Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks to reporters as he arrives for a vote on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Rand Paul Could Be Out Awhile After Being Assaulted

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) could be absent from the Senate for a prolonged period of time after being assaulted at his home in Bowling Green, KY on Friday afternoon.

The senator suffered five fractured ribs, three displaced fractures and lung contusions from the assault, according to Paul’s senior adviser Doug Stafford.

“It is not clear exactly how soon he will return to work, as the pain is considerable as is the difficulty in getting around, including flying,” Stafford said in a statement.

Stafford added that such “fractures can lead to life-threatening injuries” and features “severe pain that can last weeks to months.”

Paul’s neighbor, 59-year-old Rene Albert Boucher, confessed to “going onto Paul’s property and tackling him.” Paul had alleged that his neighbor “tackled him from behind.” Boucher was released from jail after posting a $7,500 bond.

Paul and Boucher have reportedly been feuding for a while over reasons unknown. The FBI reportedly believes that Boucher’s assault on Paul was “politically motivated.” Boucher is registered as a Democrat.

However, Boucher’s attorney issued a statement saying that the assault had nothing to do with politics:

The Kentucky senator tweeted out his gratitude for the support he’s received:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) noted that Paul’s absence could complicate Senate proceedings.

“I’ve got a 52 to 48 majority, and as you saw on several occasions, we’re not always totally in lockstep,” said McConnell. “Anytime we have a senator on our side who’s not there, it’s potentially a challenge.”

Paul was one of the Republican congressional members present at the July shooting at a baseball field in Alexandria, VA, where House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) was shot by James Hodgkinson.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)

Hunk hawks hideous health bill

John Thune is the most handsome man in the U.S. Senate. Square jawed, gleaming smile, cowboy tan, the 6’4” South Dakota Republican’s rugged good looks are antipodal to the mien of majority leader Mitch McConnell, whom Jon Stewart has definitively established is Yertle the Turtle’s doppelgänger. If the human brain’s positive bias toward attractive people didn’t cue me to infer that Thune is a great guy, a real straight shooter, I’d be as outraged by the assault on Americans’ health that Thune and his co-conspirators are currently waging, and by the subversion of American democracy they’re using to ram it through, as I am when its public face is McConnell’s.

Thune is a member of the all-white, all-male “gang of 13” staunchly conservative Republicans whom McConnell tasked two months ago with secretly writing a new GOP health bill in the Senate.

Because a parliamentary tactic will embed this Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal — and alleged replacement — into a budget reconciliation bill, it’s exempt from being filibustered by Democrats. That means the bill will need only 50 of the 52 Republican senators, along with Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote, in order to pass, instead of the 60 votes it takes to shut down a filibuster, which would require at least eight Democrats to defect.

Because the House also must pass the bill with only Republican votes, it needs to be mean enough to win over the House’s far right Freedom Caucus, “mean” being President Donald Trump’s new description of the formerly “beautiful” House health bill he fêted in the Rose Garden in May. That’s why the American Health Care Act (AHCA) that McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan want Trump’s signature on before July 4 likely will deprive 23 million Americans of health insurance; end Obamacare’s minimum benefits, like mental health services and maternity care; deny coverage for pre-existing conditions; permit lifetime benefit caps; cut $800 billion from Medicaid and turn it into block grants to states, effectively killing the program — oh, and give the top 0.1 percent of households an average tax cut of nearly $200,000.

I say “likely,” since the actual content of the bill has been shrouded in secrecy. Because a majority of Americans oppose those changes to a law that a majority of Americans support, McConnell knows that his only chance to pass it before the public catches on and rises up is a total blackout of information as they write the bill, which is what’s happening now, and once they reveal it, a blitzkrieg without committee hearings or time for town halls, hurtling toward a final vote within a matter of hours.

This is not normal. It’s not how a bill affecting one-fifth of our economy is supposed to be considered. McConnell’s plan is to make it seem normal, which is why they’re deploying the credibility of John Thune’s chiseled cheekbones: to sell a coup d’état as if it were a “Schoolhouse Rock!” civics lesson.

The day after a gunman opened fire on a Republican congressional baseball practice, prompting calls to for a return to civil discourse in our politics, Thune was on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” saying we all must do our part to achieve the unity that this moment requires. Speaking of unity, journalist Mike Barnicle piped up, what about the health care bill being written in secret? “Nobody knows what’s in this bill,” Barnicle said. As a starter, he asked, in the spirit of reaching across the aisle, of bipartisanship and openness, “How about … telling us what’s in this bill?”

Thune’s answer made me marvel that a man with such good hair could deceive so baldly.

There’s really no bill to share, he said. What’s going on now is just discussions, just policy options. It will be openly shared when it’s reduced to legislative language, he said, as though that’s just how the lawmaking process works.

It’s not. Drafts of bills are routinely made public long before legislative language is locked in. They’re distributed as outlines, memos, letters, emails, talking points, PowerPoints, lists, charts, conference calls, cut-and-pastes, works in progress, principles, summaries, overviews, abstracts. They’re the basis for innumerable meetings with constituents, stakeholders, interest groups, media, members of both parties, think tanks, analysts and experts. That’s American democracy in action. What’s happening now is not.

Besides, Thune added, there’s been so much discussion of health care over the past decade, “it’s like any of us are unfamiliar with what the issues are.” We’ve already discussed them.

The ACA was the subject of hundreds of committee hearings and markups, hundreds of hours of congressional debate, hundreds of town halls and public forums and two years of news coverage. But that discussion was about expanding Medicaid, not eliminating it; about increasing benefits, not cutting them; about providing health insurance to millions, not giving tax cuts to millionaires. If the media were to give the AHCA’s issues the kind of scrutiny and airtime it gave Obamacare, Republicans would now be running from it like a dumpster fire.

To be sure, John Thune would make one handsome fireman. But I doubt even he could convince his colleagues in Congress to bunk in a burning building.

MARTY KAPLAN is the Norman Lear professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at

Former Sen. Joseph Lieberman testifying during a hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee on Capitol Hill on Nov. 3, 2015. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Joe Lieberman reportedly out of contention as Trump pick to lead FBI

President Donald Trump reportedly has dropped Joe Lieberman, a one-time Democrat who was the first Jewish candidate on a major party presidential ticket, from his list of contenders to helm the FBI.

Trump had indicated last week that Lieberman, a former U.S. senator from Connecticut and an Independent who has forged strong ties with Republicans and Democrats, was his likeliest pick. Lieberman was seen by Trump’s team as a sop to members of both parties angry with Trump for how he fired James Comey, the previous FBI director.

But Democrats in the Senate, chief among them Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, raised concerns because Lieberman is employed by the legal firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres and Friedman, which represents Trump. CNN reported Wednesday that Trump had retained the firm’s top lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, as personal counsel as scandals besieged Trump’s presidency, and that was likely a factor in Lieberman’s removal from contention for the FBI post.

Comey was helming the investigation into alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign when Trump sacked him earlier this month.

The White House delivered an array of sometimes conflicting reasons for the dismissal, saying at first that Comey mishandled last year’s FBI inquiry into Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. Then Trump acknowledged that he was also thinking of the Russia inquiry when he fired Comey.

Comey’s firing and subsequent reporting that Trump had tried to influence Comey’s handling of the Trump campaign-Russia investigation was a watershed in the scandals that have plagued Trump’s young presidency. Republicans in Congress seemed eager for the first time to vigorously pursue their own investigations into the alleged Russia ties, and last week subpoenaed materials related to the Russia investigations.

Lieberman earned a reputation for integrity in the late 1990s when he became the first Senate Democrat to take President Bill Clinton to task for his transgressions related to his affair with a White House intern.

Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2000, made history when he named Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, as his running mate.

Lieberman alienated grassroots Democrats in the next decade when he backed President George W. Bush’s Iraq War, and in 2006 was defeated in the Democratic primary in his home state. He ran and won as an Independent, and backed his close friend, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, over Barack Obama in the 2008 election. He retired from politics in 2012.

