate for Boehner to bring in Netanyahu and wise for the Israeli to accept the invite continues.

In defense of Boehner, the idea that he is the first speaker of the house to conduct his own foreign policy doesn’t hold water. His predecessor Nancy Pelosi visited Syria despite the opposition of the Bush administration and sent an unfortunate signal of congressional indifference the crimes of the Assad regime.

Nor is it fair to treat Netanyahu’s apparent desire to intervene in an internal American debate about sanctions as a unique event. After all, just last week British Prime Minister David Cameron said he had called several U.S. senators to lobby them to vote against more sanctions. If Cameron can try to persuade senators to back the president’s stand against pressure on Iran, it is not reasonable to pretend that it is a major breach of protocol for Netanyahu to give Congress his opinions on the issue when they have invited him to address a joint session.

Nevertheless, one has to question whether it is wise for Netanyahu to accept an invitation that clearly involves him in a tug-of-war between the GOP leadership and the president.

It is true that Iran is not, strictly speaking, a partisan issue. Large numbers of Democrats, in both the House and the Senate, lined up to support increased sanctions last year before they were torpedoed by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Moreover, Menendez’s decision to directly challenge Obama on Iran in a face-to-face confrontation last week at a Senate Democratic conference shows that there are a lot of Democrats who are appalled by the president’s clear preference for détente with Iran instead of pressuring it to give up its nukes.

Boehner and others might have hoped that Netanyahu’s eloquence on the issue and deft American political touch would help turn the tide on the sanctions debate and help bring in large numbers of Democrats to build a veto-proof majority for the bill co-sponsored by Menendez and Republican Mark Kirk.

But unfortunately Boehner’s invitation has made Netanyahu the issue rather than Obama’s indefensible stance against a measure that would aid rather than hurt diplomacy. Leaving aside the uncertain political implications of yet another spat with the White House on Netanyahu’s reelection prospects, unlike almost every previous conflict between the two leaders, this one cannot be described as one that Obama picked. Though it is in the best interests of Israel, its moderate Arab neighbors, and the world for Congress to act to give Iran a reason to avoid stonewalling the West in the nuclear talks, this move can be represented, fairly or unfairly, as going beyond the normal behind-the-scenes lobbying that Israel and other allied countries always do.

Netanyahu has often been unfairly criticized for stoking conflict with Obama when, in fact, most of the time he has been on the receiving end of provocations and cheap shots from an administration bent on undermining him as well as downgrading the alliance with Israel. But in this case, Netanyahu has stepped into something that will do him and his cause very little good.

Foes of Israel have often sought to cast conflicts between Washington and Jerusalem as personal feuds between presidents and prime ministers, something that dates back to the effort to get the Senate to choose “Reagan or Begin” in the debate over the sale of AWACS airplanes to Saudi Arabia. In this case, that’s a crude distortion of clear differences between an administration that has abandoned its principles on Iran and Israeli government that is trying to remind Congress of its duty to act to safeguard the security of the Middle East. But if the perception that Netanyahu is allying himself with Boehner allows Obama to peel off a few weak-willed pro-Israel but partisan Democrats, that will be enough to sustain the president’s veto– especially when sanctions advocates might have had the votes anyway. Though pro-Israel activists are celebrating Netanyahu’s decision to accept the invitation in the belief that his rhetoric will turn the tide on sanctions, this was an unforced error on Israel’s part. If they are to prevail, they need to change the conversation from one about an Obama-Netanyahu feud to the facts about the sanctions debate that Menendez is trying to bring to the public’s attention.

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Netanyahu Needs to Tread Carefully on Congress Invite and Sanctions Debate

There wasn’t much doubt that the Obama administration was already rooting hard for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s defeat in his country’s March elections. But the long-running feud between Obama and Netanyahu is about to heat up even more. Speaker of the House John Boehner’s invitation for the prime minister to address a joint session of Congress on February 11 will set the stage for a renewed joust between the leaders with the fate of a bill calling for tougher sanctions on Iran that is opposed by the White House hanging in the balance. It’s not clear whether Netanyahu’s overt intervention in the sanctions debate will help rally Congress to pass a sanctions bill with a large enough majority to override the veto of the measure President Obama promised last night in his State of the Union speech. It also remains to be seen whether heightened tensions between the two governments will help or hurt the prime minister’s efforts to win reelection at home.

