Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mark Kirk

Can Iran Be Trusted On Nukes? Can Obama?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is Obama Winning the Fight Against More Iran Sanctions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Iran Agrees With Obama: Don’t Pressure Us.

Last Friday, President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron appealed to Congress at a joint press conference to back off on plans for more sanctions on Iran. It’s not clear whether any but the most fervent Obama loyalists were listening to their pleas but there was one party that heartily endorsed their position: Iran. As Agence France Presse noted, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif said on Saturday night that the talks would succeed if only the “Western countries” would “stop with the pressure” on the Islamist regime. That quote would be considered comical if it didn’t seem to dovetail so nicely with the president’s approach, which seems to prioritize the illusory chances for détente with Tehran while seeking to prevent Congress from strengthening his hands in the negotiations.

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Last Friday, President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron appealed to Congress at a joint press conference to back off on plans for more sanctions on Iran. It’s not clear whether any but the most fervent Obama loyalists were listening to their pleas but there was one party that heartily endorsed their position: Iran. As Agence France Presse noted, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif said on Saturday night that the talks would succeed if only the “Western countries” would “stop with the pressure” on the Islamist regime. That quote would be considered comical if it didn’t seem to dovetail so nicely with the president’s approach, which seems to prioritize the illusory chances for détente with Tehran while seeking to prevent Congress from strengthening his hands in the negotiations.

Fortunately, the Senate doesn’t appear to be listening to the president’s warnings or Zarif. A bipartisan bill proposing new sanctions on Iran sponsored by Senators Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez has already been drafted (the text can be read here) and will be submitted to the Senate Banking Committee. The key point to remember about this proposal is that the bill doesn’t immediately impose increased sanctions but rather holds them in abeyance until after the current talks fail. All they would do then is to remind Iran of the consequences of their failure to negotiate a deal that even Obama could accept.

Why, then, is the president opposing a measure that would only make an outcome that he supports more rather than less likely? The only answer is that he genuinely seems to fear ruffling the feathers of Iran’s Islamist dictators. Though his rhetoric on Iran’s nuclear threat was always exemplary, he has discarded the tough talk that characterized his statements about the issue when he was running for reelection in 2012 when he vowed that any deal would result in the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program. That went out the window with the interim nuclear deal signed in November 2013 when the West tacitly recognized Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and allowed its infrastructure and stockpile to stay in place. That agreement was supposed to be followed by a strictly limited six months of talks, but they have since been extended twice with no end in sight. Yet even now, a year after he successfully persuaded Congress (with the help of former Majority Leader Harry Reid who buried an earlier Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill despite the support of a veto-proof majority of both houses), Obama is still singing the same tired tune about not alienating the Iranians and Western allies who are uncomfortable with more sanctions.

But since the president’s goal appears to be a warming of relations with Iran, he thinks anything that pushes them too hard will make it more difficult to conclude even another weak deal. This talk about offending the sensitive feelings of the ayatollahs rings false. As the Washington Post noted in an editorial endorsing more sanctions, the president’s pleas for more patience with the Islamist regime comes not only after the Iranians announced the construction of two new nuclear plants but also after the regime sent the case of Post Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaiain to a Revolutionary Court for “processing” on some bogus charges that have yet to be announced. Rezaiain has been imprisoned for six months. But as the Post correctly notes, if this unjust treatment of an American citizen is not considered enough of a provocation for Washington to cut off talks with Tehran, then it is impossible to credibly argue that a proposal for potential sanctions would make an agreement impossible.

Nor is there any weight to the argument that the president can always ask for more sanctions if the talks fail.

First, given his decision to keep extending the talks despite his pledges not to do so, there seems little chance that he will ever concede failure and respond appropriately to the Iranian refusal to give up their nuclear ambitions. It should also be noted that despite the president’s boasting of having imposed the sanctions on Iran that brought them to the table, the Obama administration has consistently opposed proposals for restrictions on doing business with the Islamist regime including the ones that are now in place.

So long as this president is more concerned with the illusory chance to, as he stated last month, “let Iran get right with the world” than with preventing them from becoming, at best, a threshold nuclear power, Tehran knows he will never pressure them in a way that will convince them that the West can’t be waited out. Until Zarif starts fearing pressure rather than endorsing Obama’s opposition to it, the Iranian threat won’t be defused. That’s why Congress must act now. Menendez stood up and challenged the president on Iran policy in a meeting with Democratic senators last week. With veto-proof majorities for more sanctions ready to vote for it, the rest of the Senate should show the same courage. The Kirk-Menendez bill should be passed as soon as possible.

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Lacking Achievements, Hillary Invents One

Last month, in writing about the challenge Hillary Clinton will face in running for president after presiding over foreign-policy disasters at the State Department, I gave her too much credit. With regard to Iran, I said she’d probably act as though she had been “skeptical of Iranian ‘reform,’” since she didn’t negotiate the naïve deal with the Islamic Republic; John Kerry did.

I suppose I had momentarily forgotten she’s a Clinton. This week she reminded us. She won’t merely pretend to have been privately wary of the Iranians. She will just make stuff up and rewrite history, counting on the media’s investment in her election and fear of crossing her to cover for her distortions. Like the daring woman who dodged a phantom shower of gunfire in Bosnia, Hillary is back casting herself as the heroic defender of freedom she has never been. Josh Rogin reports on Clinton’s speech to the American Jewish Committee this week:

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Last month, in writing about the challenge Hillary Clinton will face in running for president after presiding over foreign-policy disasters at the State Department, I gave her too much credit. With regard to Iran, I said she’d probably act as though she had been “skeptical of Iranian ‘reform,’” since she didn’t negotiate the naïve deal with the Islamic Republic; John Kerry did.

I suppose I had momentarily forgotten she’s a Clinton. This week she reminded us. She won’t merely pretend to have been privately wary of the Iranians. She will just make stuff up and rewrite history, counting on the media’s investment in her election and fear of crossing her to cover for her distortions. Like the daring woman who dodged a phantom shower of gunfire in Bosnia, Hillary is back casting herself as the heroic defender of freedom she has never been. Josh Rogin reports on Clinton’s speech to the American Jewish Committee this week:

Hillary Clinton is now claiming to be the architect of crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy. But during her tenure as Secretary of State, her department repeatedly opposed or tried to water down an array of measures that were pushed into law by Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

Rogin offers a corrective:

What Clinton didn’t mention was that top officials from her own State Department—in conjunction with the rest of the Obama administration—often worked hard against many of the measures she’s now championing. Some bills Foggy Bottom slowed down; others, the State Department lobbied to be made less strict; still others were opposed outright by Clinton’s deputies, only to be overruled by large majorities in the House and the Senate. …

The most egregious example of the administration’s effort to slow down the sanctions drive came in late 2011, when Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez openly chastised top administration officials for opposing an amendment to sanction the Central Bank of Iran that he had co-authored with Sen. Mark Kirk. Leading administration officials including Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman publicly expressed “strong opposition” (PDF) to the amendment, arguing that it would anger allies by opening them up for punishment if they did not significantly reduce their imports of Iranian oil.

Clinton’s top deputies fought the amendment at every step of the legislative process. Clinton’s #2 at the State Department, Bill Burns, even joined an emergency meeting with top senators to urge them to drop the amendment. They refused. The amendment later passed the Senate 100-0. Menendez said at the time that the administration had negotiated on the amendment in bad faith.

