The national security of the US and its foreign relations were hijacked on Tuesday night, and they are held hostage in the tunnels of the Capitol in Washington (that’s not a metaphor - there are many tunnels there).
The American political establishment has signaled that it has lost all interest in running the US and defending the country’s interests, and is focused on one thing only: efforts to further the chances of party candidates in the elections in November this year. It has no desire to solve problems; on the contrary, it wants to make them worse.
Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan have now fallen between the Republican hammer and the Democratic anvil. Battle cries emerge from the throat of the Republican opposition, which controls the House of Representatives, but it can no longer rely on the support of its own members.
What happened on Tuesday night exposed the Republican Party leadership in its utter weakness. To tell the truth, it was made a laughing stock. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mike Johnson, the highest ranking Republican in Washington, tried to juggle two balls at once, each of them heavy and slippery. Both dropped on his toes, and it hurt a lot.
To impeach the Secretary for Homeland Security
The first ball, in chronological order, was his attempt to recruit the support of the House of Representatives for impeaching Alejandro Mayorkas, the (Jewish) secretary of what the Americans call "Homeland Security", in the Senate. Impeachment opens a legal proceeding in which the Senate functions as a jury. If the Senate convicts, the accused is automatically removed from any federal office he or she holds.
Mayorkas has been in the Republicans’ gunsights for many months, because of his ministerial responsibility for the severe crisis on the southern border of the US with Mexico. Under his administration, that border has collapsed, and hundreds of thousands of people have smuggled themselves into the US over it in the past few months.
The criminal case for putting Mayorkas on trial is anyway shaky. Four Republicans refused to join the move against him, and their party’s tiny majority evaporated. The impeachment motion was defeated by 216 votes to 214. The Speaker made a mistake when he ignored the arithmetic.
The vote on aid to Israel involved a parliamentary maneuver with considerable potential for failure. Bills generally go through the House of Representatives Committee on Rules before being proposed in the house. They then require a simple majority to pass. Speaker Johnson, however, decided to skip the committee, and go directly to the house plenum. The catch there is that such a procedure means that a bill requires a two-thirds majority. In that case, its only chance of passing is if large numbers of Democrats support it. The difference between the two parties is four seats out of 435.
It’s open to dispute just what Johnson hoped to achieve. Did he believe that enough Democrats would vote in favor, so as not to be accused of sabotaging the aid to America’s historic ally Israel; or perhaps he knew that he wouldn’t have enough votes, but he hoped that the Democrats’ avoidance of supporting the bill would make it easy for him to accuse them of betraying Israel while he, Johnson, is hosting Knesset Speaker Amor Ohana and families of the Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip.
Johnson wielded a double-edged sword. Matters had reached the point of a separate bill on aid to Israel ($17.6 billion) because the Republicans refuse to support a larger package that includes Ukraine ($61 billion). Without military aid, Ukraine is finding it hard to continue its resistance to the Russian invaders.
Who is betraying which ally is now a complicated question, one full of contradictions. Why Israel yes and Ukraine no? Into this stew enters the Mexican border crisis. President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas are accused of letting the crisis spin out of control, but they proposed allocating $20 billion to imposing immediate restrictions on the entry of more infiltrators.
Enter Donald Trump, who opposes any legislation on the border and on Ukraine. He does so for tactical reasons, to worsen Biden’s political plight, and for strategic reasons: he has no interest in continuing to support Ukraine.
A large majority of Democrats, 166 out of 212, voted against the Israel-only aid bill. They were joined by fourteen out of 219 Republicans. 46 Democrats voted in favor of it, and 204 Republicans (the figures are from the Office of the Clerk of the US House of Representatives). That is to say, the bill gained a simple majority, but failed to receive the special majority required by Johnson's procedural ploy.
No longer a sacred cow
The Democratic vote can’t be labelled "left-wing". The radical left in the House of Representatives consists of perhaps a dozen members. The party’s progressive wing, in which there are actually many Israel supporters, consists of 101 members. That means that 180 votes against can’t be considered a purely left-wing phenomenon.
Is this an "anti-Israel" vote? Absolutely not. It’s a vote against what the Democrats think is a dubious tactic by the Republicans, designed to embarrass, trip up, and divert attention. Or as one representative called Johnson’s move, "a trick".
Nevertheless, the results of the vote indicate gradual erosion of Israel’s standing. I began covering Israel’s relations with Congress forty years ago. I remember what a very left-wing Democratic representative from Iowa, Tom Harkin, who was later elected a senator and briefly ran for his party’s nomination for president, said to me. He was an unambivalent opponent of US aid for undemocratic regimes in Central America. But he told me that if aid to one of these regimes was bound up in one package with aid to Israel, he would vote in favor of the package so as not to harm Israel. Those were the glory days of the mighty pro-Israel lobby in Washington. Few people dared to oppose it, and Harkin was not one of them.
Well, a lot of water has flowed in the Potomac since then. Yesterday, two-thirds of the Democrats voted against a bill to ensure aid to Israel. That doesn’t mean that Israel has lost its base of support. If a formula agreed upon by both parties is found, a huge majority in the House of Representatives will vote in favor of it, including almost all the Democrats. But Israel is no longer a sacred cow, not even when it’s at war.
What will happen now? It’s fairly clear that no compromise formula will be found that will allow the full package proposed by Biden to be adopted. There is practically no chance of agreement on the part that relates to the Mexican border.
Senior Republicans in both houses of Congress hope that a way will be found of separating out the components of the package, and voting just on Israel, on Ukraine, and on Taiwan. One of them is the Republican minority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, who supports all three.
The majority leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, is quoted by Politico.com as saying "Leader McConnell and the Republican Conference did a 180-degree reversal. They're quaking at the knees in fear of Donald Trump." That, it would appear, is the truth in a nutshell: anticipation of Trump and fear of Trump dictate events in Washington.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on February 7, 2024.
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