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There wasn’t much doubt that the Obama administration was already rooting hard for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s defeat in his country’s March elections. But the long-running feud between Obama and Netanyahu is about to heat up even more. Speaker of the House John Boehner’s invitation for the prime minister to address a joint session of Congress on February 11 will set the stage for a renewed joust between the leaders with the fate of a bill calling for tougher sanctions on Iran that is opposed by the White House hanging in the balance. It’s not clear whether Netanyahu’s overt intervention in the sanctions debate will help rally Congress to pass a sanctions bill with a large enough majority to override the veto of the measure President Obama promised last night in his State of the Union speech. It also remains to be seen whether heightened tensions between the two governments will help or hurt the prime minister’s efforts to win reelection at home.

In his announcement of the plan, Speaker Boehner left no doubt about whether the invitation to Netanyahu was a shot fired over the bow of the White House. As Politico reported:

“You may have seen that on Friday, the president warned us not to move ahead with sanctions on Iran, a state sponsor of terror,” Boehner said in a meeting of Republicans Wednesday morning. “His exact message to us was, ‘Hold your fire.’ He expects us to stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal with Iran. Two words: Hell no! … We’re going to do no such thing.

“I am specifically asking him to address Congress on the threats posed by radical Islam and Iran,” Boehner said in the meeting. “America and Israel have always stood together in shared cause and common ideals, and now we must rise to the moment again. Let’s send a clear message to the White House — and the world — about our commitment to Israel and our allies.”

In the same breath Boehner both denied that he was trying to offend the president while taking a shot at Obama’s characterization of the issue in his State of the Union address:

“Congress can make this decision on its own,” Boehner said. “I don’t believe I’m poking anyone in the eye. There is a serious threat that exists in the world, and the president last night kind of papered over it. And the fact is that there needs to be a more serious conversation in America about how serious the threat is from radical Islamic jihadists, and the threat posed by Iran.”

The administration has been working hard to try to prevent the Republican-controlled Congress from passing increased sanctions on Tehran that would go into effect only after the current talks (currently in the third overtime period, violating Obama’s pledge to keep them finite in length) failed. Though the threat of future sanctions would strengthen his hand in the negotiations, the president wants no part of anything that would upset his Iranian partners since his goal appears to be a new detente with the regime rather than actually stopping them from becoming a threshold nuclear power. Both Obama and the Iranians are united in their opposition to more pressure on the latter, an astonishing and illogical position for Washington to put itself into. And that is where Israel comes in.

Though Iran’s nuclear program is a threat to the entire world, it is of particular importance to the Israelis who have been threatened with annihilation by Tehran. The Israeli government is therefore understandably supportive of measures that would place more pressure on Iran to make concessions to ensure that the nuclear threat is ended rather than merely postponed.

But the spectacle of a foreign leader addressing Congress and urging it to adopt sanctions that the administration opposes would create an uncomfortable situation for both countries. The White House is already up in arms over what appears to be an Israeli acceptance of Boehner’s offer without first consulting with the administration. Congress may well carp back that the president has been ignoring them on a host of issues as he seeks to govern on his own authority rather than adhere to the Constitution. Yet as much as the administration has made its antipathy for Netanyahu clear to the Israeli public, a direct Israeli intervention on a congressional vote has risks as well as benefits.

Advocates of sanctions may already have a veto-proof majority for more sanctions. Netanyahu’s involvement in the debate might provide fodder for anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists as well as give pro-Obama Democrats a reason to boycott the vote even if they would normally be inclined to back more sanctions.

Then there is the question of whether Netanyahu’s invitation will help him in his own elections.

Throughout his last two terms in office, Netanyahu has consistently benefitted politically from the administration’s ham-handed efforts to pressure Israel especially when it comes to the status of Jerusalem. Israelis are right to resent Americans for telling them what to do with their capital. But Netanyahu must carefully calibrate his response to this situation.

As much as Netanyahu might wish to encourage the vote for sanctions, he also doesn’t wish to give the impression that relations between the two countries are completely broken. With his Labor-Hatnua opponents claiming that they know a better way to deal with both the Palestinians and Washington, an open breach and Netanyahu being labeled a meddler in American domestic politics is not what he needs to either build support for sanctions or get reelected.

The president’s stance on sanctions and the nuclear negotiations is weak and dangerous and his worries about offending the Iranians have already undermined his shaky credibility on the issue. That’s why Americans would do well to listen Netanyahu on the question of the threat from Iran and the need for the West to avoid capitulating to the Islamist regime. But a Netanyahu speech to Congress timed to coincide or overlap with the debate on sanctions would be a mistake.