The record is quite clear: Hillary Clinton was a powerful obstacle to effective Iran sanctions. It is a tribute to the hard work and determination of those like Kirk and Menendez to be able to get any sanctions through Clinton and Obama’s dedicated obstruction of efforts to use sanctions to stop or slow Iran’s march to a nuclear weapon.

The whole incident is a preview of what 2016 will be like if Hillary does decide to accept her party’s coronation as its new cult leader. The Clinton campaign would indeed be a fairytale ending to a storybook career–just not in the way those terms are traditionally understood. The campaign narrative will be, at best, historical fiction–though closer to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter than the West Wing, in terms of its relationship to the real world.

As Rogin reported, and as ABC News picked up on last night, Kirk is pushing back:

“I worked for months to round-up the votes [in the UN Security Council],” Clinton said. “In the end we were successful… And then building on the framework established by the Security Council, with the help of Congress, the Obama administration imposed some of the most stringent, crippling sanctions on top of the international ones.”

Those sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table earlier this year.

“Secretary Clinton’s comments are a blatant revision of history,” said Kirk, who with Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., co-sponsored several sanctions bills in recent years. “The fact is the Obama administration has opposed sanctions against Iran led by Senator Menendez and me every step of the way.”

It’s significant that Kirk is speaking up, because he is neither a conservative firebrand (he is the moderate Republican holding President Obama’s former Senate seat) nor a serial self-promoter, unlike so many of his colleagues. He is also not contemplating running against Clinton for the presidency in 2016.

He is speaking out, quite simply, because Clinton is selling a self-aggrandizing fantasy to the public in hopes of deceiving her way into the White House. In the process, she is demeaning those really responsible for the sanctions. But the silver lining is that her attempt to rewrite history indicates her awareness of just how out of step she is with the American public.

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Cut off Aid to the Palestinian Authority? Just Enforce the Law.

Last week, Senator Rand Paul set off a furious debate by putting forward a bill that would cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority because of the decision by its leaders to conclude a unity pact with the Islamist terrorists of Hamas. But rather than reap the applause of Israel’s backers, his bill was opposed by AIPAC. Paul’s latest attempt to curry favor with Jews and other members of the pro-Israel community was excoriated by the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin and wound up failing in the Senate.

I thought Paul was wrong to blast AIPAC as betraying its mandate. I also think his isolationism and steadfast opposition to vital military aid to Israel calls into question his bona fides as the author of legislation he called the “Stand With Israel Act of 2014.” But I also disagreed with those who thought the libertarian was wrong to call into question the continued flow of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the PA. The basic flaw in America’s efforts to bolster the peace process from Bill Clinton’s day to the Obama era has been an unwillingness to make the Palestinians accountable for their actions.

But yesterday, Senators Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk provided a timely reminder as to why Paul’s bill was really unnecessary: an aid cutoff because of the Hamas alliance is already mandated by U.S. law.

As Rubio and Kirk wrote in a joint letter to Secretary of State John Kerry:

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Last week, Senator Rand Paul set off a furious debate by putting forward a bill that would cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority because of the decision by its leaders to conclude a unity pact with the Islamist terrorists of Hamas. But rather than reap the applause of Israel’s backers, his bill was opposed by AIPAC. Paul’s latest attempt to curry favor with Jews and other members of the pro-Israel community was excoriated by the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin and wound up failing in the Senate.

I thought Paul was wrong to blast AIPAC as betraying its mandate. I also think his isolationism and steadfast opposition to vital military aid to Israel calls into question his bona fides as the author of legislation he called the “Stand With Israel Act of 2014.” But I also disagreed with those who thought the libertarian was wrong to call into question the continued flow of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the PA. The basic flaw in America’s efforts to bolster the peace process from Bill Clinton’s day to the Obama era has been an unwillingness to make the Palestinians accountable for their actions.

But yesterday, Senators Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk provided a timely reminder as to why Paul’s bill was really unnecessary: an aid cutoff because of the Hamas alliance is already mandated by U.S. law.

As Rubio and Kirk wrote in a joint letter to Secretary of State John Kerry:

The Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 sets detailed requirements for the continuation of U.S. assistance should Hamas be brought into the Palestinian Authority government. The law is very clear. If Hamas comes to have a role in governance, there must be public acknowledgment of the Jewish state of Israel’s right to exist as well as acceptance of all previous agreements the Palestinians have made with Israel, the United States, and the international community. The law also requires that demonstrable progress be made toward dismantling of Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure and purging of individuals with ties to terrorism. Moreover, Hamas would need to halt its anti-American and anti-Israel incitement. The bar is high because the stakes are high and we must make sure to stand firmly by what we have said. Failing to do so will diminish the credibility of the United States.

Rubio and Kirk are right. No new legislation is needed to make the Palestinians accountable. All that is needed is for the administration to start enforcing the law.

That it won’t do so is pretty much a given. The reason put forward by some in the pro-Israel community for keeping the flow of Uncle Sam’s cash to the PA is a reasonable one. They claim that Israel needs the PA to continue to exist. A collapse caused by the cutoff of Western funds would cause huge problems for the Israelis who always need a Palestinian interlocutor. Israel has no desire to directly interfere in the lives of West Bank Palestinians, most of whom are governed by the corrupt and incompetent PA. It also relies on security cooperation with PA forces to help keep a lid on terrorism, though it can be argued that the PA and its fearful leadership benefits even more from the relationship because the Israelis ensure that Hamas and/or Islamic Jihad can’t topple them as they did the Fatah government of Gaza in 2006.

But as Rubio and Kirk noted in their letter, the deal between Hamas and Fatah explicitly states not only that Hamas won’t disarm or cease support for terror and recognize Israel. Hamas believes the agreement forbids further security cooperation between the PA and Israel.

That pronouncement illustrates Prime Minister Netanyahu’s point about Abbas having to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas. In his desire to flee Kerry’s peace talks rather than be maneuvered into signing a peace agreement he can’t enforce, Abbas has chosen the latter. And U.S. law dictates that consequences must follow.

The key point here isn’t so much about the money, though U.S. aid plays a vital role in keeping the PA kleptocracy afloat. Rather it is that for more than 20 years U.S. governments have been whitewashing and excusing Palestinian actions and defending those decisions by saying that holding the PA accountable is bad for peace, security, and stability. Just as the failure of Kerry’s initiative was due in no small measure to the refusal of the administration to tell the truth about Abbas—who was wrongly praised as a man of peace while Netanyahu was falsely blasted as intransigent—that led the Palestinian to believe that he could stall and then walk out of talks with impunity.

Until the U.S. government starts enforcing those consequences, their behavior will never change. Paul’s bill may have been a piece of unnecessary grandstanding and friends of Israel are right to be wary of an isolationist whose rise bodes ill both for the future of American foreign policy and the U.S.-Israel alliance. But the issue he highlighted is real and demands action that unfortunately won’t be forthcoming from Obama or Kerry. 

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Kerry Wants Congress to Ignore Israel; It May Ignore Him Instead

Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden went to Capitol Hill to privately brief the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee about the nuclear negotiations with Iran and plead with them not to toughen sanctions on the rogue nation. But according to multiple sources that spoke to the press, their appeal went over like a lead balloon. As the New York Times reports:

They faced extreme skepticism from lawmakers in both parties who worry the administration is prepared to give the Iranian government too much for too little.

The reaction from Democrats was scathing with, as the Times reports, even loyal administration soldiers in the Senate like Majority Leader Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer distancing themselves from Kerry’s position and later expressing doubt to reporters about his negotiating strategy. The reaction from Republicans was no less hostile, with Kerry being denounced in scathing terms by Senator Mark Kirk.