Since then, Lieberman has gravitated back toward the Democratic fold, campaigning among Florida’s Jews last year for Clinton. He still maintains ties with Republicans, however, this year testifying on behalf of two Trump nominees in confirmation hearings: Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, and David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, who is the “Friedman” in the legal firm representing Trump.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) on March 15. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

Menendez signals openness to Taylor Force Act

Democratic Senator Bob Menendez showed openness on Tuesday to consider backing the Taylor Force Act, a bill calling on the US to cut its financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority if payments to terrorists’ family members persist. When asked about the legislation, Menendez told Jewish Insider,  “I have a degree of sympathy for finding ways to change the Palestinian Authority’s views that you support people who are dedicated to killing Jews — whether that is a more calibrated denial of money versus what I am hearing, which is an outright cut, — is the only question for me. I think something should be done.”

[This story originally appeared on]

At a press conference on February 28 to introduce the bill along with Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK) and Roy Blunt (R-MI), Lindsey Graham (R-SC)  predicted that the Taylor Force Act “if it gets to the Senate floor it will be overwhelmingly passed,” while assuring that President Donald Trump would sign the legislation.

At the same time, the New Jersey lawmaker is looking to consult with the Israeli government about the legislation, which could have dramatic impact in the West Bank. “I don’t know that Israel needs a collapsed Palestinian Authority next door to them,” he added. Menendez was one of only two Democratic Senators to vote for David Friedman as US Ambassador to Israel in last week’s vote and also jointed with the Republicans against the Iranian nuclear agreement.

The Taylor Force Act was introduced last Congressional session but failed to pass the Senate and obtained no Democratic support.

Ranking Democratic Member Ben Cardin (D-MD) told Jewish Insider on March 2, “I generally don’t support an approach that could jeopardize needed assistance for stability in the West Bank.” Chairman Bob Corker echoed his Democratic counterpart, cautioning, “I think there is probably a more targeted way of dealing with that issue.”

Christians United for Israel (CUFI) is aggressively lobbying for the bill while AIPAC did not include the legislation in its priorities this week when members lobby Capitol Hill during the annual Policy Conference. The bill is currently waiting in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for approval where Chairman Corker would need to bring the Taylor Force Act to a committee vote, which often is a lengthy process. As a Democratic Senator, Menendez supporting the legislation could force AIPAC to take a clear position on the legislation, as it generally only backs bipartisan efforts.

The bill was named after a US military officer who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist while participating in a study abroad program in Israel.

Marco Rubio decides to run for reelection, citing intention to kill Iran deal

Sen. Marco Rubio cited his intention to kill the Iran nuclear deal in his decision to run for reelection to the Senate.

The Florida Republican, first elected in 2010, opted out of running to keep his seat when he announced his candidacy last year for the Republican presidential nomination. He was driven out of that race this year by Donald Trump, who defeated Rubio in his home state primary and is now the presumptive nominee.

But on Wednesday, Rubio reversed his decision and said he would run, citing the Iran sanctions relief for nuclear rollback deal, which he had pledged as president to tear up.

“Control of the Senate may very well come down to the race in Florida,” Rubio said in his statement. “That means the future of the Supreme Court will be determined by the Florida Senate seat. It means the future of the disastrous Iran nuclear deal will be determined by the Florida Senate seat. It means the direction of our country’s fiscal and economic policies will be determined by this Senate seat. The stakes for our nation could not be higher.”

During his running for president, Rubio derided the Senate as do-nothing, a position his opponent is likely to use against him. He acknowledged as much in his statement.

“Have at it,” he wrote. “Because I have never claimed to be perfect or to have all the answers.”

Major Republican Party figures – including Trump, who had viciously derided Rubio as “little” and ineffective during the primaries – urged him to run for reelection in the state in a year in which Democrats are expected to perform well and could well take control of the Senate.

Rubio said he was running in part to keep Trump in check should he be elected president. Trump has alienated mainstream Republicans with his broadsides against Mexicans and Muslims and his at times crude language. Rubio, after dropping out of the presidential race, endorsed him, but with qualifications.

“The prospect of a Trump presidency is also worrisome to me,” Rubio said in his statement. “It is no secret that I have significant disagreements with Donald Trump. His positions on many key issues are still unknown. And some of his statements, especially about women and minorities, I find not just offensive but unacceptable.”

It is not clear how Rubio believes his vote in the Senate could reverse the Iran deal. The most straightforward American exit from the deal would be through a presidential executive order, which is not dependent on Congress. A congressional bid to kill the deal would require a super-majority of 60 in the Senate, something Republicans are unlikely to secure.

Should Rubio win the GOP primary in August, he will face either Rep. Patrick Murphy or Rep. Alan Grayson, who are in a bitter race for the Democratic nomination. Murphy has the backing of the party establishment, while Grayson, who is Jewish, is running an insurgent campaign from the left based on the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Jewish Independent from Vermont who ran a surprisingly tough campaign against Hillary Clinton, now the presumptive Democratic nominee.

The political action committee associated with J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, is backing Murphy, and seized upon Rubio’s announcement to raise funds for its candidate.

“The Senate’s leading neocon is running for another Senate term,” the committee said in an email.

The JStreetPAC email listed Rubio’s transgressions against liberal Jewish orthodoxies, including his pledge to tear up the Iran deal and his harsh criticisms of President Barack Obama, and noted his grudging endorsement of Trump.

“This is the same Marco Rubio who endorsed Donald Trump,” the email said. “Seriously, he endorsed Donald Trump.”

Barbara Boxer’s gloves come off

Politics isn’t for sissies.

That’s the essential message of California Sen. Barbara Boxer’s new memoir “The Art of Tough,” a 270-page reflection on her 40-year career in politics — from the Marin County Board of Supervisors to the House of Representatives, and ultimately, the Senate, where she has served four terms.

“I wasn’t always so nice,” Boxer writes in her casual, matter-of-fact style. 

At 5 feet tall, “maybe five-foot-three in heels,” the Brooklyn-born Jewish senator had to toughen up early: In sixth grade, then the audacious Barbara Levy, she stopped a boy who was bullying her by stabbing him with a pencil. 

Though she immediately regretted her “loss of control,” she’s never stopped sticking it to those who’ve abused her. Years later, when John McCain insulted her on the Senate floor, she threatened to leak his misbehavior to the press — until Joe Biden diplomatically intervened and delivered McCain’s apology note. To this day, Boxer writes, “Whenever I am in John McCain’s sphere, I never know whether he is going to give me a hug or the evil eye.” 

At 75, Boxer has decided not to run for re-election — and not because of “all the partisan fighting” in Congress, or even “because of my age,” she admits — but because in the “battle for America’s soul” she feels she can be more effective fighting elsewhere. And besides, one battle she’s happy to retire is the struggle to fundraise: She’ll never again have to worry about raising as much as $40 million just for the campaigns to keep her job. “All that time, stress, and the constant pressure of raising the money for myself: it’s awful for me,” Boxer writes in the book.

Boxer has never minded going toe-to-toe with colleagues in Congress, though, even when it made her unpopular there: She famously railed against the war in Iraq, fought “climate deniers” in the Senate on bills that would damage the environment and defended Bill Clinton against charges of impeachment. As a junior member of Congress, she made a name for herself denouncing inflated military spending, famously appearing on the front page of The Washington Post holding up a $7,600 coffee pot and declaring, “It might as well be gold.” 

Her chutzpah extended to foreign powers: On an official visit to the Middle East early in her career, she defiantly walked out on the King of Morocco, one of Israel’s close allies back then, when he referred one too many times to the machinations of “the Jewish mind.” Some colleagues complained that she had risked an international incident, but Boxer stood firm: “ … the king’s remarks were not about one person; they were about the Jewish people, and they came from someone who I had thought was a friend of Israel.” In the end, the king apparently forgave, sending off the American delegation with boxes of hand-painted chocolates.

