A Hanukkah Miracle

On the first night of Hanukkah, the state of Alabama witnessed a miracle of its own: the voters of this very red state elected a Democrat to the United States Senate for the first time in 27 years. In a highly publicized special election to fill the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Democrat Doug Jones narrowly defeated Republican Roy Moore. Moore, who was endorsed by President Trump, has been accused by multiple women of predatory sexual misconduct, dating back years ago when the women were teenagers and Moore was a much older man.

In Jones’ victory speech, the new senator-elect thanked family, friends and campaign staff, as well as voters of different demographics, even wishing a happy Hanukkah to his Jewish supporters.

No Option for Filibuster

Filibusters by Republicans and Democrats.

Filibusters by Republicans and Democrats.

Even after 20 children were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, gun-control legislation was shot down in the Senate. Although 54 senators voted in favor of a proposal to expand background checks on gun purchases, this amendment was defeated for failure to attain the 60 votes needed to force a vote. In other words, the filibuster was the opponents’ weapon of choice.

The House of Representatives adopted a “public option” to administer health-care coverage in 2009, but it was not an option in the Senate. Because of concern that a bill containing the public option could not get the necessary 60 votes, the public option was removed from the Senate bill. The cause of death: a potential filibuster.

As the presidential election moves into its final stages, the fate of the filibuster deserves attention equal to the ramifications of the Electoral College and the attendant congressional elections. [Read more…]

Senator Barbara Boxer Speaking in Philadelphia

Barbara Boxer (r) and Bonnie Squires (l).

Bonnie Squires (L) and Barbara Boxer (R).

Sen. Barbara Boxer visited public media station WHYY in Philadelphia to launch her latest book, “The Art of Tough,” a memoir of her decades of service in both Congress and the Senate. For the first time since 1976, she may not be running for election, but she doesn’t plan on going away. She represented California in Congress from 1983 to 1992. Then in ’92, she entered the U.S. Senate. Next on her agenda as a private citizen is to create a political action committee (PAC).

Sen. Boxer announced that she will be a speaker at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Then she launched into a spirited defense of Hillary Clinton, saying, “Hillary is authentic, the smartest person in the room. She’s shy. But she is just herself, ever since she was in college.” While she had a few choice words about Donald Trump, she repeatedly described Hillary as “authentic.” [Read more…]

Fast Track Bill Strikes Blow Against BDS Movement

bdsflyer1— by Ronald S. Lauder, president of World Jewish Congress

Yesterday, Senate approved a strong stand against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement included in the bill granting fast track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

The BDS amendment discourages actions by potential U.S. trading partners such as the European Union that prejudice or discourage trade between the U.S. and Israel, in particular “politically motivated actions to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel and to seek the elimination of politically motivated nontariff barriers on Israeli goods, services, or other commerce imposed on the State of Israel.” It also seeks “the elimination of state-sponsored unsanctioned foreign boycotts against Israel or compliance with the Arab League Boycott of Israel by prospective trading partners.”

The legislation was already passed by the House of Representatives and can now be signed into law by President Obama.

The amendment by Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL 6) throws a wrench in the works of the campaign to boycott Israel. It upholds the principle that those who seek to harm the Jewish state cannot subvert free global commerce for their own perverse political agenda. America’s elected representatives today made it again clear that they stand with Israel and against BDS.

Should Obama Start Compromising on His Agenda?

Will the Senate prevent Obama from nominating another justice like Sonya Sotomayor?

Will the Senate prevent Obama from nominating another justice like Sonya Sotomayor?

Obama will have to deal with a Republican Senate for the first time in his presidency and some, like think tank “Third Way,” argue Obama should respond by compromising on his progressive agenda. But is that really necessary?

In important matters such as Supreme Court appointments, Obama might be more effective by standing up for his convictions.

Bill Clinton watches as Ruth Bader Ginsberg is sworn in as Supreme Court Justice in 1993.

Bill Clinton watches as Ruth Bader Ginsberg is sworn in as Supreme Court Justice in 1993.