Sanctions advocates can win this vote on the merits and need no Israeli intervention to win the day. While Netanyahu would savor a repeat of his triumphal May 2011 speech to Congress that was repeatedly interrupted for applause and which was seen as a insult to Obama, next month might not be the right moment for another try.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Obama-Gohmert Gridlock Alliance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GOP ‘House of Cards’ Problem, Part Two

Some right-wing bloggers are jumping on a new interview with a former David Duke aide as proof that the allegations that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise spoke to a racist group affiliated with the former Ku Klux Klan leader were misleading if not downright inaccurate. If so, all those (including me) who have called for Scalise’s resignation as the number three person in the House GOP leadership were wrong. But while the story may not be quite as clear cut as we originally thought, those claiming that this is just another liberal media hit job on a conservative are off base. Scalise’s judgment is still very much in question, as is his continued utility to a Republican Party that doesn’t need any additional burdens in its efforts to restrain Barack Obama’s imperial presidency.

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Some right-wing bloggers are jumping on a new interview with a former David Duke aide as proof that the allegations that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise spoke to a racist group affiliated with the former Ku Klux Klan leader were misleading if not downright inaccurate. If so, all those (including me) who have called for Scalise’s resignation as the number three person in the House GOP leadership were wrong. But while the story may not be quite as clear cut as we originally thought, those claiming that this is just another liberal media hit job on a conservative are off base. Scalise’s judgment is still very much in question, as is his continued utility to a Republican Party that doesn’t need any additional burdens in its efforts to restrain Barack Obama’s imperial presidency.

As I noted earlier in the week, Scalise’s problem arose from the revelation that he spoke at a conference of a white supremacist group in 2002 connected to the odious Duke before he entered Congress. While Scalise said he couldn’t recall the event and opposed the group’s beliefs, he nevertheless apologized for speaking to the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO). Scalise claimed he wasn’t aware of the connection to hate but was merely addressing what he thought was a constituency group. One of Duke’s associates, Kenny Knight, told the Washington Post’s Robert Costa on Tuesday that he had arranged the appearance with Scalise, whom he described as a neighbor and a friend.

“He was my neighbor,” Knight said of Scalise, who was serving as a state representative at the time of the conference. “I asked him to be the first speaker before the meeting kicked off.”…

“This all came about because I organized the EURO meeting for David Duke as a courtesy after he had moved to Russia. I’ve known David for 40 years so I did him a favor. As part of that, I decided to ask Steve, our local representative, to come by and say a few words before the conference started,” Knight said. “He agreed, believing it was going to be neighbors, friends, and family. He saw me not as David Duke’s guy, but as the president of our civic association.” …

“Steve came in early on the first day of EURO, spoke for about 15 minutes, and he left,” Knight recalled. “He didn’t hear David speak remotely to the crowd.”

While this was not evidence of Scalise’s support for the hate group’s ideology, it was nonetheless a damning indictment of his judgment in choosing to associate with it and enough to justify calls for his resignation. Though, as I also noted, he was probably being judged by a different standard than President Obama has been for his 20-year membership in a church run by a hatemonger like Rev. Jeremiah Wright or for treating Al Sharpton as his chief advisor on race, Scalise was nonetheless guilty of making a critical error that could handicap his party’s efforts to govern effectively. Fair or not, he had to go.

But now Knight, the same person who dropped the dime on Scalise, is trying to undo the damage done to the majority whip. Knight told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that Scalise actually spoke at a meeting of the Jefferson Heights Civic Association, not Duke’s EURO. In this version of the story, Scalise spoke to the Civic Association two and a half hours before the racist conference although it was at the same hotel and apparently involved some of the same people.

Is this enough to get Scalise off the hook? At least as far as many on the right are concerned it is, and some right-wing bloggers are treating the whole thing as the moral equivalent of Rolling Stone’s University of Virginia rape hoax. But the problem with this assertion is that it rests on the word of an entirely unsavory character that is now claiming that Costa got the story wrong when he interviewed him. But this strains credibility. Costa is a good reporter and, far from a product of the liberal media bias establishment, is a veteran of National Review. It’s more than likely that Knight’s second version of the story is merely an attempt to walk back quotes that got a conservative into trouble rather than the truth. At best, Scalise still compromised himself by his involvement with some not-so-attractive customers.

Yet with most of his GOP colleagues, including House Speaker John Boehner, already standing by Scalise, this muddying of the waters may be sufficient to allow him to weather the storm and to hope that eventually the media will tire of the story and leave him alone. If he were a liberal Democrat, that might happen. But since Scalise has already apologized for the mistake that some of his defenders are now lamely claiming never happened, you can bet that Democrats will be beating the House GOP up for this as long as Scalise remains in the leadership. Indeed, irrespective of the doubts that have been raised about Scalise’s level of culpability, liberal organs like the New York Times are already running specious features about David Duke’s influence on the Republican Party in the South, in spite of the fact that the GOP and its grass roots wants nothing to do with the rabid extremist hater.