“I’ve always done it my way,” Boxer writes in the book. “I’ve always had this emotional fire, this art-of-tough way of operating. I’ve always believed if you are pleasing everyone, then you’re probably not doing a heck of a lot. And doing nothing for me is not an option.”

Boxer grew tough because she had to be. As a woman aspiring to a career in politics in the 1970s, the odds were against her — and many sought to discourage her from the pursuit.  

“It was really difficult to run for office in the early ’70s,” Boxer told me during an interview this week. “There was a huge amount of prejudice. If you were a mother, you were abandoning your kid; if you were married, you were abandoning your husband; if you were single, there was something wrong with you. Coming out of the ’50s, after World War II, women were expected to stay home. That was the role for women. So anyone questioning that, there was something wrong with them. They weren’t a good mom or a good wife, or they were gay, or a spinster.”

When Boxer was first elected to the Senate, she was one of only six female senators; today, as she prepares to depart, she is one of 20. So the odds are improving, even if some of the old prejudices remain. Boxer can run off a litany: “ ‘She can’t do the math.’ ‘How can she understand weapons?’ ‘What does she know about guns?’ ‘She’s too emotional.’ ‘She’s too strident.’ All those old prejudices still exist,” she said. “But, at the end of the day, there are people who actually would prefer a woman.”

For her part, Boxer is gunning to see the first female president. And she has an unusual relationship with the Democratic front-runner: Boxer’s daughter, Nicole, married Hillary Clinton’s youngest brother, Tony, in a 1994 ceremony in the White House Rose Garden while Bill Clinton was in office. They had a child together but later divorced. In the ensuing years, Boxer and Clinton have remained friends, and Boxer is throwing her weight behind Clinton’s candidacy.  

“One of the things men have to come to grips with,” Boxer told me, “is that they think they’re being macho when they vote for a man over a woman. But I think the opposite is true: I think strong men vote for women because they’re not threatened, and they’re willing to share power. 

“I want to make a button that says, ‘Real men support women.’ ”

Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Senator Barbara Boxer will appear in Los Angeles with Paula Poundstone on Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 4:00pm

Presented by The Wallis and Writers Bloc

Top general, without citing Trump, warns on troops’ morale

The top military officer told the Senate on Thursday that it would harm the morale of U.S. forces to order them to carry out activities such as waterboarding or targeting civilians, options previously cited by leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not comment on U.S. politics, and Trump's name did not come up in a question put to him by Senator Lindsey Graham or in Dunford's response.

However, when asked by Graham, a former 2016 White House contender and frequent Trump critic, what the impact such tactics would have on the morale of the force, Dunford said:

“Those kinds of activities that you described are inconsistent with the values of our nation. And quite frankly I think it would have an adverse effect,” citing fallout on the morale of the force.

“And frankly what you are suggesting are things that actually aren't legal for them to do anyway,” Dunford added. 

During the campaign, Trump indicated that, if elected president, he might order the U.S. military to break the law on interrogation tactics, including waterboarding. Trump also suggested his willingness to target the families of terrorist suspects.

Trump, the Republican front-runner, softened his stance on torture earlier in March, saying he would not order the U.S. military to break international laws on how to treat terrorism suspects. 

Waterboarding is the practice of pouring water over someone's face to mimic drowning as an interrogation tactic. Critics say it is torture. Democratic President Barack Obama banned use of the method days after taking office in 2009.

Reactions to Obama’s Supreme Court nominee

President Barack Obama nominated veteran appellate court Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, setting up political showdown with Senate Republicans who have vowed to block any Obama nominee. 

Following is a selection of reaction to the decision:


“The American people may well elect a President who decides to nominate Judge Garland for Senate consideration. The next president may also nominate someone very different. Either way, our view is this: Give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy.”


“If Merrick Garland can't get bipartisan support no one can. … We hope the saner heads in the Republican Party will prevail on (U.S. Senator) Chuck Grassley and (Senate Majority Leader)Mitch McConnell to do their job and hold hearings so America can make its own judgment as to whether Merrick Garland belongs on the court.”


“This has never been about who the nominee is. It is about a basic principle. Under our Constitution, the president has every right to make this nomination, and the Senate has every right not to confirm a nominee.”


“Everybody I know who works with him thinks highly of him, but I do think it ought to be put off. This is a toxic environment right now. It's terrible. And I've been through enough of these where I'm sick of the way the court is treated. And this would be just another one.”


“Judge Garland is a capable and accomplished jurist. The White House has requested that I meet with him, and I look forward to doing so, as has been my practice with all Supreme Court nominees.”


“Evaluating and confirming a Justice to sit on this nation's highest court should not be an exercise in political brinkmanship and partisan posturing. It is a serious obligation … That obligation does not depend on the party affiliation of a sitting president, nor does the Constitution make an exception to that duty in an election year.”


“Judge Garland has the experience and the legal acumen to serve on the highest court in the land. … The American people expect Judge Merrick Garland to be given a fair hearing and a timely vote.”


“When Americans head to the polls in a few short months, they will have a unique opportunity to determine the direction of the court – President Obama is doing a disservice to voters with this attempt to tip the balance of the court with a liberal justice in the eleventh hour of his presidency.” 


“We are in the midst of a highly-charged presidential election that is less than eight months away, and this lifetime appointment could reshape the Supreme Court for generations. I believe the best thing for the country is to trust the American people and allow them to weigh in on this issue.” 


“His (Garland's) impeccable credentials, steadfast fidelity to the law and firm devotion to the public interest make him an outstanding choice to sit on our nation's highest court, where I am certain he will serve with integrity and wisdom.”


“The Senate's constitutionally defined role to provide advice and consent is as important as the president's role in proposing a nominee, and I will assess Judge Merrick Garland based on his record and qualifications.”


“I look forward to evaluating Merrick Garland's qualifications to be a justice on the Supreme Court. Senators have a constitutional obligation to advise and consent on a nominee to fill this Supreme Court vacancy and, simply put, we have a responsibility to do our jobs as elected officials. 


“Should Merrick Garland be nominated again by the next president, I would be happy to carefully consider his nomination.”


“Justice Garland has earned the support of Republicans and Democrats alike since 1997. I urge Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley to fulfill their constitutional duties, hold hearings, and quickly bring this nominee up for a vote, the exact same thing called for in 2008 when President Bush nominated judges that were then confirmed by a democratic Senate.”

Key senator undecided on hearing for Obama high court pick

The Republican head of the Senate panel that weighs U.S. Supreme Court nominations said on Tuesday he will wait until President Barack Obama names his pick to fill the vacancy left by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia's death before deciding whether to hold confirmation hearings.

“I would wait until the nominee is made before I would make any decisions” about confirmation hearings, Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said, according to Radio Iowa. “In other words, take it a step at a time.”

Grassley has offered mixed messages since Scalia's death on how the Senate should proceed on the vacancy, alternating hardline views on blocking any nominee with comments not ruling out hearings. 

Republicans have threatened not to act on any nominee put forward by the Democratic president for the Supreme Court seat. Obama's nominee could alter the court's balance of power. Before Scalia's death, it had five conservatives and four liberals.

Republicans control the Senate, which the U.S. Constitution assigns responsibility for confirming a president's nomination to the court. Republicans have opposed nearly all of Obama's major initiatives during the first seven years of his presidency, and filling the court vacancy is shaping up as a monumental election-year fight. 

Grassley initially told the Des Moines Register newspaper shortly after word of Scalia's death on Saturday he would not “make any prognostication” about how the committee or the full Senate would handle a nomination to fill the vacancy. Later on Saturday, he put out a statement saying the Senate should not take up the nomination until after the election.

Senator Patrick Leahy, the committee's top Democrat, prodded Republicans to act on whomever Obama nominates for a lifetime appointment to the court.