This question is all the more important as 81 year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg underwent heart surgery after experiencing discomfort on Tuesday. Otherwise, she is in fine shape: She works out regularly, and even put in an “all-nighter” to write her dissenting opinion last month on the Texas Voter ID law, as she told Ella Magazine in September, before her heart problem started:

Jessica Weisberg: I’m not sure how to ask this, but a lot of people who admire and respect you wonder if you’ll resign while President Obama is in office.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg: Who do you think President Obama could appoint at this very day, given the boundaries that we have? If I resign any time this year, he could not successfully appoint anyone I would like to see in the court. [The Senate Democrats] took off the filibuster for lower federal court appointments, but it remains for this court. So anybody who thinks that if I step down, Obama could appoint someone like me, they’re misguided. As long as I can do the job full steam… I think I’ll recognize when the time comes that I can’t any longer. But now I can.

Control of the Senate makes little difference on legislation as long as Obama is willing to to dust off his veto pen. Over the last six years Obama has only vetoed two bills, fewer than any President since James Garfield who served for only half a year. However, that should change as his veto authority will be needed to keep  Republican legislation in check.

However, Obama’s veto pen is of little use to stymie the Senate’s abuse of its power to confirm or deny Presidential appointments. Even with a Democratic majority, the Republican threat of a filibuster has created a record backlog.

According to AP, “Some 150 of President Barack Obama’s nominees are still waiting their turn. They include 25 more potential ambassadors and other senior State Department appointments.” For example, we do not have a Surgeon General to spearhead our response to the Ebola crisis. Fully a quarter of the world, does not have an American ambassador. We don’t have one in Russia to clarify our position in the war with Ukraine and we do not have one in Guatemala to stave off the droves of unaccompanied minors seeking refuge in our country. The situation was even worse  until Harry Reid recently limited the ability to filibuster certain judicial appointments.

Defining a Legacy

Of all these nominations the most significative are the judicial appointments, since they are lifetime appointments. A justice appointed to the Supreme Court may end up serving decades after the President who made the appointment is long gone. In this way, judicial appointments especially to the Supreme Court define a president’s legacy far beyond his own term of office.

This is not a moot point. Given the ages of the current Justices on the Supreme Court, there is a 49.1% chance that at least one of the nine will not live to see the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States. Together with the possibility that a Justice retires for health or personal reasons short of shuffling off this mortal coil, it is more likely that not that Obama will yet face one or more vacancies on the Supreme Court.

Harry Enten studies Obama’s options for a potential Supreme Court vacancy and concludes that “The Supreme Court won’t be getting another Sotomayor anytime soon” and suggests Obama placate Republicans by seeking candidates more to their liking.

The 2014 Senate elections have made it more difficult for Obama to appoint a Supreme Court Justice. If any future nominee looks like those the Pr4esident has already appointed, he’d likely have a fight on his hands. His best chance would be to go with a nominee who is a true moderate, or an impeccably qualified, mainstream Democrat.

That might work if Republicans were opposing Obama’s nominees on their merits. However, Republican opposition has often taken shape to gain leverage as a protest against extraneous issues like the Affordable Care Act or immigration. Sometimes Obama’s support for a previously conservative idea is the kiss of death as Republicans flip positions in order to not be perceived as supporting anything that Obama favors.

Making the Case Directly to the People

Instead of searching in vain for a hypothetical consensus candidate, Obama should choose the candidate who best exemplifies his vision for the Supreme Court and make his case directly to the public.

Adam Green suggests that Obama stop catering to “what the center of Washington D.C. is instead of what the center of the country is…. If Mitch McConnell wants to stand up and say ‘no’ to millions of hispanics; if Mitch McConnell wants to say ‘no’ to millions of women, then let him.”

Perhaps the Republicans will refuse to approve a progressive justice, and either deny the candidate a hearing or vote the candidate down. However, if they do, Democrats can make that the issue they bring to the American people in the 2016 election. If voters are unhappy with actions of the Senate, many Republican Senators will lose the seats they won in the Republican wave of 2010.

If the Democrats win the White House and regain control of the Senate, the next President would be able to appoint a true progressive. If necessary, it would be better to wait a little while for a nominee with vision than to settle for a flawed compromise justice of the Supreme Court.

Gerrymandering Dooms Dems’ Hopes in House

Democrats’ grief over this year’s election has focused on their losses in the Senate, but their losses in the House of Representatives are much worse. While the Senate could be regained by the Democrats in a couple of years, retaking the House may take a decade or more.