It may be that Steve Scalise will hang on to his post as majority whip, a job that most Americans only know about from the fact that it was the starting point for the villainous protagonist of Netflix’s House of Cards series. But the last thing Republicans intent on showing that they can use their control of both houses of Congress to govern effectively is a plot line that will allow liberals to smear them as racists. Scalise committed no crime but he probably knew he was skirting the line of respectability when he spoke to what may or may not have been a hate group in 2002. No one said politics is fair. Like it or not, Scalise is going to be a liability to the GOP for as long as he remains in office. It’s up to Boehner to decide if he wants to spend 2015 going toe-to-toe with Obama and the media with this kind of a handicap.

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Elizabeth Warren’s Government Shutdown

The specter of a potential government shutdown is haunting Washington today. But it isn’t Ted Cruz and what the liberal mainstream media considers his gang of Tea Party obstructionists who are the principle threat to the passage of the so-called Cromnibus bill that will avert the possibility of a repeat of the 2013 standoff. Instead it is the darling of the liberal media, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is seeking to derail the compromise forged by House Speaker John Boehner and Democrats. Warren is calling on liberals to vote against the deal because among its provisions are measures raising the limits on campaign contributions and scaling back some of the onerous regulations on banks and Wall Street firms in the Dodd-Frank bill that have caused such havoc. But don’t expect the same media that labeled Cruz an arsonist to speak ill of Warren’s efforts to thwart efforts to keep the government funded.

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The specter of a potential government shutdown is haunting Washington today. But it isn’t Ted Cruz and what the liberal mainstream media considers his gang of Tea Party obstructionists who are the principle threat to the passage of the so-called Cromnibus bill that will avert the possibility of a repeat of the 2013 standoff. Instead it is the darling of the liberal media, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is seeking to derail the compromise forged by House Speaker John Boehner and Democrats. Warren is calling on liberals to vote against the deal because among its provisions are measures raising the limits on campaign contributions and scaling back some of the onerous regulations on banks and Wall Street firms in the Dodd-Frank bill that have caused such havoc. But don’t expect the same media that labeled Cruz an arsonist to speak ill of Warren’s efforts to thwart efforts to keep the government funded.

Cruz has been loudly and frequently criticized both by liberals and some conservatives for deciding that his efforts to thwart the implementation of ObamaCare took precedence over the need to keep the government funded. Even those who sympathized him on the substance of this issue thought he was unreasonable in his insistence that voting for a compromise-funding bill made Republicans complicit with measures they opposed. The notion that principle ought to trump political reality and the necessity to avoid a standoff that could lead to a government shutdown (for which President Obama and his supporters were just as responsible as anything Cruz and the Tea Partiers did) was viewed as a disruptive approach that interfered with the responsibility of both parties to govern rather than to merely expound their views.

But the question today is why are those who were so quick to tag Cruz as a scourge of good government for his opposition to often messy yet necessary compromises to bills that require bipartisan support not putting the same label on Warren.

The reasons for this are fairly obvious. Most of the press clearly sympathizes with Warren’s rabble rousing on behalf of ineffective campaign-finance laws as well as a regulatory regime that has caused as much trouble as the problems it was supposed to solve. Warren’s rhetoric denouncing the rich and Wall Street is catnip for a press corps that shares her political point of view. By contrast, few in the media sympathized with Cruz’s last stand against ObamaCare, something that most in the president’s press cheering section viewed as a reactionary position that deserved the opprobrium they hurled at it.

Yet Warren’s attacks on the spending bill are no less extreme than anything Cruz was saying in 2013 or even now as he has ineffectively sought to rally conservatives to oppose the Cromnibus. Her claim that the Dodd-Frank changes were slipped into the bill in the middle of the night are false since they were negotiated with Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski, who is every bit the liberal that Warren claims to be. So is the notion that they are the product of a right-wing conspiracy is flatly false since, as the Washington Post notes, Democrats like Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Rep. Nita Lowey voted for them in a stand-in alone vote last year.

But whatever one may think of these parts of the bill, the point about it is that getting something done in Washington requires both sides to hold their noses and accept that they can’t get their way on everything. The principle critique of conservative Republicans in recent years is that they are so besotted with ideology that they’ve forgotten that part of their duty as members of Congress is to ensure that the apparatus of government functions even if they are not getting their way on all issues. One can argue about whether there are times when such stands are required by the seriousness of the situation. But whether you agree with the Tea Party on ObamaCare or immigration or with Warren on Dodd-Frank, that critique applies just as easily to one as to the other.

Warren might not have the ability to rally enough liberals in the House to her side on this issue just as Cruz seems not to be able to stop Boehner’s deal. But if you think Cruz is an obstructionist, there is no distinction between him and Warren in this respect anymore. At least not unless you think it’s OK for liberals to shut down the government but not conservatives.