“The advice and consent role enshrined in our Constitution was not designed to allow a blanket prohibition of any potential nominee, but that is exactly where the Republican majority leader is trying to take us,” Leahy wrote in an opinion piece in USA Today, referring to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

McConnell said on Saturday the vacancy should not be filled until Obama's successor takes office in January so voters can have a say on the selection when they cast ballots in the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Obama was expected to face questions on the Supreme Court later on Tuesday during a news conference in Rancho Mirage, California at the close of a two-day meeting with leaders from Southeast Asia.

While the House plays no role in confirming Supreme Court nominees, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan supported the idea of blocking any nominee offered by Obama.

“The president has absolutely every right to nominate someone to the Supreme Court, but Congress as an equal branch also has every right not to confirm someone,” Ryan said in interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper.


Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece that if Senate Republicans block consideration of any Obama nominee, “they will ensure that this Republican majority is remembered as the most nakedly partisan, obstructionist and irresponsible majority in history.”

Ed Pagano, who served in Obama's White House as liaison to the Senate from 2012 to 2014, said to put pressure on Senate Republicans Democrats could refuse to give their consent on must-pass spending bills until the nominee is considered.

“If the minority (Democrats) really wants to gum stuff up, they can,” Pagano told Reuters.

Pagano said the ideal candidate for the nomination would be either a woman or a minority, recently vetted by Congress and viewed as a moderate. 

For those reasons, Pagano said Sri Srinivasan, who has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since he was confirmed on a 97-0 bipartisan vote in the U.S. Senate in 2013, would be the most logical fit. He would be the first Indian-American on the high court. 

“Somebody like that could put a little political pressure on Republicans. Whether that will be enough for McConnell to relent, I don't know,” Pagano said.

Scalia, 79, was found dead on Saturday at a Texas hunting resort. 

A court spokeswoman said Scalia's body will lie in repose at the Supreme Court building on Friday. Funeral arrangements have not been announced, but National Public Radio reported that his funeral will be on Saturday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

Scalia's chair in the court's ornate chamber has been draped with black wool crepe in accordance with court tradition following a justice's death.

GOP hopefuls stick to positions on NSA surveillance amid spying on Israel report

Republican presidential candidates – from both sides on the aisle on the issue of NSA surveillance – on Wednesday protested the Obama administration’s spying on Israel’s government and the collecting of their communications with members of Congress, after the Wall Street Journal broke the story on Tuesday.

But they also stuck to their positions regarding the program.

Appearing on “Fox & Friends” morning program, Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said Israel and Americans alike have a right to be concerned about the fact that an ally of the U.S. and its citizens were unfairly treated with the use of the U.S. surveillance program during the debate over the Iran nuclear deal.

“Obviously, people read this report, and they have a right to be concerned this morning about it,” Rubio said. “They have a right to be concerned about the fact that while some leaders around the world are no longer being targeted, one of our strongest allies in the Middle East — Israel — is. These are all concerns, and they’re legitimate.”

However, Rubio cautioned that before rushing to conclusions people should understand the complicated issue. “We have to be very careful about how we discuss it, especially since there’s a press report that I don’t think gets the entire story,” said the GOP presidential hopeful. “I actually think it might be worse than what some people might think, but this is an issue that we’ll keep a close eye on, and the role that I have in the Intelligence Committee. I’m not trying to be evasive, but I want to be very careful in a national broadcast like this how we discuss these sorts of issues.”

Senator Rand Paul, appearing on the same program, was less defensive of the administration using the program to shoot down private conversations of U.S. citizens. “I’m appalled by it. This is exactly why we need more NSA reform and the debate in Washington right now has been unfortunately going the other way, since the San Bernardino shooting, everyone’s saying ‘Oh we need more surveillance of Americans.’ In reality, what we need is more targeted surveillance,” Paul said. “I’m not against surveillance, but I am against indiscriminate surveillance.”

Paul explained that “when we listen in on foreigners’ conversations when they’re talking to Americans, we’re scooping up tens of thousands of conversations of Americans, and that this is a real problem because it’s a real invasion of our privacy.”

Dems push resolution on two-state solution in memory of Rabin

Several House and Senate Democrats are pushing for a resolution to commemorate 20 years to the November 4th anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The partisan resolution, introduced to the Senate by Senator Dianne Feinstein, not only commemorates the life and accomplishments of Rabin but also “recognizes and reiterates its continued support for the close ties and special relationship between the people and Governments of the United States and Israel” and “reaffirms its commitment to the process of building a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians based on two states for two peoples, living side-by-side in peace and security.”

Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) signed on as co-sponsors.

Congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) introduced the resolution to the House of Representatives, with Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), and Earl Blumenauer signing on as co-sponsors. “Twenty years ago, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was killed for trying to build peace. [He] gave his life to the heroic work of ending decades of war,” Rep. Ellison said in a statement. “The violence that killed Prime Minister Rabin stems from the same place as the violence we see today: the lack of two states for two peoples, living side-by-side in peace and security. We need Prime Minister Rabin’s courage now.”

Feinstein’s statement in the news release included the following line: “Today, with renewed violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories, his courageous leadership is an especially important model for all.”

Jewish Insider reached out to the offices of Ellison and Feinstein asking why the resolution has not been introduced in a bipartisan manner.

“We’re continuing to reach out to offices and are hoping to collect as many co-sponsors as possible,” Brett Morrow, a spokesman for Rep. Ellison, told Jewish Insider. 

A spokesperson to Sen. Feinstein did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The effort to mark Rabin’s 20th anniversary with a push for renewed peace negotiations was also reflected in a petition that was launched by J-Street, calling on New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand to “support Rabin’s vision” and “saying that honoring Rabin means more than just remembering, it means acting.”

This post originally appeared at Jewish Insider.

Bill to avert government shutdown clears main Senate hurdle

Legislation to avoid a U.S. government shutdown and provide temporary funds for federal agencies in the fiscal year beginning on Thursday cleared an important procedural hurdle in the Senate on Monday.

With the 60 votes needed, the Senate limited debate on the stopgap funding bill that would extend current agency spending until Dec. 11.

The Senate is expected to pass the bill on Tuesday or Wednesday, sending it to the House for passage before a midnight Wednesday deadline.

Senate blocks Republican bill denying Planned Parenthood funds

The Senate on Thursday stopped an effort by Republicans to deny federal funding for women's healthcare provider Planned Parenthood as part of a bill keeping government agencies operating on Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

The vote was still continuing.

The Senate is next expected to advance the same federal funding bill, but without the provision stopping Planned Parenthood funding. Planned Parenthood denies allegations that it has improperly used fetal tissue from abortions.

Obama musters more Senate votes for Iran nuclear deal

President Barack Obama on Tuesday secured 42 votes in the U.S. Senate for the international nuclear deal with Iran, more than enough to keep Congress from passing a resolution disapproving of the pact.

Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal, Gary Peters, Ron Wyden and Maria Cantwell announced they would support the agreement, just as lawmakers returned to Washington from a month-long summer recess.

Forty-two votes is one more than the minimum needed in the 100-member Senate to block a Republican-backed resolution of disapproval of the nuclear deal, announced on July 14.

That would spare Obama the embarrassment of having to use his veto power to protect a deal reached with five other world powers, seen as a potential legacy foreign policy achievement for his administration.

Obama had been guaranteed enough votes to sustain a veto once he reached 34 “yes” votes in the Senate, but backers say avoiding the veto process would send an important message to Iran, and the world: Washington is unified behind it.

“This agreement with the duplicitous and untrustworthy Iranian regime falls short of what I had envisioned. However, I have decided the alternatives are even more dangerous,” Wyden said in a statement explaining his support.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration was “gratified” by the growing support for the nuclear accord.

The last hope of bipartisan Senate support was dashed on Tuesday when Senator Susan Collins, the chamber's last undecided Republican, announced her opposition.

All of the senators supporting the deal are Democrats or independents who caucus with them. Every supporter in the House of Representatives is a Democrat.

Senator Joe Manchin on Tuesday became the fourth Senate Democrat voting against the deal. At least 17 House Democrats have also said they would vote with Republicans against it.

To block the resolution, deal supporters would need at least 41 senators to vote in favor of using the Senate's filibuster procedural rule to keep a disapproval resolution from advancing.