Democrats May Win Senate in 2016

In off-year elections, about 12% of voters are 18-29 years old, 23% are 30-44, and 64% are older. However, in Presidential elections about 18% are 18-29, 28% are 30-44, and 54% are older.

In off-year elections, about 12% of voters are 18-29 years old, 23% are 30-44, and 64% are older. However, in Presidential elections about 18% are 18-29, 28% are 30-44, and 54% are older.

Most of the senators in the third of Senate that was up for election this year were elected in the Democratic wave led by Barack Obama in 2008 as he inspired young voters to come to the polls and defeat John McCain.

However, young voters are not consistent voters. They tend to turn out in much larger number for presidential elections. In this year’s off-year election, the youth failed to come out in great numbers, so most of these swing seats slipped out of Democratic hands giving control of the Senate to the Republicans. Democrats are disappointed by this outcome, but at least for the Senate their setback might only be temporary.

The batch of Senators up for election in 2016 is dominated by the Republicans who benefited from the Republican wave of 2010, so if the Democrats can get their base to turn out to the polls again in a presidential election year they might be able to take back four or five seats and regain control of the Senate.

Gerrymandering Renders House Elections Nearly Irrelevant

All of the attention on the Senate has diverted many people’s attention from the House of Representatives. After the 2010 census, Republicans used their control of numerous state legislatures and governorships, and sophisticated redistricting technology to craft congressional districts to their liking for the 2012 presidential election.

As a result, even though Obama was reelected and more people voted for Democratic congressional candidates than for Republican candidates (59.6 million to 58.2 million), the Republicans actually won more seats than the Democrats (242 to 193), and Republican John Boehner (OH-8) replaced Democrat Nancy Pelosi (CA-12) as Speaker of the House.

Indeed, The Philadelphia Jewish Voice’s analysis of the 2012 election showed that the redistricting gave the Republicans a 7.5% head-start in the House elections. In other words, without a Democratic landslide the Republicans would be able to seize control of the House. If the Democrats need to beat the Republicans by 7.5% just to break even, then we have lost sight of the idea of majority rule.6-3-13-gerrymander[1]

This year we conducted a similar analysis of election results. If we magically sprinkled Democratic voters across the country, this year Democrats would have needed a 10% margin in order to have regained control.

In fact, the Democrats lost the popular vote by an 8% margin, but the game was rigged so efficiently by gerrymandering that even if the shoe had been on the other foot and the Democrats had won the popular vote by 8% that would not have been sufficient for them to win back control of the House.

While the Democrats have high hopes of electing Hillary Clinton or another Democrat as president and perhaps regaining a majority in the Senate, they have virtually no chance of getting control of the House of Representatives until 2022, and even that will require significant gains by the Democrats in local state politics, and popular support for reform in the arcane world of redistricting.

Cartoon courtesy of Mike Stanfill.dyzm21gxkwi4jj0imdnu[1]

Senate Passes Immigration Reform Measure‏

— by Marc R. Stanley

The Senate has taken a huge step toward reforming our immigration system and creating a more just America. Now it is up to the House of Representatives to take immediate action on this important issue. Inaction by Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor, and the rest of the GOP leadership will only continue to prove that the Republican Party is tone deaf to the will of the American people — especially when it comes to Jewish Americans and our partners in the Jewish community who worked tirelessly to get this bill passed.

Stanley recently authored an op-ed in The Huffington Post on how the current immigration reform proposal reflects Jewish values.

Reaction from the President and Jewish Organizations (NJDC, BBI, JCPA) follow the jump.
President Barack Obama:

Statement by President Obama on Senate Passage of Immigration Reform

Today, with a strong bipartisan vote, the United States Senate delivered for the American people, bringing us a critical step closer to fixing our broken immigration system once and for all.

I thank Majority Leader Reid, Senator Leahy, Senator Schumer, and every member of the ‘Gang of Eight’ for their leadership, and I commend all Senators who worked across party lines to get this done.  

The bipartisan bill that passed today was a compromise.  By definition, nobody got everything they wanted.  Not Democrats.  Not Republicans.  Not me.  But the Senate bill is consistent with the key principles for commonsense reform that I – and many others – have repeatedly laid out.