Why the hostility to their former colleague? Part of it stemmed from what appeared to be Kerry’s less-than-candid approach. As BuzzFeed reported, Senator Bob Corker was incensed about the fact that Kerry gave no details about his talks with Iran and instead made only what he called an “emotional appeal” for them to back off on sanctions. But the negative reaction seemed to stem more from the nature of what Kerry said rather than what he didn’t say:

“It was fairly anti-Israeli,” Kirk said to reporters after the briefing. “I was supposed to disbelieve everything the Israelis had just told me, and I think the Israelis probably have a pretty good intelligence service.” He said the Israelis had told him that the “total changes proposed set back the program by 24 days.”

A Senate aide familiar with the meeting said that “every time anybody would say anything about ‘what would the Israelis say,’ they’d get cut off and Kerry would say, ‘You have to ignore what they’re telling you, stop listening to the Israelis on this.’”

If this is the kind of presentation Kerry thinks will convince the Senate to give a stamp of approval of a drift toward appeasement of Iran, it’s little surprise that there seems to be little trust on the Hill in his judgment.

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Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden went to Capitol Hill to privately brief the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee about the nuclear negotiations with Iran and plead with them not to toughen sanctions on the rogue nation. But according to multiple sources that spoke to the press, their appeal went over like a lead balloon. As the New York Times reports:

They faced extreme skepticism from lawmakers in both parties who worry the administration is prepared to give the Iranian government too much for too little.

The reaction from Democrats was scathing with, as the Times reports, even loyal administration soldiers in the Senate like Majority Leader Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer distancing themselves from Kerry’s position and later expressing doubt to reporters about his negotiating strategy. The reaction from Republicans was no less hostile, with Kerry being denounced in scathing terms by Senator Mark Kirk.

Why the hostility to their former colleague? Part of it stemmed from what appeared to be Kerry’s less-than-candid approach. As BuzzFeed reported, Senator Bob Corker was incensed about the fact that Kerry gave no details about his talks with Iran and instead made only what he called an “emotional appeal” for them to back off on sanctions. But the negative reaction seemed to stem more from the nature of what Kerry said rather than what he didn’t say:

“It was fairly anti-Israeli,” Kirk said to reporters after the briefing. “I was supposed to disbelieve everything the Israelis had just told me, and I think the Israelis probably have a pretty good intelligence service.” He said the Israelis had told him that the “total changes proposed set back the program by 24 days.”

A Senate aide familiar with the meeting said that “every time anybody would say anything about ‘what would the Israelis say,’ they’d get cut off and Kerry would say, ‘You have to ignore what they’re telling you, stop listening to the Israelis on this.’”

If this is the kind of presentation Kerry thinks will convince the Senate to give a stamp of approval of a drift toward appeasement of Iran, it’s little surprise that there seems to be little trust on the Hill in his judgment.

Kerry’s remarks were in keeping with the tone of Kerry’s temper tantrum during a press interview last week in Israel, during which he vented his frustration about Israel’s opposition to his proposed deal with Iran and placed all the blame for the failure of the peace talks he has pushed with Palestinians on the Jewish state and even seemed to rationalize Palestinian violence.

But the unwillingness to take Kerry at his word isn’t just a matter of being shocked at his animus toward America’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East. It’s also because senators who remember the U.S. missteps that led to North Korea getting a bomb have seen this movie before. As Kirk noted, Wendy Sherman, Kerry’s aide who is leading the U.S. participation in the P5+1 talks with Iran, has little credibility when it comes to nuclear negotiations:

Kirk also criticized Sherman, whose “record on North Korea is a total failure and embarrassment to her service.” Sherman was part of the U.S. negotiating team that focused on North Korea in the 1990s.

“Wendy wants you to forget her service on North Korea,” Kirk said. “You shouldn’t allow her.”

This is significant because Kerry wants the Senate to believe that he knows what he’s doing in advocating a deal that would have left in place Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium and did nothing to halt construction on its plutonium reactor. Those terms were so transparently weak that even the French couldn’t stomach the effort to appease Iran, resulting in Kerry leaving Geneva last weekend without the accord that he’s so desperate to sign.

His claims that more restrictions on Iran’s ability to sell oil to fund terrorism and nukes would “break faith” with Iran are also puzzling and will only feed speculation that the U.S. has been conducting secret back-channel talks with Tehran that have been predicated on Obama administration promises to give the ayatollahs the sanctions relief they want while getting little or nothing in return.

But by throwing down the gauntlet on Israel in this fashion in a Congress where a wall-to-wall bipartisan coalition in support for the Jewish state exists may have been a stunning miscalculation. Kerry has dared the Senate to call him out for a campaign of feckless diplomacy that seems motivated more by a desire to achieve détente with the Islamist tyrants of Tehran and resentment of Israel than concern about the dangers of a nuclear Iran. Whatever little credibility the secretary had left after the foreign-policy disasters concerning Egypt, Syria, and the Middle East peace process that he has presided over this year seems to have gone down the drain in another fit of temper. Kerry may want Congress to ignore Israel, but judging by the poor reviews he got yesterday, it’s a lot more likely that it will ignore him and ratify more Iran sanctions.

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Mark Kirk Walks the Capitol Steps

Senator Mark Kirk made his return to Capitol Hill yesterday, nearly one year after suffering a stroke that almost cost him his life and forced him to relearn how to use the left side of his body. Kirk’s goal through recovery has been to walk the steps leading up to the U.S. Capitol, and he succeeded yesterday morning

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Senator Mark Kirk made his return to Capitol Hill yesterday, nearly one year after suffering a stroke that almost cost him his life and forced him to relearn how to use the left side of his body. Kirk’s goal through recovery has been to walk the steps leading up to the U.S. Capitol, and he succeeded yesterday morning

But relearning how to walk hasn’t been Kirk’s only focus during his months of rehabilitation. Since waking up from surgery last year, he’s also been working tirelessly to strengthen sanctions on Iran, as I outlined recently in the Weekly Standard. This week, Kirk gave an emotional account about what he saw while undergoing brain surgery (“angels” with “New York accents”), and how the experience has only made him more driven and goal-focused. With national security hawks like Senators Joe Lieberman and Jon Kyl stepping down, and Iran’s nuclear program becoming the U.S.’s main geopolitical concern, it’s more essential than ever to have strong voices on foreign policy in the Senate. Congratulations to Kirk for reaching his big goal, and best wishes for continued progress in his recovery.

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Menendez Expected to Take Over as Foreign Relations Chair

Finally, some good news to come out of John Kerry’s likely secretary of state appointment:

Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) anticipated move to the State Department would leave the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the hands of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who has consistently bucked the White House on Cuba and Iran.

Menendez is next in line to take over the panel if Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) opts to keep her chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, as is widely expected. That would give Menendez a key role in approving diplomatic nominees and international treaties — crucial leverage to demand a tougher stance against America’s foes.

“You can’t work around the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when he’s willing to dig in his heels on important issues,” said Roger Noriega, a former assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs under President George W. Bush who’s enthused by Menendez’s possible promotion. “At the same time, he’s going to be expected to be a team player — but that has its limits.

“I think he’ll give folks in the administration something to think about before they cross him, frankly.”

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Finally, some good news to come out of John Kerry’s likely secretary of state appointment:

Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) anticipated move to the State Department would leave the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the hands of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who has consistently bucked the White House on Cuba and Iran.

