Netanyahu’s AIPAC speech is a knife in the heart of the U.S.-Israel alliance

Netanyahu’s speech was another knife into the heart of the bipartisan U.S.-Israel alliance. He attacked Democrats, singling out one Muslim member of Congress for remarks that were seen as anti-Semitic, while ignoring the many anti-Semitic remarks by Republicans. And he leveled the scurrilous claim that anyone who opposes AIPAC is anti-Semitic.

.. On Monday, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) literally read from Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” on the House floor and borrowed Hitler’s “big lie” allegation against Jews to use on Democrats. “Unconscionable,” said the Anti-Defamation League. But Republicans, and Netanyahu, said nothing.

.. Tuesday was the 40th anniversary of the signing of the historic Camp David Accords. But the Israeli leader didn’t mention this, either, instead delivering division to a group that has embraced his (and Trump’s) nationalist policies.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest branch of American Judaism, noticed that the AIPAC crowd had “beyond a doubt” become mostly pro-Trump conservatives, not the cross section of Israel supporters that AIPAC once drew. The rhetoric fit the room. “To suggest anti-Semitism is part of the Democratic Party and liberal part of the spectrum and not also part of Republican leaders’ discourse . . . is corrosive,” he said. “The thing that has kept Israel safe over the decades is rock-solid bipartisan support.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) issued (then deleted) a tweet targeting three wealthy Jews: “We cannot allow [George] Soros, [Tom] Steyer and [Michael R.] Bloomberg to BUY this election! . . . #MAGA.” But at AIPAC, McCarthy denounced anti-Semitic language on the “floors of Congress” — an apparent reference to Omar — and said he’d be “lying” to say Democrats are as opposed to anti-Semitism as Republicans.

President Trump, of course, said there “were very fine people” among the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, told Jews they wouldn’t support him “because I don’t want your money,” tweeted an image of a Star of David atop a pile of cash, used anti-Semitic tropes in an ad with photos of prominent Jews, and often denounces “globalists” such as Soros — among many other offenses. But he calls the Democrats “anti-Jewish.”

.. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tut-tutted: “I am troubled that leading Democrats seem reluctant to plainly call out problems within their own ranks. And I am troubled that many of the declared Democrat presidential candidates seem to be avoiding this gathering.” But he didn’t “call out” Republicans such as Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio) for spelling Steyer’s name as “$teyer,” or Rep. Steve King (Iowa) for championing white supremacy.

Anti-Semitism is real on both the right and left. Selectively denouncing it based on party is dangerous to Jews, to Israel and to civilized society. Mindless tribalism seems already to have broken AIPAC, based on the changing audience over the two decades I’ve attended. Tuesday’s conservative crowd was cool to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) vow that “we will never allow anyone to make Israel a wedge issue.”

More enthusiastic was the reception for Netanyahu, who, after singling out a Democrat’s anti-Semitism, championed a new Israeli law demoting Arabic as a national language and assigning only Jews “the right to exercise national self-determination.”

Claimed Netanyahu: “We don’t judge people by the color of their skin [or] their religion. . . . No one is a second-class citizen.”

As the AIPAC hard-liners condone such chutzpah, cheering the dishonest and partisan jabs of Netanyahu and the Republicans, do they not see that this destroys the American political consensus that has preserved the Jewish state for 70 years?

Republican focus on discrediting Cohen leaves little time to defend Trump

“I am so proud to take the @CPAC stage tomorrow morning w two of my heroes @RepMarkMeadows and @Jim_Jordan who were courageous in Congress today,” he wrote. “You speak for all of us.”

But former governor Chris Christie (R-N.J.), who is close to the president, said on ABC that he can “guarantee” Trump is “sitting in Vietnam right now, fuming that no one’s defending him.” He also argued the performance was “either a failure of those Republicans on the Hill or a failure of the White House to have a unified strategy with them.”

There hasn’t been one Republican yet who’s tried to defend the president on the substance,” he said. “As the day goes on, [people are] going to get tired of hearing the attacks on Cohen’s credibility. . . . Where’s the defense of the president?”

Other Republicans on the Hill privately agreed. Most, however, mused that Jordan couldn’t have done any better given his position in the minority and the fact that Republicans were defending Trump.

“Truthfully, it is tough to ignore some of the gross immoral behavior by the president,” said one senior House Republican who requested anonymity to speak frankly. “The reason there was no defense is because there is no defense.”

Jordan, a fierce Trump ally, said his strategy was working during a committee break Wednesday evening. His members had prepared and coordinated and “were in touch with all kinds of people” to get ready, he said — though he played coy when asked about coordination with White House.

GOP leaders were apprised of the strategy to discredit Cohen as untrustworthy. But they gave Jordan, who is known for his bulldog-like tactics grilling witnesses during hearings, free rein.