If enacted, the Senate bill would establish the most aggressive border security plan in our history.  It would offer a pathway to earned citizenship for the 11 million individuals who are in this country illegally – a pathway that includes passing a background check, learning English, paying taxes and a penalty, and then going to the back of the line behind everyone who’s playing by the rules and trying to come here legally.  It would modernize the legal immigration system so that it once again reflects our values as a nation and addresses the urgent needs of our time.  And it would provide a big boost to our recovery, by shrinking our deficits and growing our economy.

Today, the Senate did its job.  It’s now up to the House to do the same.

As this process moves forward, I urge everyone who cares about this issue to keep a watchful eye.  Now is the time when opponents will try their hardest to pull this bipartisan effort apart so they can stop commonsense reform from becoming a reality.  We cannot let that happen.  If you’re among the clear majority of Americans who support reform – from CEOs to labor leaders, law enforcement to clergy – reach out to your Member of Congress.  Tell them to do the right thing.  Tell them to pass commonsense reform so that our businesses and workers are all playing by the same rules and everyone who’s in this country is paying their fair share in taxes.

We have a unique opportunity to fix our broken system in a way that upholds our traditions as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.  We just need Congress to finish the job.

B’nai B’rith International:

B’nai B’rith International welcomes the Senate’s passage of a bill overhauling the nation’s immigration laws.

B’nai B’rith has been a staunch supporter of comprehensive immigration reform. We commend the bipartisan group of senators who worked to form a consensus on a more just and humane immigration policy.

This compromise legislation would strengthen border security and employment verification while creating a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. It would also allow for more legal immigration of low-skilled and high-skilled workers.

Comprehensive immigration reform is a welcome and worthy accomplishment. We urge the House to quickly consider and pass the bill.

National Jewish Democratic Council:

The Jewish community strongly supports immigration reform. According to a recent survey, 70% of American Jews believe that welcoming the stranger and pursuing justice are important political values. Further, a strong majority of Americans are in support of proposals that allow undocumented workers to achieve legal status, increase border security and enforcement, and increase visas for technology and science.

Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) President Rabbi Steve Gutow:

We are an Immigration Nation. For hundreds of years, people from all over the world have traveled to the United States to build better lives. Our national commitment to immigration has been critical to our national prosperity: powering innovation, creativity, and growth. However, over the past decades, our system has become tarnished with an outmoded visa system, long waiting times, harsh detention and deportation policies, and millions of immigrants without a lawful status. Today, the U.S. Senate acted in accordance with our best values: national leaders compromising to expand justice, dignity, and opportunity. In the Torah, we are taught to ‘welcome the stranger.’ Today, the Senate restored our national commitment to immigration and relight the torch of promise that welcomes aspiring Americans through the golden door.

JCPA Chair Larry Gold:

We applaud the leadership and conviction of the bipartisan group of Senators that introduced and guided this bill. That spirit of compromise and cooperation has sadly become a rarity in Washington, but today is a reminder of the important results it can yield. The Senate today has taken an important step towards a more humane system of immigration that reflects our morals while meeting our security and economic needs. However, this bill still needs improvement. We remain concerned about the level of resources being dedicated to the Southern border and how this impact communities. We look forward to working with Congress to refine this legislation. The Senate’s action today was a model of bipartisanship and we encourage the House of Representatives to adopt this spirit and quickly consider this serious bill that would bring our immigration system into the 21st century.

Dept. of Treasury Announces New Sanctions Against Iran

— by Jacob Miller, Jason Berger

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Treasury announced new sanctions against Iran, as instructed in President Barack Obama’s Executive Order 13382, which targets those that assist with the proliferation of or support in the development of weapons of mass destruction. Those targeted are part of a global network that are responsible for acquiring important components for Iran’s nuclear program. Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said:

As long as Iran continues to pursue a nuclear and ballistic missile program in defiance of multiple UN Security Council Resolutions, the U.S. will target and disrupt those involved in Iran’s illicit activities.

After the jump: Senate Passes Resolution 65 by Unanimous Consent

We will continue to work with our international partners to intensify this pressure and tighten sanctions on Iran’s energy sector as it provides much needed financial support for the Iranian regime’s proliferation activity.