Menendez is next in line to take over the panel if Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) opts to keep her chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, as is widely expected. That would give Menendez a key role in approving diplomatic nominees and international treaties — crucial leverage to demand a tougher stance against America’s foes.

“You can’t work around the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when he’s willing to dig in his heels on important issues,” said Roger Noriega, a former assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs under President George W. Bush who’s enthused by Menendez’s possible promotion. “At the same time, he’s going to be expected to be a team player — but that has its limits.

“I think he’ll give folks in the administration something to think about before they cross him, frankly.”

When it comes to Iran sanctions, it would be difficult to find a stronger Democratic senator than Menendez. He’s been active on the issue for years, at least since his time on the House international relations committee (now foreign affairs). On the Senate finance committee, he’s joined up with Senator Mark Kirk on several critically important Iran sanctions amendments.

But the White House can’t be thrilled with Menendez’s likely new role. He’s had no reservations about fighting the Obama administration over sanctions, nor clashing with them over Armenia and Cuba. The last thing Obama wants is a critic from his own party attacking his Iran policy from such a prominent perch in the Senate.

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Will Obama Block New Iran Sanctions?

The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran’s nuclear program is due out on Friday, but the contents are already being discussed in the international press. One source has already told Agence France Presse that it will detail the fact that the installation of 2,700 centrifuges at the mountain bunker facility at Fordow is now complete. The expectation is that enrichment of uranium that can be used to produce a nuclear weapon at this site will increase in the coming months, bringing Tehran much closer to being capable of producing a weapon. That leaves the Obama administration with a dilemma.

Though the economic sanctions that President Obama belatedly embraced last year have inflicted pain on the Iranian economy, as the IAEA report makes clear, they have done nothing to halt their nuclear progress. While the president has reportedly assigned Valerie Jarrett, a close personal confidante, the task of carrying out secret talks with representatives of the ayatollah, there is little reason to believe they are interested in accepting the terms of a possible deal that Obama laid out during the third presidential debate, in which he said they would not be permitted to retain a nuclear program. If that is the president’s goal, he ought to embrace a plan for new and tougher economic sanctions that might actually have a chance to force the Iranians to reconsider their defiance. Yet a report published yesterday in Congressional Quarterly indicates that the administration plans to oppose the scheme.

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The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran’s nuclear program is due out on Friday, but the contents are already being discussed in the international press. One source has already told Agence France Presse that it will detail the fact that the installation of 2,700 centrifuges at the mountain bunker facility at Fordow is now complete. The expectation is that enrichment of uranium that can be used to produce a nuclear weapon at this site will increase in the coming months, bringing Tehran much closer to being capable of producing a weapon. That leaves the Obama administration with a dilemma.

Though the economic sanctions that President Obama belatedly embraced last year have inflicted pain on the Iranian economy, as the IAEA report makes clear, they have done nothing to halt their nuclear progress. While the president has reportedly assigned Valerie Jarrett, a close personal confidante, the task of carrying out secret talks with representatives of the ayatollah, there is little reason to believe they are interested in accepting the terms of a possible deal that Obama laid out during the third presidential debate, in which he said they would not be permitted to retain a nuclear program. If that is the president’s goal, he ought to embrace a plan for new and tougher economic sanctions that might actually have a chance to force the Iranians to reconsider their defiance. Yet a report published yesterday in Congressional Quarterly indicates that the administration plans to oppose the scheme.

According to CQ, the same bipartisan Senate team that dragged the administration into the tough sanctions last year is at it again. Illinois Republican Mark Kirk and New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez are proposing ratcheting up the economic pressure on Iran. Their goal is to expand the loosely enforced measures now in place into something that would approximate an economic embargo. The new legislation would build on the existing law they helped draft to ban virtually all international trade and transactions with Iran except for food, medicine and humanitarian aid. Though it would not override the waivers given China and other Iranian oil customers allowed by the administration in the last year, the bill has the potential to bring the country to its knees and perhaps force its leaders to abandon their nuclear ambition.

Yet, as was the case with Kirk and Menendez’s previous efforts, the president may adamantly oppose the bill. Last year, the senators watered down their bill in an attempt to address administration concerns, but were disappointed to discover that the White House was still trying to spike it. They prevailed nonetheless and, in a stroke of irony, the president and his surrogates spent the presidential campaign bragging about the same Iran sanctions he had actually opposed before their passage.

If the president tries to stop Kirk and Menendez again this year, it will raise serious questions about his motives. The new sanctions plan provides what may be the only possible path to stopping the Iranians short of the use of force. Opposition to it could mean that the current negotiations being undertaken by Jarrett are aimed at a compromise that will fall far short of the president’s repeated campaign pledges not to allow the Iranians to retain a nuclear program. The president may think such “flexibility” will allow him to avoid a conflict with Tehran, but it will also leave open the very real possibility that the centrifuges in Fordow will not be stopped from producing the weapon that the world fears.

While the White House remains mum about Jarrett’s secret talks, the president’s stance on the Kirk-Menendez sanctions will give us a clue as to whether he will make good on his pledges to stop Iran during a second term.

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Sen. Kirk’s First Message After Stroke

In his first public message since his stroke, Sen. Mark Kirk discusses his rehabilitation process and how he’s anxious “to get back to work to vote to spend less, borrow less and tax less to fix our economy.”

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In his first public message since his stroke, Sen. Mark Kirk discusses his rehabilitation process and how he’s anxious “to get back to work to vote to spend less, borrow less and tax less to fix our economy.”

Just 15 weeks after the stroke, Kirk’s recovery seems to be progressing well. The video shows him walking with help from a three-footed cane and rehabilitation aide, but with some apparent paralysis on the left side of his face and his arm. Anyone who has a family member or friend who has suffered a stroke knows that recovery is a long and challenging process. But Kirk has the advantage of being fairly young and in otherwise good health, and he reportedly hopes to return to work after the August recess.

And the sooner he returns, the better for conservatives. While many of the rising conservative leaders in Congress are very strong on economic issues, Kirk has also been a critical voice on foreign policy and an unwavering defender of Israel. So much so that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the senator’s work at the beginning of his speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee earlier this year.

Best wishes for a speedy recovery to Kirk, and let’s hope it’s not long before he’s able to climb those 45 steps from the parking lot to the Senate front door.

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Obama Snubs Mark Kirk at AIPAC

Even though Sen. Mark Kirk is still home recovering from his recent stroke, his presence loomed large at AIPAC this week. Sen. Mitch McConnell gave a nod to Kirk during his speech at the gala, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued this sincere request during his keynote:

I want to send a special message to a great friend of Israel who is not here tonight: Senator Mark Kirk, the co-author of the Kirk-Menendez Iran Sanctions Act. Senator Kirk, I know you’re watching this tonight. Please get well soon. America needs you;  Israel needs you. I send you wishes for a speedy recovery. So get well and get back to work.

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Even though Sen. Mark Kirk is still home recovering from his recent stroke, his presence loomed large at AIPAC this week. Sen. Mitch McConnell gave a nod to Kirk during his speech at the gala, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued this sincere request during his keynote:

I want to send a special message to a great friend of Israel who is not here tonight: Senator Mark Kirk, the co-author of the Kirk-Menendez Iran Sanctions Act. Senator Kirk, I know you’re watching this tonight. Please get well soon. America needs you;  Israel needs you. I send you wishes for a speedy recovery. So get well and get back to work.

Kirk has been one of the strongest friends of Israel in the Senate, and co-authored the latest, and toughest, Iran sanctions legislation with Sen. Robert Menendez. After months of foot-dragging and pushback, President Obama finally signed the sanctions into law in February.