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Who Wins Boehner v. Cruz, Part II? Both.

In the fall of 2013, House Speaker John Boehner made it clear that he was not interested in setting off a confrontation that would lead to a government shutdown. But against his will and his better judgment, members of his caucus, egged on by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, dragged him into doing exactly that. The result was a political disaster that gave President Obama the one political triumph of an otherwise dreadful second term. The question today is whether the same cast of characters led by Cruz can force the speaker into another shutdown. Indications are that this time Boehner will resist the Tea Party caucus and a shutdown, at least in the short term, will be avoided. That will be a victory for Boehner and an indication that he will be more in control of the House in the next two years than he was in the current Congress. But even if he loses this battle, Cruz may also benefit from this scenario.

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In the fall of 2013, House Speaker John Boehner made it clear that he was not interested in setting off a confrontation that would lead to a government shutdown. But against his will and his better judgment, members of his caucus, egged on by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, dragged him into doing exactly that. The result was a political disaster that gave President Obama the one political triumph of an otherwise dreadful second term. The question today is whether the same cast of characters led by Cruz can force the speaker into another shutdown. Indications are that this time Boehner will resist the Tea Party caucus and a shutdown, at least in the short term, will be avoided. That will be a victory for Boehner and an indication that he will be more in control of the House in the next two years than he was in the current Congress. But even if he loses this battle, Cruz may also benefit from this scenario.

As Politico reported yesterday, Cruz and his Tea Party colleagues are running into stiff resistance even from fellow conservatives in both the House and the Senate who have no appetite for another drubbing at the hands of the president and his media cheerleaders even if all are sympathetic to the idea of some kind of congressional pushback in response to the president’s executive orders on illegal immigrants. As our Pete Wehner wrote earlier this week, polls still show that the GOP would be the loser in any such confrontation, just as it was in 2013 even if it could be argued that the president was just as much, if not more responsible for sending the government to the brink.

Cruz and his allies want an immediate response to President Obama’s lawless end-run around Congress’s refusal to do his bidding on amnesty for illegals in the form of a proposal that will defund the Department of Homeland Security’s carrying out of the president’s orders and set in motion a battle that would probably lead to a shutdown. But most Republicans prefer the compromise proposed by Boehner that would fund the government for the next year while allowing DHS to operate only for a few months as the GOP formulated a response to the orders.

The speaker will probably need some Democratic votes to pass his version of the continuing resolution to keep funding the government as well as the assurances of Senate Democrats and the president that they will not seek to obstruct the measure in the waning days of the lame duck Congress. That is an indignity that he was not either prepared or able to suffer in 2013 but he will do so now both because he wishes to avoid a shutdown and because he wishes to send a message to the House that it will be he who is running things in the next Congress as Republicans seek to show the country that they can govern responsibly once they have control of both the House and the Senate.

Both of these goals make sense. And on the heels of their midterm victory, it behooves Republicans to combat the obstructionist image that their liberal opponents have tarred them with, especially if they hope to win back the White House in 2016.

If, as it seems now, Boehner gets his way, it will be portrayed as a victory for the party establishment and a sign that the Tea Party’s sway over Capitol Hill is waning. It will also not unreasonably be thought of as a defeat for Cruz, whose first two years in the Senate have been highlighted by his ability to exercise an unusually powerful influence over both events and the nature of the debate on these issues for a freshman. But even if he loses this battle, Cruz’s interests are by no means hurt by Boehner’s victory.

Cruz’s goal here is not just to force congressional Republicans to, as he said yesterday, “do what you promised” when campaigning against the president’s executive orders. Even if Boehner gets his way this month and avoids a shutdown, Cruz will be able to come back and demand more than another mere symbolic vote against Obama’s orders in the spring. Indeed, with the Department of Homeland Security on a hiring spree in order to find enough staff in order to carry out Obama’s amnesty plan, support for a defunding proposal that will stop DHS in its tracks is likely to grow in the coming months, meaning that this won’t be the last time Cruz bedevils Boehner on a potential shutdown confrontation.

Yet just as important from Cruz’s perspective is the fact that these votes will demonstrate to the conservative base of the GOP that Cruz isn’t merely an annoyance to his Senate colleagues and Boehner. Win or lose, these votes and the battles on the floor of both the House and the Senate will allow Cruz to assume the mantle of the leader of conservative insurgents against the Washington establishment in a way that not even some of the popular Republican governors thinking about running for president will be able to do. Any result, be it victory or defeat, on the efforts to stop Obama’s immigration orders will burnish Cruz’s image as the one member of the Senate who isn’t afraid to challenge either party, a formula that he rightly thinks will be useful in presidential primaries in 2016.