It was not immediately clear if any would break with Democratic party leaders and oppose a filibuster, but most said they would back the procedural measure.

“If the cloture (procedural) vote becomes in effect the opportunity to vote in support of the agreement, I will vote in favor of closing debate,” Blumenthal said.


Groups on both sides of the issue were waging fierce last-ditch campaigns to influence senators' votes on the procedural measure.

Given Republican unity against the nuclear agreement, pressure on Democrats for the past two months has been intense, particularly from pro-Israel groups that normally enjoy strong support from members of both parties.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been a vociferous opponent of the Iran deal, calling it a threat to his country's existence. Republicans invited him to address Congress about his opposition to the deal negotiations earlier this year.

Many opponents argue that the deal offers sanctions relief in exchange for too few nuclear concessions from Iran. They want negotiators to return to the table to push for tougher terms.

However, the five other world powers that reached the deal have made clear they have no intention of resuming talks. They will also ease sanctions, regardless of Congress' vote on the accord, if Iran fulfills its commitments.

Iran denies its nuclear program aims to produce weapons.

Republicans, who have majorities in the Senate and House, have denounced the idea of using the procedural rule to keep a disapproval resolution from advancing.

They note that Congress voted overwhelmingly earlier this year for the legislation that lets Congress review the nuclear pact.

“I do hope that senators … will allow us to actually have a vote on the substance of the bill,” Senator Bob Corker, the author of the Iran Nuclear Review Act, told reporters.

However, he added that it had always been expected that, under Senate rules, it would take 60 votes to pass a disapproval resolution.

If a resolution of disapproval passed, and Congress overrode Obama's promised veto, Obama would be barred from waiving many U.S. sanctions on Iran, a key component of the deal.

Under the Review Act, which Obama signed into law in May, Congress has until Sept. 17 to pass the resolution. Obama then has 12 days to veto and Congress has another 10 days to try to override his veto. The first congressional votes on the deal are expected this week.

A disapproval resolution is expected to receive the simple majority of votes it will need to pass the House, where Republicans hold 246 of the 435 seats.

House Democratic leaders have been working to marshal the 146 votes to sustain Obama's veto in that chamber, if necessary. By late Tuesday, they had more than 120, all Democrats.

Senator Mikulski gives Obama key vote to protect Iran nuclear deal

Sen. Barbara Mikulski said she will support the Iran nuclear deal, effectively ensuring that the agreement will survive attempts in Congress to overturn it.

Mikulski, D-Md., who issued her statement Wednesday morning, becomes the 34th senator to back the agreement reached in mid-July between Iran and the six world powers led by the United States. Her support denies opponents the necessary 67 votes they would require to override President Barack Obama’s pledged veto of any vote to kill the agreement.

“No deal is perfect, especially one negotiated with the Iranian regime,” Mikulski said in a 1,500-word statement enumerating the difficult choices she faced – a length and anguished tone typical of many of the statements in favor of the deal published by Democratic lawmakers.

“I have concluded that this Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is the best option available to block Iran from having a nuclear bomb,” she said. “For these reasons, I will vote in favor of this deal. However, Congress must also reaffirm our commitment to the safety and security of Israel.”

Mikulski, who is retiring next year, has been close to her state’s Jewish and pro-Israel communities.

Most if not all Republicans oppose the deal, leaving the battleground for opponents and supporters of the deal among Democrats.

Mikulski and the junior senator from Maryland, Ben Cardin, also a Democrat, had been prime targets for lobbyists from both sides: Mikulski because of her seniority and her influence as the longest-serving woman in the Congress, Cardin because of his leadership among Jewish Democrats and his senior rank on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee held a rally at a synagogue in Pikesville, Maryland, on Tuesday night in which leaders of the pro-Israel lobby, which opposes the deal, urged activists to flood Cardin and Mikulski with phone calls.

Democrats also appear to have enough deal backers in the U.S. House of Representatives to prevent an override of a presidential veto.

The deal reached between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group of major powers exchanges sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged Congress to kill the deal, saying it will leave Iran as a nuclear threshold state.

White House encouraged by latest U.S. Senate support for Iran deal

The White House welcomed the growing support in the U.S. Senate for the Iran nuclear agreement and will keep working with lawmakers to secure as much backing as possible on Sept. 2.

“We are encouraged by the latest tally,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. “When the stakes are this high, every vote is important.”

President Barack Obama on Wednesday secured the 34th Senate vote needed to sustain a veto of any congressional resolution disapproving the nuclear deal with Iran, ensuring the accord will not fail in the U.S. Congress.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid announces support for Iran nuclear deal

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid announced his support for the Iran nuclear deal.

Reid (D-Nev.) called the deal the “best way” to curtail Iran’s military ambitions in an interview Sunday with the Washington Post.

“This is the best way, the only way, to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” Reid said.

Reid also told the newspaper he would “do everything in my power to make sure the deal stands.”

Reid reiterated his position in a tweet posted Sunday afternoon, in which he said: “I strongly support the historic agreement with Iran and will do everything in my power to ensure that it stands.”

Reid is the 27th Senate Democrat to publicly endorse the plan, in which the United States and five other world powers offered Iran sanctions relief in exchange for scaling back its nuclear program, according to the Post. His current term ends in January 2017 and he has said he will not seek reelection.

Meanwhile, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), a Democrat who often votes with Republicans and is undecided on the Iran deal, told the daily Star Tribune that he received a call from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu detailing his concerns about the deal. He told the newspaper he has not received a call from the White House.

Congress will vote on whether to approve the deal in September. Obama has vowed to veto any legislation aimed at blocking the deal.

Dear Congressman Sherman: Your ‘no’ vote on Iran deal threatens Israel

In the least plausible alternative version of my life, I would have stayed in the San Fernando Valley rather than leaving more than 40 years ago and moving to Jerusalem. In that scenario, I’d be represented in Congress by Democrat Brad Sherman — and I might be less infuriated by his recent announcement that he’ll vote against the Iran deal, because if I were an Angeleno rather than an Israeli, his decision wouldn’t pose a threat to me, my neighbors and my country.

At this distance of years and miles, I don’t usually pay much attention to an L.A. congressman, but a random tweet alerted me to Sherman’s statement. 

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer’s declaration that he’ll vote against the accord made more headlines and is even more upsetting, given the relatively greater weight of each vote in the Senate. In both cases, their statements barely mention Israel, but their explanations track Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s talking points for foiling the deal in Congress. You don’t have to be a cynic to suspect that Schumer and Sherman have devoted much of their study of the issue to their constituents and have concluded that voters who support the Vienna accord are a captive audience for a Democratic incumbent, while passionate opponents are swing voters and perhaps swing donors.

I imagine that Sherman, Schumer and other Democrats who intend to vote against the agreement might respond that Netanyahu is, after all, Israel’s elected leader and therefore the accredited spokesman for its security concerns. But there would be a logical absurdity in that argument. They could not even consider opposing the agreement if they believed that the elected leader of their own country is the sole authority on its national security. They know that an election granted President Barack Obama the right to govern within constitutional limits. An election is not a certification of omniscience. The same is true of Netanyahu.

In Israel, the most prominent dissenters from Netanyahu’s position are veterans of its military and intelligence agencies. There’s Shlomo Brom, former head of strategic planning in the Israeli general staff, who has debunked precisely the myths of the Vienna accord that fill Schumer and Sherman’s statements. Ami Ayalon, former commander of the Israeli navy and former head of the Shin Bet security service, has stated, “When it comes to Iran’s nuclear capability, this [deal] is the best option.” Yuval Diskin, another former Shin Bet director, this week tweeted in Hebrew that he “identifies absolutely” with Thomas Friedman’s column in The New York Times on why Israelis should support the accord.