Despite his initial opposition to the legislation, Obama was perfectly happy to take credit for these sanctions during his AIPAC speech on Sunday, which included no mention of Kirk or his ongoing recovery:

I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. That includes all elements of American power: a political effort aimed at isolating Iran, a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored, an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.

This is the third time Obama had an opportunity to mention Kirk in an address and declined to do so. At the last State of the Union, Obama gave a warm hug to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, but made no acknowledgement of Kirk, who had the stroke just days earlier. This is despite the fact that Kirk holds the same Illinois Senate seat that Obama held before he became president.

Obama also neglected to mention Kirk in a statement he sent to Congress after signing the Executive Order on the latest Iran sanctions. In the note, the president took full credit for the policy.

It’s not that Obama should have to give Kirk a nod every time he mentions the sanctions. But a brief acknowledgment for the man who had the foresight to fight for them – even when the president was reluctant to support them – would be the classy thing to do.

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Who Deserves Credit for Iran Sanctions?

President Obama is getting heaps of praise for the tough Iranian bank sanctions he ordered today. But lost in the pro-Obama media coverage are the names of the two lawmakers who made these sanctions happen: Sens. Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez.

The Kirk-Menendez bill – which was signed into law by Obama in December only after he fought for it be watered down – actually required the president to sign the executive order implementing these sanctions. In fact, Obama waited over a month after he signed the law to actually comply with it.

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President Obama is getting heaps of praise for the tough Iranian bank sanctions he ordered today. But lost in the pro-Obama media coverage are the names of the two lawmakers who made these sanctions happen: Sens. Mark Kirk and Robert Menendez.

The Kirk-Menendez bill – which was signed into law by Obama in December only after he fought for it be watered down – actually required the president to sign the executive order implementing these sanctions. In fact, Obama waited over a month after he signed the law to actually comply with it.

The president’s attempt to take sole credit for the sanctions is drawing understandable criticism on the Hill. A senior congressional aide who helped craft the Iran sanctions legislation, fumed: “After taking more than a month to comply with a law he opposed in the first place, the president’s announcement today is heavy on PR and completely empty on substance or news.  The president didn’t wake up and decide to freeze Iranian bank assets because of any newfound sense of urgency on Iran; it’s required in section one of the Menendez-Kirk amendment.”

“Everyone needs to pay extremely close attention to the rule that’s about to be published which will contain all the details on how the Obama Administration intends to implement sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran,” added the aide.

Credit where it’s due: Obama signed the executive order for a round of sanctions that finally have teeth, and may be last hope for averting military action by the U.S. or Israel. His actions today will get them rolling.

But the honorable thing to do would be to recognize the real architects behind the sanctions, Menendez and Kirk.

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The Unexpected Triumph of New START

It appears that yesterday, Republican opposition to the New START treaty in the Senate melted down; the treaty is on its way to passage tomorrow with, Rich Lowry says, as many as 75 votes. So what happened here? As late as the end of last week, it appeared that the principled objections to the treaty — specifically, the language of its preamble, which may be read as placing limits on America’s ability to defend itself against nuclear missiles — had the upper hand. Or at least a strong-enough hand either to prevent the treaty from coming to a vote or to deny it the 67 votes needed in the Senate to secure passage of any treaty (two-thirds of senators need to approve a treaty, according to the Constitution).

This is an unnecessary treaty, made with a bad international actor of the second rank whose word cannot be trusted and who does not deserve to be elevated to the level of a bilateral negotiator with the United States. That said, I think the problem the anti-START forces ran into is that the treaty itself is, arguably, anodyne. In other words, it’s unnecessary but not dangerous. And it appears the Obama administration made an effective case to wavering Republican senators that it would be dangerous to reject it. That argument may be specious, but it runs like this: We need Russian cooperation to keep Iran from going nuclear, there are signs we’re getting that cooperation, and it will end instantly if the treaty dies in the Senate. The administration might have dropped some important classified information into the ears of senators to demonstrate the seriousness of the situation. And there are enough intellectuals and policy thinkers on the right who agree that the risk of rejecting the treaty is worse than the risk of signing it that the wavering senators were given all sorts of good reasons for supporting it.

How bad a defeat is this for the conservatives making the case against New START? Opposing political action on the basis of principle or honestly maintained concern is never a defeat; the principle doesn’t end because the vote doesn’t go your way, nor does the concern simply vanish. Just because your view doesn’t prevail doesn’t mean the fight wasn’t worth it. So there’s no ideological cost.

There is a political cost, or rather two political costs, for those whose primary interest was in handing the Obama administration and its foreign policy a defeat. The first is that the relative intensity of the opposition just makes the president’s victory all the sweeter and helps make the argument that he has recovered his political footing after the November election more quickly than anyone expected. That is just a matter of perception — the Republican takeover of the House is looming, and dark days are coming for him legislatively — but perception matters in politics. Some people picked a fight on this with the hope that they could deliver an uppercut to Obama just after he had come off the ropes; they swung and they missed; and he knocked them down instead.

The second cost is that it will raise to some senators and staffers in the GOP the possibility that, on foreign policy at least, they need to be somewhat skeptical of the voices of some on the right whose counsel might now seem untrustworthy and politically imprudent to them.

On the other hand, it’s one thing for Barack Obama to get a lot done in a lame-duck session that no longer reflects the beliefs and ideological makeup of the country at large. Come 2011, there will be five more Republican senators (the sixth new senator, Mark Kirk of Illinois, has already been seated) and 63 new Republicans on Capitol Hill. Obama should savor these victories, because they’re likely to be among the last he sees for a long time.

It appears that yesterday, Republican opposition to the New START treaty in the Senate melted down; the treaty is on its way to passage tomorrow with, Rich Lowry says, as many as 75 votes. So what happened here? As late as the end of last week, it appeared that the principled objections to the treaty — specifically, the language of its preamble, which may be read as placing limits on America’s ability to defend itself against nuclear missiles — had the upper hand. Or at least a strong-enough hand either to prevent the treaty from coming to a vote or to deny it the 67 votes needed in the Senate to secure passage of any treaty (two-thirds of senators need to approve a treaty, according to the Constitution).

This is an unnecessary treaty, made with a bad international actor of the second rank whose word cannot be trusted and who does not deserve to be elevated to the level of a bilateral negotiator with the United States. That said, I think the problem the anti-START forces ran into is that the treaty itself is, arguably, anodyne. In other words, it’s unnecessary but not dangerous. And it appears the Obama administration made an effective case to wavering Republican senators that it would be dangerous to reject it. That argument may be specious, but it runs like this: We need Russian cooperation to keep Iran from going nuclear, there are signs we’re getting that cooperation, and it will end instantly if the treaty dies in the Senate. The administration might have dropped some important classified information into the ears of senators to demonstrate the seriousness of the situation. And there are enough intellectuals and policy thinkers on the right who agree that the risk of rejecting the treaty is worse than the risk of signing it that the wavering senators were given all sorts of good reasons for supporting it.

How bad a defeat is this for the conservatives making the case against New START? Opposing political action on the basis of principle or honestly maintained concern is never a defeat; the principle doesn’t end because the vote doesn’t go your way, nor does the concern simply vanish. Just because your view doesn’t prevail doesn’t mean the fight wasn’t worth it. So there’s no ideological cost.