Boehner and the establishment may fend off Cruz’s insurgency both now and in March. But this won’t be the last word on the senator. Quite the contrary: Cruz now believes with good reason that he is in a no-lose situation on both immigration and the future of Congress. Even if the speaker wins Boehner v. Cruz Part Two, Cruz isn’t coming out of the situation as the loser, no matter who wins.

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Border Mess Won’t Help Democrats

Yesterday was a bad day for congressional Republicans. With the summer recess looming, both the House of Representatives and the Senate were working on bills relating to the crisis in which huge numbers of illegal immigrants have surged across our southern borders. But while both houses failed to pass a bill, the fiasco in the GOP-controlled House was particularly humiliating.

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Yesterday was a bad day for congressional Republicans. With the summer recess looming, both the House of Representatives and the Senate were working on bills relating to the crisis in which huge numbers of illegal immigrants have surged across our southern borders. But while both houses failed to pass a bill, the fiasco in the GOP-controlled House was particularly humiliating.

Speaker John Boehner wound up having to cancel a vote on a measure aimed at providing extra funding for the situation at the border due to a revolt from conservatives within his own caucus that was incited, according to some reports, by Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Though the Democrat-controlled Senate also failed to pass its own bill about the crisis, the spectacle of Boehner being once again thwarted by a major revolt from within his own party had returned.

That was bad enough. But even worse, as Charles Krauthammer noted last night on Fox News’s Special Report, was the fact that Boehner compounded matters by then saying that President Obama taking unilateral action could address the lack of funding. As Krauthammer said:

“It is ridiculous to sue the president on a Wednesday because he oversteps the law, as he has done a dozen times illegally and unconstitutionally, and then on a Thursday say that he should overstep the law, contradict the law that passed in 2008 and deal with this [the border] himself.”

Krauthammer is right. Boehner’s stance was “ridiculous.” But no more ridiculous than the spectacle of a new GOP leadership team finding itself unable to manage its caucus even on an issue when Republicans should been eager to act so as to maintain the pressure on the administration over a situation that Republicans have aptly criticized as a man-made crisis largely the fault of President Obama.

This fiasco revived talk about the incompetence of congressional Republicans as well as the way their Tea Party faction still seems to call the tune on difficult issues such as immigration. It was enough to set liberal pundits and Democrats boasting that Boehner’s disaster could change the narrative of the midterm elections and help cost the GOP their chance to win control of the Senate this fall.

But while Boehner’s bad day won’t help Republicans, the claim that this will alter the course of the midterms is, at best, an exaggeration, and, at worst, a misperception that will lead the Democrats to misread the seriousness of the threat to their hold on the Senate.

First, it should be understood that as bad as Thursday was for the GOP, their ability to rebound from this confusion and craft a new compromise that will enable them to pass a bill today that will undo some of the damage. By passing a bill that will make it easier to deport illegal immigrants and fund the crisis on the Rio Grande, Republicans can at least depart Washington saying they have done no worse than the Democrats who weren’t even able to pass their own version of a bill on the issue.

But while President Obama railed at them for producing a bill that couldn’t pass the Senate, he is just as guilty of refusing to compromise as Boehner’s crew. The Democrats may have gained a bit of an advantage this week but if they think the border crisis is going to help them this fall, they are dreaming.

In the long run, a failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform will hurt the Republican Party with Hispanics and make their path to an Electoral College majority in 2016 even more steep than it already is. But in terms of the midterms, this is an issue that does enormous damage to the Democrats in many of this year’s battleground states. Support for a more lenient approach to the influx of illegal aliens may exist but the debacle at the border lends strength to the argument that security must precede any path to legal status for those who cross it without permission. If Democrats in red states think they can run by defending a failure to secure the border or to deport illegals, when that is something that has been encouraged by the president’s misjudgments and statements, they are mistaken.

As foolish as Boehner looked yesterday, Democrats must face up to the fact that the only national theme to this year’s elections will likely be the lack of confidence in the president. After all, no matter how incompetent the GOP House looks, the president is still the president. It will take more than a ridiculous day on Capitol Hill to erase that fact from the voters’ memory.

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The Sue-Me President

Yesterday the House of Representatives voted along party lines to sue the President for rewriting key provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The vote has been criticized as a political stunt at best and a prelude to impeachment at worst. But it is neither. It is actually the next logical step in dealing with an administration whose motto has gone from “Hope and Change” to “So, sue me.”

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Yesterday the House of Representatives voted along party lines to sue the President for rewriting key provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The vote has been criticized as a political stunt at best and a prelude to impeachment at worst. But it is neither. It is actually the next logical step in dealing with an administration whose motto has gone from “Hope and Change” to “So, sue me.”