Yes, I’m picking my experts (though if space and patience allowed, I could list many more). What Ayalon, Brom, Diskin and colleagues who have expressed similar views have in common is that — to use Hebrew slang —they’re not “vegetarians.” They know there’s sometimes no choice but to use military force. But they also have an utterly unromantic understanding of the costs of using force and the limits of what it can accomplish. They are the kind of security experts that a Democratic member of Congress should want to consult. (There’s little point in discussing which experts a Republican lawmaker should consult: The GOP’s fundamental principle is that any agreement reached by Obama is illegitimate, which meshes sweetly with Netanyahu’s core belief that all diplomacy is delusion.)

I could go point by point through the errors in Schumer and Sherman’s criticisms of the deal. It’s either mistaken or deliberately misleading to state, as Schumer does, that there’s a “24-day delay before we can inspect.” That’s the outside limit for reimposing sanctions if Iran blocks inspection of a previously unknown site. It’s mistaken or deceptive to imply, as Sherman does, that Iran will be free to pursue a weapons program in 15 years. Inspections, surveillance and the ban on nuclear weapons last long after that.

But the real flaw in Sherman and Schumer’s arguments — and in Netanyahu’s — is that they measure the accord against the ideal agreement they wanted, or against the one they claim Obama could have reached. Such arguments are appropriate for an academic seminar. Were Obama running for re-election, they could be fairly raised by opponents challenging his foreign policy record.

But they are worse than irrelevant to a decision today about whether to vote for or against the agreement in Congress. The only relevant measurement for a member of Congress is the consequences of approving the accord versus the consequences of rejecting it.

Therefore, the burden of proof for opponents is to explain how, if the U.S. Congress manages to sabotage the accord, they propose to keep the current international sanctions intact and bring Iran back to negotiations. They must explain how, while scuttling the deal, they will avoid discrediting the moderate camp in Iranian politics and strengthening the hardline faction most committed to terrorist proxies across the Middle East. They must explain how the current reality, in which Iran’s enrichment program is unlimited, is safer than the limitations imposed by the agreement, and how they propose to prevent the regional nuclear arms race that is likely to ensue if Iran does produce a bomb.

Alternatively, they must explain how any military action short of full-scale invasion would slow Iran’s program more than the accord would — or explain how they’d convince the American public to support invading Iran, and why they think America would be more successful in creating a safe Iran from the ruins than it was in building a stable Iraq.

Otherwise, they must explain exactly why voting against this deal makes anyone — in the United States, Israel or anywhere else — safer than voting for it. And I’m not talking about “safe” as used in “safe seat.”

Mr. Sherman, Mr. Schumer: I suggest you quickly hold a consultation with Daniel Kurtzer and the other former American ambassadors to Israel who have endorsed the agreement, that you hold a video conference tomorrow morning with Ayalon, Brom and Diskin, and you announce that your concerns have been allayed. If a measure of integrity doesn’t convince you to do so, I hope that enough of your constituents remind you that you are not the only possible Democratic candidates for your seats. Because from where I sit, in Jerusalem rather than the San Fernando Valley, a vote against this agreement looks like premeditated irresponsibility.

Gershom Gorenberg is a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, where this essay originally appeared. He is the author of “The Unmaking of Israel,” “The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977” and “The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount.” He blogs at South Jerusalem. Reprinted with permission.

Senate Democrats stake out both sides of Iran deal

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) blasted the U.S.-led international nuclear deal with Iran on Tuesday, vowing to oppose it in defiance of President Barack Obama, who picked up much-needed support for the deal from two other Senate Democrats.

As September voting on the agreement in the U.S. Congress neared, Menendez, a former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, became the second senior lawmaker from Obama's own party to announce he would vote to kill the pact with Tehran.

“I will vote to disapprove the agreement and, if called upon, would vote to override a veto” by the president, Menendez said in a speech in his home state of New Jersey.

Shortly later, Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, both of Rhode Island, announced that they would support the agreement. Reed sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee and could help sway other Democrats' views on the matter.

Republicans almost unanimously oppose the agreement and plan to schedule votes in Congress on a “resolution of disapproval” against it by Sept. 17. Obama is trying to gather enough support among Democrats to sustain a veto of the resolution.

Twenty-three of the Senate's 44 Democrats have announced their support for the agreement, which would impose new curbs on Tehran's nuclear program in return for easing economic sanctions. Iran denies it wants to make a nuclear weapon.

That level of Senate support is 11 votes short of the 34 Obama would need to prevent the Senate from killing the deal.

Earlier this month, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the third-ranking Democrat in the chamber, said he would vote against the deal, which was negotiated by the United States, five other major powers and Iran. Schumer said he would work to persuade other senators to oppose it too, signaling that there are deep divisions within the Democratic Party on the issue.

Senator Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat, supports the deal. Democratic Leader Harry Reid will declare his position when the Senate returns from recess on Sept. 7, when lobbying and debate in Congress over the deal is expected to intensify.


If the agreement were to go into effect, Menendez said, it would hurt national security while abandoning a long-held U.S. policy of preventing nuclear proliferation. Instead, he said, it would establish a policy of “managing” nuclear proliferation.

Despite his stance against the Iran deal, it is not clear how much Menendez would influence other Democrats.

A senior Obama administration official said the announcement had been expected and would not alter White House plans. “The strategy is the exact same today as it was yesterday,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

State Department spokesman John Kirby expressed confidence the Iran deal will win congressional support but added that Secretary of State John Kerry is reaching out to lawmakers.

Privately, backers of the deal say that while they still hope to have enough votes in the Senate to sustain an Obama veto, they are even more confident of doing so in the House of Representatives. Success in either chamber will ensure the deal survives.

Republicans say the deal gives too much ground to Iran and threatens the security of Israel, a major U.S. ally in the Middle East.

The speech by Menendez, a strong backer of Israel, at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, contained a detailed, technical analysis of the agreement. He pointed out that throughout Obama's term in office he has mainly backed the Democratic president, voting for Wall Street and healthcare reforms and other major initiatives.

Menendez was indicted on corruption charges in April. He has pleaded not guilty and vowed to fight the allegations.

He questioned Obama's threats to ultimately take military action against Iran if it went ahead with making a nuclear bomb. “We should authorize now the means for Israel to address the Iranian threat on their own in the event that Iran accelerates its program and to counter Iranian perceptions that our own threat to use force is not credible,” he said.


He also criticized Republicans, who he said “reflexively oppose everything the president proposes.”

“While I have many specific concerns about this agreement, my overarching concern is that it requires no dismantling of Iran's nuclear infrastructure and only mothballs that infrastructure for 10 years. Not even one centrifuge will be destroyed under this agreement,” Menendez said.

He urged the Obama administration to go back to the negotiating table to rework the main elements, something the Obama administration says would be impossible.

The non-partisan Arms Control Association on Tuesday said 70 nuclear non-proliferation experts issued a statement in support, calling it “a strong, long-term and verifiable agreement that will be a net-plus for international nuclear non-proliferation efforts.”

U.S. Senate leader McConnell: Obama’s choice on Iran deal ‘absurd’

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday rejected President Barack Obama's pitch for the Iran nuclear deal, saying it was “absurd” to argue that lawmakers must essentially choose between the agreement or going to war.

Obama made a “huge mistake” with that argument, McConnell, a Republican, told reporters in response to a speech by Obama on Wednesday.

“It's not this deal versus war. That's the argument they've been making during the whole negotiation. It's either this deal or a better deal, or more sanctions.”

Obama defended the July 14 U.S.-led international deal against a furious lobbying effort by political opponents and Israel, and said abandoning the agreement would open up the prospect of war.

The president said if the Republican-controlled Congress blocked the deal, it would accelerate Tehran's path to a nuclear bomb.

“Let's not mince words. The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy or some form of war. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon,” Obama, a Democrat, said.

But McConnell was not buying it. “That's an absurd argument,” he said.

Obama's speech was part of a push to promote the accord negotiated over 18 months between Iran and six world powers. The six agreed to lift economic sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear program, which Tehran said was for peaceful energy purposes only.