There is a political cost, or rather two political costs, for those whose primary interest was in handing the Obama administration and its foreign policy a defeat. The first is that the relative intensity of the opposition just makes the president’s victory all the sweeter and helps make the argument that he has recovered his political footing after the November election more quickly than anyone expected. That is just a matter of perception — the Republican takeover of the House is looming, and dark days are coming for him legislatively — but perception matters in politics. Some people picked a fight on this with the hope that they could deliver an uppercut to Obama just after he had come off the ropes; they swung and they missed; and he knocked them down instead.

The second cost is that it will raise to some senators and staffers in the GOP the possibility that, on foreign policy at least, they need to be somewhat skeptical of the voices of some on the right whose counsel might now seem untrustworthy and politically imprudent to them.

On the other hand, it’s one thing for Barack Obama to get a lot done in a lame-duck session that no longer reflects the beliefs and ideological makeup of the country at large. Come 2011, there will be five more Republican senators (the sixth new senator, Mark Kirk of Illinois, has already been seated) and 63 new Republicans on Capitol Hill. Obama should savor these victories, because they’re likely to be among the last he sees for a long time.

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Wishing Thinking, Again, by the Gray Lady

There is a whole genre of New York Times front-page articles that can be called “wishful thinking by the left.” These pieces usually allege that some bad thing happening on the right — dissension, racism, etc. — but never quite get around to providing many (sometimes any) evidence thereof. Its “G.O.P. and Tea Party Are Mixed Blessing for Israel” is precisely this sort of piece.

You’d think the voluminous polling showing that conservatives and evangelicals support Israel to a much greater degree than do liberals and nonbelievers would cause the ostensible reporters to rethink their premise. The gap in support for Israel between Republicans and Democrats is apparent to everyone who has looked at this issue — except the Times reporters. And indeed, the only example the reporters can come up with on the Republican side is Rand Paul. No mention that it was exclusively Democrats who signed the Gaza 54 letter. No whiff that it was Republicans, led by Rep. Peter King, who went after Obama’s tepid support for Israel during the flotilla incident. No suggestion that it was Democrats like Sen. Chuck Schumer who pulled their punches while Obama condemned Israel for building in its capital. The real story, of course, is that Democrats’ support for Israel has been declining to an alarming degree and that the left is quite upset when groups like the Emergency Committee for Israel point this out.

In short, the Times story is bunk. The fact that there are so many anti-Israel Democrats (e.g., Joe Sestak, Mary Jo Kilroy, Kathy Dahlkemper) who lost is undiluted good news for Israel. The fact that exuberant friends of Israel like King will hold committee chairmanships is reason for Israel’s friends to celebrate. And the election of senators like Mark Kirk, Marco Rubio, and Dan Coats who have been boisterous defenders of the Jewish state and critics of the administration’s anemic approach toward Iran is more reason for Israel’s friends to cheer. In other words, Israel would be lucky to have many more “mixed blessings” like the 2010 midterms.

There is a whole genre of New York Times front-page articles that can be called “wishful thinking by the left.” These pieces usually allege that some bad thing happening on the right — dissension, racism, etc. — but never quite get around to providing many (sometimes any) evidence thereof. Its “G.O.P. and Tea Party Are Mixed Blessing for Israel” is precisely this sort of piece.

You’d think the voluminous polling showing that conservatives and evangelicals support Israel to a much greater degree than do liberals and nonbelievers would cause the ostensible reporters to rethink their premise. The gap in support for Israel between Republicans and Democrats is apparent to everyone who has looked at this issue — except the Times reporters. And indeed, the only example the reporters can come up with on the Republican side is Rand Paul. No mention that it was exclusively Democrats who signed the Gaza 54 letter. No whiff that it was Republicans, led by Rep. Peter King, who went after Obama’s tepid support for Israel during the flotilla incident. No suggestion that it was Democrats like Sen. Chuck Schumer who pulled their punches while Obama condemned Israel for building in its capital. The real story, of course, is that Democrats’ support for Israel has been declining to an alarming degree and that the left is quite upset when groups like the Emergency Committee for Israel point this out.

In short, the Times story is bunk. The fact that there are so many anti-Israel Democrats (e.g., Joe Sestak, Mary Jo Kilroy, Kathy Dahlkemper) who lost is undiluted good news for Israel. The fact that exuberant friends of Israel like King will hold committee chairmanships is reason for Israel’s friends to celebrate. And the election of senators like Mark Kirk, Marco Rubio, and Dan Coats who have been boisterous defenders of the Jewish state and critics of the administration’s anemic approach toward Iran is more reason for Israel’s friends to cheer. In other words, Israel would be lucky to have many more “mixed blessings” like the 2010 midterms.

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LIVE BLOG: Obama’s Seat Goes to the GOP

If Ted Kennedy’s seat can go to Scott Brown, then Obama’s seat can go to Mark Kirk. And it did. It is, to put it mildly, an embarrassment to the president and his party. The Democrats selected an ethically flawed candidate. Could a better candidate have won? Maybe. But recall that the Illinois Democratic Party largely did this to themselves. Sen. Roland Burris will become the answer to a trivia question. The party hemmed and hawed, couldn’t find a way to boot him out and refused to have an early special election when Obama’s standing was higher.  And ultimately the president could not save even his former seat for his party. This was a seat highly coveted by the Republicans. The total Senate haul for the GOP is now 6. Nevada, Colorado and Washington are still to be determined. Yes, Harry Reid’s demise would be bigger than Illinois. But make no mistake, the GOP is especially delighted to snatch this one from the Dems.

If Ted Kennedy’s seat can go to Scott Brown, then Obama’s seat can go to Mark Kirk. And it did. It is, to put it mildly, an embarrassment to the president and his party. The Democrats selected an ethically flawed candidate. Could a better candidate have won? Maybe. But recall that the Illinois Democratic Party largely did this to themselves. Sen. Roland Burris will become the answer to a trivia question. The party hemmed and hawed, couldn’t find a way to boot him out and refused to have an early special election when Obama’s standing was higher.  And ultimately the president could not save even his former seat for his party. This was a seat highly coveted by the Republicans. The total Senate haul for the GOP is now 6. Nevada, Colorado and Washington are still to be determined. Yes, Harry Reid’s demise would be bigger than Illinois. But make no mistake, the GOP is especially delighted to snatch this one from the Dems.

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LIVE BLOG: Illinois Turning Red?

In Obama’s home state, the Republican Bob Dold is winning by 8 points over Daniel Seals with 51% of the vote in. This was Mark Kirk’s seat, thought to be at risk. Maybe not. In the IL-17, Democrat Rep. Phil Hare is down almost 20 points with 21% of the vote in. Mark Kirk is down with a third of the vote in. But with House results like these, I suspect there are many GOP votes yet to be counted.

In Obama’s home state, the Republican Bob Dold is winning by 8 points over Daniel Seals with 51% of the vote in. This was Mark Kirk’s seat, thought to be at risk. Maybe not. In the IL-17, Democrat Rep. Phil Hare is down almost 20 points with 21% of the vote in. Mark Kirk is down with a third of the vote in. But with House results like these, I suspect there are many GOP votes yet to be counted.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The last time I read such slobbery praise was in Laurence Tribe’s letter to Obama. The Washington Post on Ted Sorensen: “Amply endowed with the qualities required for an intimate adviser at the highest levels, Mr. Sorensen was regarded as a man of ideas and ideals, keen intellect and a passion for public service.” That reminds me, come January, there won’t be a single Kennedy in office for the first time since 1947 (thanks to my guru on all things Kennedy), when JFK came along with Richard Nixon. And no, an ex-husband — Andrew Cuomo — doesn’t count.