“We’re asking the questions that we think need to be asked,” Jordan said of his strategy. “We’re making the point that we think the American people need to understand, plain and simply.”

Jordan pointed to Rep. Thomas Massie’s (R-Ky.) line of questioning when pressed for an example of a defense of Trump. Massie had referenced Cohen’s written testimony, in which he said he paid money to a porn star without considering whether it was the right thing to do.

“Is that being a good lawyer? To not even consider whether it’s legal or not?” Massie asked. Cohen didn’t answer the question, merely arguing that he did what he thought Trump wanted.

The hearing marked Jordan’s first turn in the spotlight as the leader of the committee’s Republicans. Trump personally wanted him or his close friend Meadows to lead his defense against the Democrats. And many Republicans in the House, well-versed in Jordan’s tactics, agreed with the promotion.

When Republicans did try to defend Trump, their approach didn’t seem to elicit the intended effect. Meadows tried to parry Cohen’s allegation that Trump was a racist by inviting a longtime black friend of Trump’s, Lynne Patton, to stand behind him.

But the moment attracted criticism, when two black Democrats on the panel scoffed at Meadows’s suggestion that a person with a black friend could not possibly be a racist.

“Would you agree that someone could deny rental units to African Americans, lead the birther movement, refer to the diaspora as ‘shithole countries,’ refer to white supremacists as ‘fine people,’ have a black friend, and still be racist?” Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), a freshman legislator, asked Cohen at one point.

The question was clearly for Meadows. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), another freshman, was less forgiving and even seemed to suggest Meadows was racist for bringing in a black woman and using her as “a prop” to defend the president.

‘Prisoner of his own impulse’: Inside Trump’s cave to end shutdown without wall

His poll numbers were plummeting. His FBI director was decrying the dysfunction. The nation’s air travel was in chaos. Federal workers were lining up at food banks. Economic growth was at risk of flatlining, and even some Republican senators were in open revolt.

So on Friday, the 35th day of a government shutdown that he said he was proud to instigate, President Trump finally folded. After vowing for weeks that he would keep the government closed unless he secured billions in funding for his promised border wall, Trump agreed to reopen it.

He got $0 instead.

Trump’s capitulation to Democrats marked a humiliating low point in a polarizing presidency and sparked an immediate backlash among some conservative allies, who cast him as a wimp.

Elected as a self-proclaimed master dealmaker and business wizard who would bend Washington to his will and stand firm on his campaign promises — chief among them the wall — Trump risks being exposed as ineffective.

“He was the prisoner of his own impulse and it turned into a catastrophe for him,” said David Axelrod, who was a White House adviser to President Barack Obama. “The House of Representatives has power and authority — and now a speaker who knows how to use it — so that has to become part of his calculation or he’ll get embarrassed again.”

.. This account of Trump’s stymied pursuit of border wall funding is based on interviews with more than a dozen senior administration officials, Trump confidants and others briefed on internal discussions, many of whom requested anonymity to speak candidly.

Trump repeatedly predicted to advisers that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would cave and surmised that she had a problem with the more liberal members of her caucus. But she held firm, and her members stayed united.

“Why are they always so loyal?” Trump asked in one staff meeting, complaining that Democrats so often stick together while Republicans sometimes break apart, according to attendees.

As for their negotiations, Trump and Pelosi had not spoken since their Jan. 9 session in which the president stormed out of the White House Situation Room. In a private meeting with some columnists earlier this week, Pelosi was asked why she thought Trump had not created a more potent nickname for her than “Nancy.” She replied, according to a senior Democratic aide, “Some people think that’s because he understands the power of the speaker.”

Trump and his advisers misunderstood the will of Democrats to oppose wall funding. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, emerged as the most powerful White House adviser during the shutdown and told colleagues that Trump’s plan for $5.7 billion in wall funding would get Democratic votes in the Senate on Thursday, astonishing Capitol Hill leaders and other White House aides.

Kushner, who Trump jokingly says is to the “left,” pitched a broader immigration deal and had faith that he could negotiate a grand bargain in the coming weeks, according to people familiar with his discussions. He pitched a big deal to Latino groups this week and also with members of the Koch network, the people said.

Trump, who fretted about the shutdown’s impact on the economy and his personal popularity, cast about for blame and pointed fingers at his staff — including Kushner — for failing to resolve the impasse, according to aides.

At a meeting Wednesday with conservative groups, the president accused former House speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) of having “screwed him” by not securing border wall money when Republicans had the majority, according to one attendee, Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. He said Ryan should have gotten him money before he left but he had no juice and had “gone fishing,” according to two attendees.

Ryan had warned the president against a shutdown and told him it would be politically disastrous, according to a person familiar with their conversations.