Opponents of the agreement have said the deal does not go far enough to ensure Iran will never be able to develop a nuclear weapon. They have cited the length of time between notifications and inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and their objections to doing anything that might help Iran because of its backing for Islamist militant groups.

Obama urgently needs his fellow Democrats' support in Congress, but only a few dozen have come out so far as strongly in favor.

The White House has pressured Congress to support the deal as lawmakers head home for an August recess. Congress has until Sept. 17 to vote on it.

A resolution rejecting it would cripple the agreement by eliminating Obama's ability to waive many sanctions – if the resolution survives a presidential veto.

Senate leaders have agreed to start the Iran debate as soon as they return to Washington on Sept. 8. McConnell said the Senate would deal with the issue “with dignity and respect,” but he was very critical of what he called the president's “incendiary rhetoric” on Iran.

Report: Schumer to oppose Iran deal

A top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer, will come out against the Iran deal on Friday, according to a report from The Huffington Post.

The report quotes three unnamed sources familiar with the senator’s thinking.

Schumer, a Jewish lawmaker from New York who is poised to become his party’s leader in the Senate in 2017, has come under intense pressure from the White House and critics of the deal.

Chessmasters: Israel and the Iran deal

Critics of the Iran deal unfailingly say that the American negotiators, including President Barack Obama, were no match for their wily Iranian counterparts.

The Persians, they remind us, excel at the culture of the bazaar. The Persians, they point out, invented the game of chess. “We’re playing checkers on the Middle East game board,” veteran Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller warned in the midst of the negotiations, “and Tehran’s playing three-dimensional chess.”

That may be true, but it obscures the fact that — as long as we’re indulging in vast cultural stereotypes — there is another people I can think of who know how to drive a pretty hard bargain.


And when I take a step back and look at where we are with the Iran deal, I think that must be exactly what’s going on here. Either Israeli leaders, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and a phalanx of Jewish organizations are really aiming to destroy the deal — against enormous odds and with untold, possibly devastating consequences. Or what we are seeing unfold is that the Israelis have entered the bazaar — and they’re open for business.

Does that offend you? Tough. Is it shameful? Not at all. Israelis are the most upset by this deal because they have the most to lose from it — period. And in chess — or the shuk — no one gives up anything for nothing.

What Israel is giving up should be clear to anyone within earshot of, well, most Israelis. They are convinced the Iranians will cheat and the mechanism for catching and punishing them is too slow. They know Iran will use some of its money to fund terror. And they are incensed that Iran got far more than the right to enrich, which is bad enough. 

[As the Journal went to press, word arrived that Theodore Bikel died. A full obituary appears here, but no words can do justice to a man who lived such a full life. Two days before his death, in frail health, Theo went to hear a public discussion on Israel and Iran — his passion and commitment to his People endured to the end. This column is dedicated to Theo Bikel. — R.E.]

“If it’s just about nuclear weapons,” Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles David Siegel asked me — rhetorically — “why does it specifically release Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s greatest terror mastermind, from sanctions? This deal will open the floodgates of terror financing.” 

On the other hand, while most Israeli politicians and 51 percent of all Israelis want to block  the deal, many Israeli military and intelligence officials, as well as numerous pro-Israeli arms control experts, have given it their approval. For instance, Uzi Even, a former lead scientist at Israel’s Dimona nuclear weapons facility, outlined why the deal works in a column titled  “Everyone Relax, Israel Can Live With the Iran Deal.” 

But, the Israelis are acting anything but relaxed. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has joined forces with the opposition leader, Isaac Herzog, to convince American leaders the deal must be junked. Even though the majority of American Jews favor the deal, Israel and AIPAC want to get a veto-proof majority in the Senate to kill it. 

Or do they?

Most experts say that if Congress blocks the deal, the outcome will be far worse for Israel and the world. The sanctions and inspections regimes will crumble. With no deal, Iran could end up with billions of dollars and a bomb in time for Chanukah. 

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Robert Satloff disagrees. A defeat, he wrote, could set off a convoluted process that would force the negotiators and Iran back to Geneva, where better terms could be worked out.

The Israelis could gamble on that, or they could take the deal — the devil they know — and through a very noisy, public fight persuade Congress, the administration and the American taxpayers that Israel needs more weapons, more aid and deals about  the deal. 

I asked someone who has been active in this issue at the highest levels what possible strategy Bibi and AIPAC could be pursuing, knowing that the chances of blocking the deal are so slim. He pointed out that U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter was in Israel as we spoke— and he’s not there for the hummus.

If that’s what this is about — good old-fashioned dealmaking — I’m all for it. 

“Israel harbors few illusions that much good will come out of attempting to undermine the agreement,” Ariel Levite, one of Israel’s top nuclear weapons experts, wrote in Haaretz on July 17. “Hence, it is supremely important to get the United States, France and Germany to make complementary commitments to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, contain and diminish the risk inherent in the agreement and strengthen Israel’s capacity to respond to those threats posed by Iran that the agreement might accentuate.”

In other words, Israel can pocket the deal’s upsides, and secure vast and expensive hedges against its downsides. 

“Chess …” wrote Garry Kasparov, the best player who ever lived, “teaches you how to problem solve in an uncertain environment.”

There is no more uncertain environment than being a Jewish island in a Muslim sea. And yes, it’s true the Persians invented chess. But of the 10 best chess players who ever lived, half were Jews — including Kasparov. 

Oh, and none were Iranian.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @foodaism.

22 senators sign letter to Obama urging Israel support

Nearly one-quarter of the U.S. Senate signed on to a bipartisan letter urging President Barack Obama to support Israel around the world.

Twenty-two senators signed the letter, which was written “in response to your welcomed recent remarks at Congregation Adas Israel” on May 22 concerning his commitment to Israel’s security. The letter was sponsored by Sens. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

While welcoming Obama’s “unwavering commitment” to Israel’s security, the signers also want the Obama administration to remain committed to the United States’ “long-standing policy” of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians as the way to peace.

The letter specifically asked the administration to oppose Palestinian efforts for membership in the United Nations and other international bodies.

Among the signers are five Jewish Democrats: Ben Cardin of Maryland, Barbara Boxer of California, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Charles Schumer of New York and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

The signers wrote that they were “deeply concerned by previously reported and unattributed comments by U.S. officials that the U.S. might change its approach to the peace process at the United Nations Security Council.”

“The United States has a critical role to play in facilitating these direct negotiations,” the senators wrote.

President Bernie Sanders

Just because he looks like Larry David’s angry uncle, and just because he is the only Democratic socialist in the United States Senate, and just because he represents a heavily forested state best known for a breakfast condiment, doesn’t mean you should dismiss Bernie Sanders.

The Jewish Independent from Vermont declared his candidacy for president of the United States in late April, making him the only Democratic opponent so far to Hillary Clinton. It’s safe to say he stands no better chance of winning the nomination than do most of the Republicans who have declared.

He must know his chances are slim, but unlike the other gang, Sanders is not running to get a book deal or a pundit chair. He’s not running to use other people’s money to build his brand. At 73, his brand is what it is. Unlike the vast field of mostly like-minded climate change-denying, ObamaCare-bashing and Iraq War-defending Republicans, Sanders is putting forward policies that set him apart from his main competitor

Are those ideas really so far out there they don’t deserve our attention?  You tell me.

We know the enormous gap between rich and poor is a drag on the economy — which means for all of us that it’s in our own self-interest to fix it. Sanders wants to close tax deductions benefiting corporations and hedge funds and raise taxes on capital gains and the wealthiest 2 percent as a way to reduce taxes on the middle class.

We know America’s health-care costs are out of control — Sanders wants Americans to pay far less for generic prescription drugs, which is the norm outside the United States.

We know global warming is a great threat to our planet. Sanders is a global-warming hawk — had Congress passed his Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act of 2007, America would be leading the world in reversing the effects of global warming, while reaping the economic benefits of new energy technologies.