The last union defection like this was in 1976. “Union households back the Democratic candidate in their district over the GOP by a 54 to 42 percent margin, lower than the 64 to 34 percent split in 2006 and the worst performance for Democrats among labor union households in exit polling dating back to 1976. Since 1976, labor union households have backed Democratic Congressional candidates by an average margin of 62 to 35 percent.”

The last excuse: losing is good for us! “Large gains by Republicans on Election Day Tuesday could actually improve President Obama’s chances of reelection in 2012, a centrist senator said Monday. Retiring Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) said that if Republicans take control of the House and make the Senate close, as expected, it could open an opportunity for both parties to work together, an environment that would help the president politically.” Take it from me, winning is always better than losing.

The last round of Fox News Senate polls: Sharron Angle, Ken Buck, and Mark Kirk all lead. Washington is “down to the wire.”

The last of 20 reasons for the Democratic meltdown is the most important (the other 19 are dead on as well). “America is a center-right, aspirational nation. Democrats thought the financial crisis and near-landslide 2008 election meant it somehow wasn’t anymore. So they attempted to graft an essentially artificial, elitist (especially cap-and-trade) agenda onto the body politic. It didn’t take and is in the process of being rejected.”

The last act in Harry Reid’s political career? “If Harry Reid loses this election, it will be a crushing end to a storied political career. The majority leader of the United States Senate will have been defeated after four terms by an opponent he doesn’t respect or even take seriously. He will be the victim, in his view, of an electorate gone mad, taken down in his prime after rising higher than anyone from his state ever has.” His contempt for us has no bounds.

The last thing GOP presidential contenders want to do is seem like they are in cahoots with the mainstream media in trying to chase Sarah Palin out of the race. “Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) said Monday it would be ‘great’ for former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) to run for president in 2012. … A spokesman for Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, another possible 2012 GOP presidential candidate, said Palin deserves credit and thanks for her work for the Republican Party. ‘We’re all on the same team, and anonymously sourced stories that try and divide us exemplify one reason why Americans outside the beltway hold D.C. in such contempt,’ said Alex Conant, the Pawlenty spokesman.”

The last time I read such slobbery praise was in Laurence Tribe’s letter to Obama. The Washington Post on Ted Sorensen: “Amply endowed with the qualities required for an intimate adviser at the highest levels, Mr. Sorensen was regarded as a man of ideas and ideals, keen intellect and a passion for public service.” That reminds me, come January, there won’t be a single Kennedy in office for the first time since 1947 (thanks to my guru on all things Kennedy), when JFK came along with Richard Nixon. And no, an ex-husband — Andrew Cuomo — doesn’t count.

The last union defection like this was in 1976. “Union households back the Democratic candidate in their district over the GOP by a 54 to 42 percent margin, lower than the 64 to 34 percent split in 2006 and the worst performance for Democrats among labor union households in exit polling dating back to 1976. Since 1976, labor union households have backed Democratic Congressional candidates by an average margin of 62 to 35 percent.”

The last excuse: losing is good for us! “Large gains by Republicans on Election Day Tuesday could actually improve President Obama’s chances of reelection in 2012, a centrist senator said Monday. Retiring Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) said that if Republicans take control of the House and make the Senate close, as expected, it could open an opportunity for both parties to work together, an environment that would help the president politically.” Take it from me, winning is always better than losing.

The last round of Fox News Senate polls: Sharron Angle, Ken Buck, and Mark Kirk all lead. Washington is “down to the wire.”

The last of 20 reasons for the Democratic meltdown is the most important (the other 19 are dead on as well). “America is a center-right, aspirational nation. Democrats thought the financial crisis and near-landslide 2008 election meant it somehow wasn’t anymore. So they attempted to graft an essentially artificial, elitist (especially cap-and-trade) agenda onto the body politic. It didn’t take and is in the process of being rejected.”

The last act in Harry Reid’s political career? “If Harry Reid loses this election, it will be a crushing end to a storied political career. The majority leader of the United States Senate will have been defeated after four terms by an opponent he doesn’t respect or even take seriously. He will be the victim, in his view, of an electorate gone mad, taken down in his prime after rising higher than anyone from his state ever has.” His contempt for us has no bounds.

The last thing GOP presidential contenders want to do is seem like they are in cahoots with the mainstream media in trying to chase Sarah Palin out of the race. “Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) said Monday it would be ‘great’ for former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) to run for president in 2012. … A spokesman for Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, another possible 2012 GOP presidential candidate, said Palin deserves credit and thanks for her work for the Republican Party. ‘We’re all on the same team, and anonymously sourced stories that try and divide us exemplify one reason why Americans outside the beltway hold D.C. in such contempt,’ said Alex Conant, the Pawlenty spokesman.”

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Adults Like Us

Dana Milbank, like so many other liberals oscillating between gloom and self-delusion, thinks the GOP needs more “grown-ups.” By that I suspect he means a flock of Lindsey Grahams eager to diss their own party and showboat for the mainstream media. But the GOP will have plenty of sober, sophisticated pols, if that is the definition of “adult”: Rob Portman, Roy Blunt, Dan Coats, Mark Kirk, John Boozman. In the House, you can’t get more adult that Paul Ryan, whose mastery of the budget and entitlements is second to none.

I think Milbank’s concern for adult supervision might better be directed at the White House, which has yet to make the jump from campaign attack-dog mode to chief executive. But I think “adult” is really another word absconded by the left. “Sanity” is another. To those like Milbank, these words simply mean “liberal like us!”

Dana Milbank, like so many other liberals oscillating between gloom and self-delusion, thinks the GOP needs more “grown-ups.” By that I suspect he means a flock of Lindsey Grahams eager to diss their own party and showboat for the mainstream media. But the GOP will have plenty of sober, sophisticated pols, if that is the definition of “adult”: Rob Portman, Roy Blunt, Dan Coats, Mark Kirk, John Boozman. In the House, you can’t get more adult that Paul Ryan, whose mastery of the budget and entitlements is second to none.

I think Milbank’s concern for adult supervision might better be directed at the White House, which has yet to make the jump from campaign attack-dog mode to chief executive. But I think “adult” is really another word absconded by the left. “Sanity” is another. To those like Milbank, these words simply mean “liberal like us!”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Rep. Mark Kirk is stretching out his lead in Illinois. The last time his opponent led in a poll was October 11.

Pat Toomey is finishing strong in Pennsylvania.

If Obama is thinking of dumping Joe Biden, he can select Katie Couric as his VP. She sounds just like him: “Couric has spent recent weeks in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and New Brunswick, New Jersey. She is touring what she calls ‘this great unwashed middle of the country’ in an effort to divine the mood of the midterms.” Boston is the middle of the country?

Obama’s human rights policy is baffling. “On Monday, the Obama administration waived sections of a law meant to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers in Africa, paving the way for new military cooperation with four countries with poor human rights records — despite their use of underage troops. … So the Obama administration has determined that deepening military relationships with brutal dictatorships and unsavory regimes is the best way to reform them? That seems like a pretty big shift in policy. It still remains unclear what military assistance the United States actually plans to give to countries like Sudan, Chad, and Yemen, as well as how it will use its engagement to protect child soldiers.”

Rudy Giuliani (after one of the more bizarrely inept campaigns in recent memory) is considering another presidential run? I suppose this time he would compete before the Florida campaign.

Released from the hospital, Carly Fiorina is returning to the campaign. The race is still close, but no poll has shown her ahead.