All the while, Trump vowed he would never capitulate to Democrats. At the Wednesday meeting, “he said there would be no caving,” Krikorian said. “Everybody who spoke up applauded him for not caving, but warned him that any further movement toward the Democrats’ direction would be a problem.”

White House aides had been monitoring Transportation Security Administration data on airport security delays and staffing levels several times a day. Officials said Thursday that the situation was worsening and would probably force the end of the shutdown.

But events at the Capitol on Thursday are largely what triggered Trump to conclude that he had run out of time and that he had to reopen the government, his aides said.

Trump lost control of his party as fissures emerged among exasperated Republican senators. Six of them voted Thursday for a Democratic spending bill, and others privately voiced frustration with Vice President Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) during a closed-door, contentious luncheon.

“Everyone who saw the floor action realized we were basically at the same place where we began and we needed a different solution,” a White House official said of Thursday’s votes.

McConnell called Trump on Thursday to say that the shutdown could not hold because some of his members were in revolt. The president did not commit to ending it in that call, but he phoned McConnell back that evening to say he had concluded the shutdown had to end, according to a person with knowledge of the conversations.

Under attack from some Republican colleagues, McConnell told senators on Friday that Trump had come up with the idea for a three-week deal — and that the president would be announcing it.

When Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) visited the White House on Thursday, he said Trump was in a “pragmatic” mood, mentioning the failed Senate votes and saying he wanted to make a deal.

Pence and Kushner presented the president with several options that would reopen the government, according to a White House official. They included using his executive authority to declare a national emergency and redirect other public funds for the wall, an option Trump said Friday he was holding in reserve. Trump also briefly considered a commission that would study a wall, according to a senior administration official.

On Thursday night, the president grew annoyed at Mick Mulvaney when the acting White House chief of staff talked with him about policy prescriptions for the next three weeks and what an eventual deal might look like, according to one person familiar with the conversation.

Administration officials began immediately on this next phase; Mulvaney and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen met privately with a handful of Republican senators at Camp David on Friday evening to start discussing what a border security agreement might look like, according to multiple people familiar with the gathering.

Ultimately, aides said, Trump was willing to table debate over wall funding because he is convinced he can win support from some Democratic lawmakers over the next three weeks.

Friday’s agreement allows for a conference committee made up of rank-and-file members from each party to negotiate border security funding, which White House aides said they believe will enable more flexibility than existed during Trump’s stalemate with Pelosi.

.. A senior White House official said the administration’s negotiating team has received “dozens of signals from Democrats that they are willing to give the president wall money,” but declined to name any such lawmakers.

The administration may have been referring to a letter written by freshman Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) and signed by more than 30 House Democrats, which merely called for a vote on Trump’s border security proposal once the government reopens.

But “that vote would obviously fail in the House,” one senior Democratic aide pointed out. “This is just pathetic spin.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said, “The poll numbers tell a very stark story, but it’s only part of the more enduring longer-term effect on the president’s credibility. He essentially held America hostage for a vanity project and a campaign applause line that the American people saw clearly was never worth shutting down the government to achieve.”

Trump’s approval ratings have fallen in most public polls, including a Washington Post-ABC News survey released Friday that found 37 percent approve of his presidency and 58 percent disapprove.

Trump risks further angering independent voters who do not agree with the prolonged shutdown and conservatives who disapprove of him caving after 35 days with no win.

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter, whose criticism of Trump in mid-December helped inspire the president to shut the government in protest over wall funding, registered her disapproval of his Friday decision.

“Good news for George Herbert Walker Bush: As of today, he is no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as President of the United States,” Coulter tweeted.

For months, Republican senators had been trying to warn Trump against a shutdown. Last June, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the chamber’s point person on Homeland Security funding, met privately with Trump not only to tout their bipartisan border security spending package but also to nudge him away from a confrontation over the wall.

“I just said, ‘Shutdowns are miserable,’ ” Capito said Friday, recounting that Oval Office conversation. “The last one was miserable. And this one was double miserable, and so, you know, maybe you have to live through it to really get the sense of it.”

King faulted the conservative Freedom Caucus, led by Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), both Trump confidants, for steering the president in the wrong direction.

“I hope he ignores them for the next three weeks,” King said. “It’s the charge of the light brigade. It’s the valley of death.”

Fox News demanded a government shutdown — and got one

A lot of conservatives with big platforms were very, very angry at Trump this week.

If the government shuts down tonight over President Donald Trump’s demand for $5 billion for a border wall, feel free to blame conservative punditry.

This week Ann Coulter described Trump as a gutless “sociopath” who, without a border wall, “will just have been a joke presidency who scammed the American people.”