Anyone who has seen Schoolhouse Rock knows that the Constitution establishes clear procedures for the enactment of legislation: bicameralism, presentment, and signature. If a law doesn’t work out as hoped, the same process must be used to amend it. House Republicans argue that by unilaterally extending certain deadlines mandated by the ACA, the president has violated that process.

The stage is set for a classic struggle over the separation of powers. In one corner of the ring are members of Congress who believe that the president is encroaching upon the powers of the legislative branch. In the other corner is a president who believes that he has the discretion to change the law as he sees fit with the stroke of the pen and a wave of the phone.

Such a suit would have been unthinkable little more than a year ago. The notion that a close majority in one house of Congress could sue the president would have been laughed out of federal court. But thanks to one of the signal judicial victories of the Obama administration, U.S. v. Windsor, this case may well find itself on the fast track to the steps of the Supreme Court.

In order to have one’s day in court, a litigant has to demonstrate that he has standing to sue: he must show that he has sustained an actual injury and that the court has the power to provide a remedy. Historically, members of Congress have tried to sue sitting presidents on several occasions; but in each case they were unable to clear the standing hurdle. For example, in 1990, as the tensions leading to the First Gulf War escalated, fifty-four members of Congress sued President George H. W. Bush for encroaching on the powers of Congress by violating the War Powers Act. The case was dismissed on the ground that the claimants did not represent the totality of Congress and therefore did not have standing. In order to sue the president, the Court held, Congress would have to pass a joint resolution authorizing suit.

But last year, something changed. Last year, a narrow majority of the Supreme Court recognized for the first time that an unofficial committee of the House of Representatives,

the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), had standing to defend a federal statute when the executive would not. The statute in question was the Defense of Marriage Act, and its constitutionality was being challenged by New York widow Edith Windsor. President Obama ordered the Department of Justice not to defend the statute because he believed it was unconstitutional. DOMA would have been dead in the judicial water had BLAG not sought to intervene in the case and defend the statute’s constitutionality all the way to the high court.

The Supreme Court decided by a margin of one vote to recognize BLAG’s standing in the suit on “prudential” grounds relating to the public significance of the questions presented by the suit. It was an unprecedented ruling. As Justice Scalia noted in his dissent, the majority was so “eager—hungry—to tell everyone its view of the legal question at the heart of this case” that it dispensed with the ordinary standing requirements.

The administration got the outcome it wanted in Windsor–the Court declared DOMA unconstitutional–but it set a procedural precedent that may well be about to backfire for the president. Now that the Supreme Court has recognized BLAG’s standing to defend acts of Congress, the federal judiciary will have to decide whether to follow the Windsor precedent and allow the case against the president to proceed or to revert to traditional conceptions of standing and dismiss the suit.

It seems that John Boehner now has the president pinned by the point of his own pen. An administration that has cared less about constitutionally sound process than about politically expedient outcomes may well be about to reap what it has sown.

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An Academic’s Admirable Intellectual Independence

I wanted to alert people to recent congressional testimony by George Washington University Professor Jonathan Turley. The subject was the lawsuit by Speaker John Boehner to check President Obama’s repeated violations of the separation of powers. “The president’s pledge to effectively govern alone is alarming,” according to Turley, “and what is most alarming is his ability to fulfill that pledge.”

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I wanted to alert people to recent congressional testimony by George Washington University Professor Jonathan Turley. The subject was the lawsuit by Speaker John Boehner to check President Obama’s repeated violations of the separation of powers. “The president’s pledge to effectively govern alone is alarming,” according to Turley, “and what is most alarming is his ability to fulfill that pledge.”

I want to focus on Professor Turley’s testimony for two reasons. The first has to do with the merits of his argument, which he believes reflects the vision of the founders. The push-and-pull between Congress and the presidency goes back to the very beginning of the republic, but according to Turley we have reached a “tipping point.” Even if one doesn’t fully agree with him, Turley’s case is worth considering, particularly given how well-stated it is.

The second reason I wanted to highlight what Professor Turley said is because he demonstrates impressive intellectual independence. In the course of his testimony, Professor Turley says quite forthrightly that he voted for Barack Obama in the past and he’s sympathetic to what the president is trying to achieve with the Affordable Care Act. Which is to say, Turley is a political liberal.

No matter. The George Washington University law professor is able to separate his political leanings from his analysis of the situation. He is able to argue “against interest.” His principles have deeper roots than his political/partisan views.