If Obama is meeting with liberal bloggers less than a week before the election, the Dems are in a heap of trouble.

John Bolton sure is sounding presidential: “Dramatic developments in Europe in the past few weeks have graphically demonstrated the importance of America’s upcoming November 2 elections. Coming midway through President Obama’s term, there is little doubt these elections constitute a referendum on his philosophy, policies and performance. Any U.S. citizens who doubt the significance of their impending votes need only contemplate Europe to see the consequences of further pursuing the Obama agenda.”

Rep. Mark Kirk is stretching out his lead in Illinois. The last time his opponent led in a poll was October 11.

Pat Toomey is finishing strong in Pennsylvania.

If Obama is thinking of dumping Joe Biden, he can select Katie Couric as his VP. She sounds just like him: “Couric has spent recent weeks in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and New Brunswick, New Jersey. She is touring what she calls ‘this great unwashed middle of the country’ in an effort to divine the mood of the midterms.” Boston is the middle of the country?

Obama’s human rights policy is baffling. “On Monday, the Obama administration waived sections of a law meant to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers in Africa, paving the way for new military cooperation with four countries with poor human rights records — despite their use of underage troops. … So the Obama administration has determined that deepening military relationships with brutal dictatorships and unsavory regimes is the best way to reform them? That seems like a pretty big shift in policy. It still remains unclear what military assistance the United States actually plans to give to countries like Sudan, Chad, and Yemen, as well as how it will use its engagement to protect child soldiers.”

Rudy Giuliani (after one of the more bizarrely inept campaigns in recent memory) is considering another presidential run? I suppose this time he would compete before the Florida campaign.

Released from the hospital, Carly Fiorina is returning to the campaign. The race is still close, but no poll has shown her ahead.

If Obama is meeting with liberal bloggers less than a week before the election, the Dems are in a heap of trouble.

John Bolton sure is sounding presidential: “Dramatic developments in Europe in the past few weeks have graphically demonstrated the importance of America’s upcoming November 2 elections. Coming midway through President Obama’s term, there is little doubt these elections constitute a referendum on his philosophy, policies and performance. Any U.S. citizens who doubt the significance of their impending votes need only contemplate Europe to see the consequences of further pursuing the Obama agenda.”

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The Worst-Case Scenario for the GOP Is Pretty Darn Good

Nate Silver provides a helpful picture of the worst-case scenario for Republicans. He certainly is not, and does not claim to be, neutral in his observations and is not a pollster himself. But he’s about the most intellectually honest analyst on the Dem side. So what’s he say about the House?

FiveThirtyEight’s forecast now projects the most likely composition of the House to be 231 Republicans and 204 Democrats. This is a one-seat improvement for the Republicans from yesterday’s forecast, and would mean that they’d gain a net of 52 seats over all.

Consider 52 seats the floor for the GOP House pickups. As the Hill sums up:

The Hill 2010 Midterm Election poll, surveying nearly 17,000 likely voters in 42 toss-up districts over four weeks, points to a massive Republican wave that, barring an extraordinary turnaround, will deliver crushing nationwide defeats for President Obama’s party.

As for the Senate, here is some very useful analysis of the differences between the House and Senate races:

If the entire Senate were up for re-election in this political climate, the Republicans would be favored to earn a filibuster-proof majority, and might even earn a veto-proof majority! …

By comparison, in the House, where everyone is up for re-election every two years, Republicans appear most likely to win something like 53 percent of available seats. The fraction could conceivably approach 60 percent if they have a really terrific night, or it could be a bit below 50 if the Democrats overperform their polls and hold the House. But the Republicans almost without doubt will win a higher fraction of the available Senate seats (and probably also the available governors’ seats, although that could be a lot closer) than they will in the House.

And he is honest enough to point out that there is a candidate quality-control problem on both sides of the aisle:

My hunch is that Shelly Berkely would probably be crushing Ms. Angle in Nevada were she on the ballot in place of Mr. Reid; Lisa Madigan would probably have a clear lead over Mark Kirk in Illinois; there are even states like Arizona — where John McCain’s approval ratings are actually quite poor — in which an absolutely top-tier Democratic nominee might have made a competitive race. And meanwhile, the Republicans have some strong candidates, including both establishment choices like Rob Portman in Ohio and John Hoeven in North Dakota, and antiestablishment ones like Marco Rubio in Florida (a Tea Partier), and probably even Ron Johnson in Wisconsin (another Tea Partier), who has run a really smart campaign, although he’s not quite out of the woods yet against the incumbent, Russ Feingold.

To sum up, there is precious little good news for the Democrats. They are on track to lose the House, scads of Senate seats, and their Senate majority leader. (Even pre-programming some voting machines in Nevada isn’t likely to save Harry Reid.) The notion that the Tea Party has handicapped the GOP is belied by the facts, which Silver’s liberal colleagues would do well (at least for the sake of their intellectual integrity) to stop ignoring.

Nate Silver provides a helpful picture of the worst-case scenario for Republicans. He certainly is not, and does not claim to be, neutral in his observations and is not a pollster himself. But he’s about the most intellectually honest analyst on the Dem side. So what’s he say about the House?

FiveThirtyEight’s forecast now projects the most likely composition of the House to be 231 Republicans and 204 Democrats. This is a one-seat improvement for the Republicans from yesterday’s forecast, and would mean that they’d gain a net of 52 seats over all.

Consider 52 seats the floor for the GOP House pickups. As the Hill sums up:

The Hill 2010 Midterm Election poll, surveying nearly 17,000 likely voters in 42 toss-up districts over four weeks, points to a massive Republican wave that, barring an extraordinary turnaround, will deliver crushing nationwide defeats for President Obama’s party.

As for the Senate, here is some very useful analysis of the differences between the House and Senate races:

If the entire Senate were up for re-election in this political climate, the Republicans would be favored to earn a filibuster-proof majority, and might even earn a veto-proof majority! …

By comparison, in the House, where everyone is up for re-election every two years, Republicans appear most likely to win something like 53 percent of available seats. The fraction could conceivably approach 60 percent if they have a really terrific night, or it could be a bit below 50 if the Democrats overperform their polls and hold the House. But the Republicans almost without doubt will win a higher fraction of the available Senate seats (and probably also the available governors’ seats, although that could be a lot closer) than they will in the House.

And he is honest enough to point out that there is a candidate quality-control problem on both sides of the aisle:

My hunch is that Shelly Berkely would probably be crushing Ms. Angle in Nevada were she on the ballot in place of Mr. Reid; Lisa Madigan would probably have a clear lead over Mark Kirk in Illinois; there are even states like Arizona — where John McCain’s approval ratings are actually quite poor — in which an absolutely top-tier Democratic nominee might have made a competitive race. And meanwhile, the Republicans have some strong candidates, including both establishment choices like Rob Portman in Ohio and John Hoeven in North Dakota, and antiestablishment ones like Marco Rubio in Florida (a Tea Partier), and probably even Ron Johnson in Wisconsin (another Tea Partier), who has run a really smart campaign, although he’s not quite out of the woods yet against the incumbent, Russ Feingold.

To sum up, there is precious little good news for the Democrats. They are on track to lose the House, scads of Senate seats, and their Senate majority leader. (Even pre-programming some voting machines in Nevada isn’t likely to save Harry Reid.) The notion that the Tea Party has handicapped the GOP is belied by the facts, which Silver’s liberal colleagues would do well (at least for the sake of their intellectual integrity) to stop ignoring.

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