Radio host Rush Limbaugh said on his show Wednesday that without the $5 billion, any signing of a budget stop gap would show “Trump gets nothing and the Democrats get everything.”

Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy said that without wall funding, “the swamp wins,” adding that Trump will “look like a loser” without wall funding and stating, “This is worth shutting down” the government.

There’s no way around it: A lot of people on the right are very upset with Trump (and each other) right now. And they’re taking it out on the president — on his favorite television network, on talk radio, on podcasts, and online — and it’s worked to put the pressure on him. Trump has abruptly changed course to demand $5 billion for a border wall (a demand the Senate isn’t likely to give in to). And now the government is facing a “very long” shutdown.

In the words of Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), referring to Coulter and Limbaugh, “We have two talk-radio show hosts who basically influenced the president, and we’re in a shutdown mode. It’s just—that’s tyranny, isn’t it?”

.. Republican voters are still solidly behind Trump (his approval rating among Republicans polled by Gallup is at 86 percent). But unlike some portions of Trump’s base, the voices of the party who supported Trump because of what he could do as president rather than who he is as president are deeply displeased with him.

Some on the right are upset about the administration’s decision to pull out of Syria and, perhaps, Afghanistan — and are very worried by news of James Mattis’s resignation from his role as defense secretary.

Others are angry that more than two years into Republican control of all three branches of the federal government, Planned Parenthood still hasn’t been fully defunded. Then there’s that executive order banning bump stocks. And the continued existence of Obamacare.

.. But this week, many of the right’s biggest names were more or less united on one particular issue, with Fox News pundits and some of Trump’s most important surrogates and supporters leading the way: build a wall, or you’re done. As Fox News’s Laura Ingraham said on her show Wednesday night, “Not funding the wall is going to go down as one of the worst, worst things to have happened to this administration.”

.. They urged a government shutdown (and even the closing of the United States’ border with Mexico) in full knowledge that Trump was listening, even as Republican senators prepared to fly home for the holidays with no expectations they’d need to be present for a vote to keep the government open.

House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows said Wednesday that Trump’s “base will go crazy” if border wall money wasn’t provided in the stopgap government funding measure, and he was joined by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who tweetedabout wall funding with the hashtag #DoWhatWeSaid.

That same day, Ann Coulter published a syndicated piece titled “Gutless President in a Wall-Less Country,” in which she wrote that contrary to what some might believe, many of Trump’s supporters were well aware that he was a “gigantic douchebag.” She wrote, “If anything, Trump’s vulgar narcissism made his vow to build a wall more believable. Respectable politicians had made similar promises over the years — and they always betrayed the voters. Maybe it took a sociopath to ignore elite opinion and keep his word.”

But she added, “Unfortunately, that’s all he does: talk. He’s not interested in doing anything that would require the tiniest bit of effort.”

That piece may have gotten her unfollowed on Twitter by the president. Then she went on the Daily Caller’s podcast to say that the entire purpose of Trump’s presidency appears to be “making sure Ivanka and Jared can make money.” But by Wednesday evening, Trump was arguing that the wall would in fact be built, “one way or the other,” saying that perhaps the military could construct it.

On Thursday, Trump said during a signing ceremony for the farm bill that “any measure the funds the government must include border security,” but added, that the wall is “also called steel slats, so that I give them a little bit of an out — steel slats. … We don’t use the word ‘wall’ necessarily.”

That same day, Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show that Trump had contacted him and said, “if whatever happens in the House and Senate comes back to him with no allocation of $5 billion for the wall, then he’s going to veto it.” But that doesn’t seem to have soothed many of conservative media’s loudest voices, like Coulter, who tweeted a “border wall construction update” on Friday: “Miles completed yesterday–Zero; Miles completed since Inauguration–Zero. NEXT UPDATE TOMORROW.” (For the record, border wall replacement is already taking place, and new construction is slated for next year.)

That’s because contrary to popular opinion, many on the right who voted for Trump, particularly in conservative media, didn’t vote for a personality. As Coulter put it in her column, “The Washington Post loves to find the one crazy, trailer park lady who supports Trump because she’s had religious ecstasies about him, but most people who voted for him did so with a boatload of qualms.”

Rather, they had specific reasons for voting for Trump.

  • Getting out of foreign wars, for example, or
  • ending Obamacare, or
  • curbing abortion. Or, most importantly for many,
  • curtailing immigration and
  • building a border wall.

And they aren’t seeing much progress. And they’re not happy about it.

I reached out to Coulter, and asked her if her support for Trump was contingent on a wall, or whether toughened border security would be enough. She responded via email: “WALL — or whatever Israel has,” with a link to a Jerusalem Post article about Israel’s border security mechanisms, adding “definitely NOT a B.S., completely meaningless promise of “border security.”