Hot Topics

8
Nov
2018

The Sky Is Not Falling in Washington: The U.S. Mid-Term Elections


U.S. Capitol Building

Despite the habitual Jewish gevalt expressions of anxiety, the results of the 2018 U.S. elections do not foretell any change in congressional policy toward Israel, the Middle East, and Iran.

1. What does it mean for the Senate to be controlled by the Republican (+3) and the House by the Democrats (+28)?

As of the last counts, the Dems will lead the House 223-198 and the Republicans will lead the Senate 52-46.1 There are still some toss-ups.

Both chambers will attempt to pass new laws, but the Democratic-Republican split means legislative gridlock for the passage of any of Trump’s new legislative priorities.  A bill to fund a wall with Mexico or such ideas? Forget about it.

Passage of the Foreign Aid Bill or Defense Authorization/Appropriations? Very likely if it’s a “clean bill,” and free of ideological amendments on abortion, health care, cutting aid to Egypt and arms sales to Saudis, etc.

Nancy Pelosi is expected to be chosen as the next Speaker of the House of Representatives, although she faces a large number of Democrats who’d like to dethrone the 78-year-old who sat as Minority Leader since 2011.

All House committees will change their chairmanships from Republican to Democratic.

The Foreign Affairs Committee will be led by Rep. Eliot Engel (NY), and no change on Israel policy will come from his committee. There will be more oversight of policies on issues like Russian ties to U.S. elections and Saudi policy on Yemen and Khashoggi. There may be more supporters of the Iran Deal on the committee, but Engel opposed the deal at the time.

The Intelligence Committee will be led by Adam Schiff (CA), who says that he will use his subpoena powers to look into Trump policies. 

Appropriations Committee, led by Nita Lowey (NY). No change on Israel funding is anticipated.

The Judiciary Committee will be chaired by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (NY). He vowed to use his subpoena powers to investigate Trump and plan the president’s impeachment. It is not going to happen because an impeachment trial, if it ever comes to it, is held by the Senate.

All Chairs are veteran Jewish Members of Congress, as is the new chair of the Budget Committee, John Yarmouth (KY).

2. Do the elections of Arab Americans and progressives augur bad times for Israel?

An Emphatic No.

  • I have watched Arab-American and progressive Members of Congress over the last 50 years. Some were often strong critics of Israel, but their impact was negligible, and their national parties tended to limit their exposure. Examples of Arab-Americans include Senators James Abourezk and James Abdnor, and Representatives Nick Rahall, John Sununu, and Mary Rose Oakar.
  • Muslims: At least two were elected on November 6, 2018: in Michigan, Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American, and Ilhan Omar, a hijab-wearing Sudanese-American in Minnesota. Tlaib had been endorsed by J Street, but the Left-wing organization took the unprecedented step of rescinding its endorsement after she came out in favor of a one-state solution. Omar takes the place of Keith Ellison, the first Muslim in Congress, who won the race for Minnesota’s Attorney General. Leaving Washington and the limelight is probably good for Ellison, who faced domestic abuse allegations.
  • Progressives and anti-Israel Members of Congress: Don’t forget that the progressives in the Democratic Party have been active for years. Jesse Jackson and Arab-American leader Jim Zogby were frequent speakers before the party’s platform committee, where they criticized support for Israel. The only flag that flew at the last Democratic Convention in 2016 was the Palestinian flag after it was decided no American flags would fly because they bothered some delegates.
  • Palestinian flags flying at the 2016 Democratic Party Convention

    Palestinian flags flying at the 2016 Democratic Party Convention. (Facebook)

  • There have always been anti-Israel members of Congress (political correctness requires us to say “critical of Israel”), such as Senators William Fulbright and George McGovern (Democrats), and Representatives Paul Findley and Paul “Pete” McCloskey (Republicans). Despite McGovern winning the Democratic Party nomination for President in 1972, none was particularly influential in their parties or the Congress.

3. Were there any other important races? These were some races I was watching closely:

  • Bob Menendez (D – NJ) was a portrait of courage standing up to the Obama Administration and opposing the Iran Deal. He then faced some serious corruption charges and was found innocent. He won on Tuesday.
  • Ted Cruz (R- TX) beat a young, photogenic Beto O’Rourke. With his Kennedy-like looks, O’Rourke was being groomed and funded as a possible 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.
  • Jacky Spektor Rosen (D) from Nevada will be Senator Rosen. A former synagogue president, she won her first race in politics in the 2016 House elections.
  • The Jews of Congress did well last night with several gains, including several new members who were veterans of the U.S. military. There will be 28 Jewish members in the House of Representatives and eight in the Senate.
  • A CNN exit poll said that 78 percent of Jewish voters supported Democratic candidates.
  • Another report stated that there will be more than 100 women in the House – the highest number ever.
  • The few Holocaust deniers, anti-Semites, and white supremacists who were running lost after their own parties distanced themselves from these candidates.

4. Why are governors’ races worth noting?

  • JB Pritzker (D) will be the next governor of Illinois. Pritzker is part of the Jewish and philanthropic Pritzker family.
  • The Republicans held the governorships in the large states of Ohio, Texas, and Florida against strong Democratic challenges. These three large states will be very important battleground states in the 2020 presidential elections. The governors wield powerful tools to mobilize voters.

5. What do the 2018 elections mean for the 2020 races?

  • The 2020 elections campaign started today for all members of the House and one-third of the Senate.
  • The media will look for winners to crown them “the most likely…” That’s why the losses of high-profile Andrew Gillum in Florida and Beto O’Rourke in Texas were disappointments for Democrats looking for a candidate to challenge Trump.
  • Party leaders in Congress will seek to maintain the traditional bipartisan support for Israel. Senior Democratic Party Members, such as Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Steny Hoyer, work tirelessly to line up support on their side of the aisle. Schumer notably closed his speech at AIPAC’s mega-conference last year with the Hebrew proclamation, “Am Yisrael Chai” the people of Israel live!
  • Fundraising will start immediately, with candidates lining up meetings with potential donors as soon as they can.
  • The concerns and issues of the 2020 campaign mean that starting in 2019 party leaders and would-be candidates will seek to avoid the more contentious issues in the Israel political portfolio and the controversial progressive politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) and the two Muslim women (MI, MN) who are identified as “critical of Israel.”

* * *

Note

About Lenny Ben-David

Lenny Ben-David is the Jerusalem Center’s Director of Publications. Ben-David served 25 years in senior posts in AIPAC in Washington and Jerusalem. He served as Israel’s Deputy Chief of Mission in the Embassy in Washington D.C. He is the author of the American Interests in the Holy Land Revealed in Early Photographs (Urim Publications).
This entry was posted in U.S. Policy. Bookmark the permalink.