Professor Turley is obviously a serious-minded scholar; he’s also a civilized, irenic one. We all struggle with “confirmation bias” and “motivated reasoning”; with keeping our political biases from clouding our intellectual judgments. These days that’s truer of academics, I imagine, than most others. Which is why Jonathan Turley’s example is an estimable one. Watch his testimony and see if you agree.

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The President Versus the Constitution

Conflicts between the legislative and executive branches are as old as the republic. But in recent years, the growing power of the presidency has added new urgency to these issues. That’s the context of the decision of House Speaker John Boehner to sue the president for overstepping his authority. It’s also the backdrop to the interesting constitutional arguments in play in today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on the president’s power to make recess appointments.

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Conflicts between the legislative and executive branches are as old as the republic. But in recent years, the growing power of the presidency has added new urgency to these issues. That’s the context of the decision of House Speaker John Boehner to sue the president for overstepping his authority. It’s also the backdrop to the interesting constitutional arguments in play in today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on the president’s power to make recess appointments.

Democrats may have a point when they claim Boehner’s lawsuit is more of a stunt than a policy initiative. It is doubtful that the courts will force the president’s hand when it comes to bypassing Congress on immigration by selective enforcement of laws or by the use of executive orders when the House and the Senate fail to pass the legislation he wants. Even if the case does go forward, the odds are it will not be resolved until after President Obama leaves office in January 2017.

But Boehner is right to stand up for the Constitution and a system of checks and balances and against Obama’s notions of an imperial presidency that increasingly seem aimed at allowing him to govern alone without Congress.

Thus, the Supreme Court’s willingness in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning to put some limits on the president’s power to make recess appointments is an encouraging sign that the march to one-person rule can be checked if not altogether halted.

As our John Steele Gordon noted earlier, the practice of allowing recess appointments, including those for vacancies that arise while Congress is in session, is not authorized by the Constitution but has become routine in the last century. While properly ruling that President Obama’s appointments to the National Labor Relations Board were illegal, the majority of the court sought to curb what it believes to be an excessive use of the practice. The decision held that congressional breaks of less than 10 days could not be interpreted as being sufficient to justify the president invoking his recess appointment power. That’s reasonable, but as Justice Antonin Scalia noted in his concurring opinion, by also saying that such appointments would be legal even if they came in the middle of an existing session, the court has read the law in such a way as to still leave the president far too much leeway to abuse the Constitution. The Constitution only authorizes the executive to make such an appointment when a vacancy comes up during an actual recess, not every such opening including ones that date back to times when Congress is in session.

As Scalia writes:

The notion that the Constitution empowers the President to make unilateral appointments every time the Senate takes a half-hour lunch break is so absurd as to be self-refuting. But that, in the majority’s view, is what the text authorizes.

Though he concurred with the majority that the NLRB appointments were illegal, Scalia rightly points out that such unilateral actions by the president could only be approved under extraordinary circumstances. But no such circumstances applied to this case or, for that matter, just about any other recess appointment made by any president in recent decades.

It should be remembered that the concept of recess appointments stems from the political realities of government in pre-20th century America. With a few exceptions during periods of national emergency, prior to the Great Depression Congress met for only a few months every year. Recesses then were not matters of a few days or weeks but several months. Even when a special session of Congress was called, travel in the horse-and-buggy era meant that it was simply impossible for the legislative branch to assemble quickly. Vacancies that arose during this period could, if forced to wait for the Senate to exercise its right to advise and consent to appointments, mean the government simply couldn’t function.

The old schedule in which a newly elected Congress would not meet until the December of the following year and new presidents not be inaugurated until the middle of March is consigned to the dustbin of history. But so, too, should the practice of allowing the president to simply use brief breaks in what is, for all intents and purposes, a nearly continuous congressional session to make appointments that the Senate has already effectively rejected.

Under the ruling in today’s case, so long as either congressional body is in the hands of the party not in control of the White House, recess appointments may be impossible since pro forma sessions will prevent the president from arguing, as Obama did, that the legislature really is not meeting. But, as John Steel Gordon points out, the president will still have a loophole that would allow him to effectively prorogue Congress like an 17th century English monarch.

All this points out the necessity for those who care about the Constitution—be they Republicans or Democrats—to stand up against a lawless presidency intent on one-person rule. Though Democrats may think they will hold the White House for the foreseeable future, they must consider that three years from now they may be faced with a Republican president. That president will, like all of his or her predecessors including Obama, probably suddenly find themselves in love with the idea of an imperial presidency that they disdained when someone of the other party was in power.

If this trend is allowed to continue unchecked and Obama’s predecessors are allowed to build on his precedent, then there is no telling how long the Constitution, as we know it, will survive. Presidents who enforce only the laws they like and use executive orders to make laws or make appointments the Congress has already rejected are little different from kings and queens.

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