Treasury’s announcement further detailed those being targeted:

The designations focus on entities and individuals supporting previously designated entities within Iran’s proliferation network as well as Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Naftiran Intertrade Company (NICO), and Iran’s Ministry of Defense for Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL).  These organizations are at the center of Iran’s continued proliferation activities.  

Last Wednesday, by a vote of 99 to 0, the Senate passed a resolution condemning Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. The resolution also supports Israel’s right to exist and reaffirms our country’s close relationship with the Jewish state. After the votes were cast, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez said in a press release:

Iran’s provocative actions threaten not just regional stability, but pose an existential threat to our ally Israel, and clearly are a very real threat to U.S. national security. Iran’s leaders must understand, that unless they change course their situation will only get worse. Their economic struggles and international isolation will only grow. While this resolution makes absolutely clear that we are not authorizing the use of force, it does make clear that we have Israel’s back. If Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense against Iran’s nuclear program, we should stand with Israel — using all the tools of our national power — to assist Israel in defense of its territory, people and existence.

B’nai B’rith to Senate: Carefully Review Hagel’s Record and Hearing

Just ahead of the Senate vote on the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary, B’nai B’rith International has released the following statement:

B’nai B’rith International remains concerned with many aspects of former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel’s responses to questions during his confirmation hearing for the position of Secretary of Defense. Since then, more questions have been raised about Hagel’s views on a number of important issues.

During the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Hagel did not assuage our reservations on how he would approach such topics as terrorism, Iran and Israel. We urge all Senators, as they prepare to vote, to carefully review Hagel’s record and hearing responses to determine his qualifications for the post.

More after the jump.

We are concerned that Hagel, unlike the vast majority of his Senate colleagues, underestimates the threat of the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah.

Hagel was in the minority when 88 of his then-Senate colleagues called on the European Union to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Hezbollah has been a global terror group since it was founded around 30 years ago. Its decades of terror include the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon that killed 241 Marines, soldiers and sailors, and the July 2012 attack on Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria that killed five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver and wounded 30 others. After a six month investigation, the Bulgarian government issued a report unequivocally blaming Hezbollah for that attack.

We are also troubled that Hagel, during his confirmation hearings, undermined the importance of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He appeared to endorse a policy of containment of a nuclear Iran before being advised that containment was not administration policy.

In recent days, Hagel has disavowed, or said he didn’t remember, making certain past comments about Israel. At a 2007 speech he is said to have referred to the U.S. State Department as “an adjunct of the Israeli foreign minister’s office.”

Our hesitation on his nomination is based on our uneasiness with such updates to his record.

B’nai B’rith International expresses the expectation that members of the Senate will give his record a thorough review prior to the vote.

Senate Confirms John Kerry For Secretary Of State

— by David Streeter

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) hailed the Senate’s confirmation of Senator John Kerry (D-MA) to serve as Secretary of State. NJDC Chair Marc R. Stanley said

We are pleased to see that the Senate has confirmed John Kerry to be the next Secretary of State. Kerry has a long record of support for Israel and demonstrated during his confirmation hearing that he is the right person to be taking a global leadership role against a nuclear-armed Iran. To echo what so many have said already, we know that Kerry will make an excellent Secretary of State and we are proud that he will be serving as America’s top diplomat.

More after the jump.
Kerry testified on the subject of Iran’s nuclear program during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

Given our extraordinary interest in nonproliferation, we must resolve the questions surrounding Iran’s nuclear program. The President has made it definitive: we will do what we must do to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And I repeat here today, our policy is not containment it is prevention. And the clock is ticking on our efforts to secure responsible compliance. This Administration, working with congress and an unprecedented international coalition, has put into place crippling sanctions on Iran. […] President Obama has stated again and again — and I want to emphasize this — he and I prefer a diplomatic resolution to this challenge and I will work to give diplomacy every effort to succeed. But no one should mistake our resolve to reduce the nuclear threat.

I’d say this to the Iranians, I hope they listen. They have continually professed the peacefulness of their program. It is not hard to prove a peaceful program. Other nations have done that and do it every day. And it takes intrusive inspections, it takes living up to the publicly arrived at standards — everybody understands what they are. The allies in the P5+1 have made it very clear […] that we are all united in this standard and that we are looking for the full compliance with the NPT […] the Iranians need to understand there’s no other agenda here […]