We know the current system of ever-increasing college tuitions and higher and higher student debt is a drag on economic growth. On May 19, Sanders put forward the College for All Act, which would provide, well, free college for all. Sanders estimates the cost of the program would be offset by an additional $300 billion in revenue from a “Robin Hood tax” of 50 cents on every $100 of stock trades. The act would fund tuition at four-year colleges and universities for students who meet admission standards.   

Sanders’ proposal would also lower student-loan interest rates by restoring the formula that was in effect until 2006, cutting them almost in half and allowing existing loans to be renegotiated.

If you’re looking for a bold, doable idea that sets Sanders apart, College for All stands out.

I was attending my son’s graduation from New York University last week, and Sanders’ idea was the talk of the graduates. There was a healthy debate over whether the idea could work, over how any talk of free tuition needs to get at the cost and quality issues around higher education as well, and whether students would ever take to the streets en masse to demand these changes. 

The arguments were echoed over at Reddit, the website where college-age males spend much of their virtual time. It’s the 10th-most-visited site in the country, with 160 million unique visitors a month. Judging by the posts, Sanders could easily be elected, at least, president of Reddit.

 (What’s also remarkable is that for all the back-and-forth about Sanders on Reddit, there is hardly any discussion of the fact that he’s Jewish. His positions on Israel come up for debate — the anti-Israel crowd “outs” him as a Zionist for his kibbutznik past — but otherwise, in 2015, for the 18-to-35 set, being the first Jewish president is a nonissue.)

You could cynically say there would be no better way to field an army of young, smart, motivated campaign workers than by promising to halve their college debt. But the truth is, no other candidate, from Hillary to Jeb to Rand, has put forward proposals to address the very issues we know are holding the country back.

And it’s a sign of how far we’ve fallen, as a country, that ideas that used to be mainstream are now considered Marxist.

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy introduced legislation that President Lyndon Johnson eventually saw passed as the Higher Education Act of 1963. It authorized several times more college aid in a five-year period than had been appropriated in a century and massive spending on new higher-education facilities.

“Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education,” said Kennedy, who would have turned 98 this week. “The human mind is our fundamental resource.”

Why is any of this not worthy of our attention? Social media like Reddit give today’s dark-horse candidate a good post. Sanders doesn’t seem out to be a third-party spoiler, like Ralph Nader. He simply wants to inject some new ideas into what has been a relatively content-free race. He points to countries like Germany and Northern European social democracies, which have low unemployment, working health care, free universities, good public transportation, strong economies and a strong middle class, and asks, why can’t America emulate what works?

Maybe the idea of President Bernie is far-fetched. But Candidate Bernie? I’m glad he’s here.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

White House doesn’t say whether Obama will support Senate bill on Iran

The White House said on Tuesday it could not state definitively whether President Barack Obama will support the U.S. Senate's bill on Iran's nuclear capabilities until all changes are made.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said there is reason to think a Senate panel working on the bill may address some areas of concern the White House has had over the bill, which Obama has said threatens to undermine an international deal with Iran to curb its nuclear capabilities.

Nuclear pact could end with Obama’s term, 47 GOP senators tell Iran

Any nuclear agreement signed with President Barack Obama could end when he leaves office, a letter to Iran’s leaders signed by 47 Republican senators threatened.

The letter, first obtained by Bloomberg View, explains that without congressional approval, any agreement concerning Iran’s nuclear capabilities is “nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

The March 9 letter, initiated by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.), also was signed by potential presidential candidates Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).

“President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then – perhaps decades,” the letter states. It points out that the Senate must ratify any treaty negotiated by the president by a two-thirds vote, part of an abbreviated lesson in the U.S. Constitutional system provided in the letter.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) decried the letter as “inappropriate.”

“This is a brazen attempt by Senate Republicans to sabotage negotiations aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon,” she said in a statement. “This bizarre, inappropriate letter is a desperate ploy to scuttle a comprehensive agreement and the chance for a peaceful resolution, which is in the best interests of the United States, Israel and the world.”

Senate fails to override Obama’s veto of Keystone XL approval

The Senate failed on Wednesday to override President Barack Obama's veto of legislation approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline, leaving the controversial project to await an administration decision on whether to permit or deny it.

The Senate mustered just 62 votes in favor of overriding the veto, short of the two-thirds needed. Thirty-seven senators voted to sustain Obama's veto. The Senate action means the House of Representatives will not vote on override.

Some Republicans have spoken of trying again to force Obama's hand on the project, by attaching Keystone approval to some other bill in Congress this year.

The TransCanada Corp pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels a day of mostly Canadian oil sands crude to Nebraska en route to refineries and ports along the U.S. Gulf Coast. It has been pending for more than six years.

Republicans support building the pipeline, saying it would create jobs. Obama has questioned Keystone XL's employment impact and raised concerns about its effects on climate change.

The struggle over whether to build Keystone escalated after Republicans won control of the Senate last year. New Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said pipeline approval would be the first bill the Republican-led Congress would send to Obama.

Obama last month vetoed the bill authorizing the pipeline's construction, saying it had bypassed a final State Department assessment on whether the project would benefit the United States. The department is handling the approval process because the pipeline would cross the U.S.-Canadian border.

Once that State Department assessment is in – expected in the coming weeks or months – Obama is expected to make a final decision on permitting for the project.

Environmentalists have urged Obama to reject Keystone because of carbon emissions involved in getting the oil out of Canadian tar sands.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the project “would produce good, high paying jobs, increase supplies of Canadian and American crude to refiners, and therefore further bolster American economic and energy security.”

Netanyahu declines Dems’ invitation for meeting during visit

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined on Tuesday an invitation to meet with U.S. Senate Democrats during his trip to Washington next week.

“Though I greatly appreciate your kind invitation to meet with Democratic Senators, I believe that doing so at this time could compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit,” Netanyahu wrote in a letter to Senators Richard Durbin and Dianne Feinstein obtained by Reuters.

Durbin and Feinstein had invited Netanyahu to a closed-door meeting with Democratic senators in a letter on Monday.

U.S. under fire over Senate’s report on CIA torture

The United States on Wednesday faced criticism from the United Nations as well as governments that Washington often reprimands for human rights violations over a Senate report on CIA torture techniques in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Some U.S. allies, who could face embarrassment or legal liability for any role in the CIA's “enhanced interrogations” during the George W. Bush administration, either condemned the CIA's methods or played down any involvement their governments might have had in them.

“The CIA's practice of torture is gruesome,” German Justice Minister Heiko Maas told German newspaper Bild. “Nothing justifies such methods. Everybody involved must be legally prosecuted.”

Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said according to the Convention Against Torture, not even a state of war justified torture.

In a statement issued in Geneva on Human Rights Day, he said, “The convention lets no one off the hook – neither the torturers themselves, nor the policy-makers, nor the public officials who define the policy or give the orders.”

A White House spokesman said the U.S. Justice Department had reviewed the interrogations and found no reason to indict anyone.

Poland long denied allowing U.S. intelligence to use a secret site in the country for interrogations but on Wednesday former President Aleksander Kwasniewski acknowledged his government let U.S. officials run a facility there. But when asked at a news conference in Warsaw if he knew what his NATO ally was doing, said: “About what the CIA was doing? No. Inside the site, no.”

China, Iran and North Korea, regularly under fire for their human rights records, prodded Washington on its methods.

“China has consistently opposed torture,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a daily briefing. “We believe that the U.S. side should reflect on this, correct its ways and earnestly respect and follow the rules of related international conventions.”

A Twitter account associated with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei said the report showed the U.S. government was a “symbol of tyranny against humanity.”

“They claim they've a prideful nation; US govts. debased & misguided their people who aren't aware of many realities,” said one tweet.

North Korea's Foreign Ministry accused the United Nations of ignoring “inhuman torture practiced by the CIA” while focusing too much on Pyongyang's human rights practices.

The Senate report concluded CIA interrogation tactics were ineffective and often too brutal. U.S. officials had been concerned the report would incite attacks and endanger the lives of American hostages held by Islamic militants but there had been no incidents a day after the report's release.