War in Israel further highlights dysfunction in U.S. Congress
Smoke rises from the Israeli raids on October 8, 2023 in Gaza City, Gaza. After the attack launched by Hamas on Israel yesterday, which surprised them, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the Palestinians to leave Gaza, and warned that the army would turn Hamas positions “into rubble.” (Photo by Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images)
As news of the horrific attacks in Israel by Hamas began reaching us on Saturday morning, I wondered how long it would take for the political machines in America to begin making it all about us. The clarity to my wonder came quickly. It was almost immediate.
At 11:03 a.m. on Saturday is when I saw the beginning of how the debate will likely be shaped. This is when 2024 presidential candidate, Nikki Haley, posted this comment: “This is not just an attack on Israel—this was an attack on America.” She went on to give her advice to embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with this: “Finish them.”
But wait, former Vice President Mike Pence is still a 2024 presidential candidate too. He was actually quicker out of the gate than Haley. At 9:56 a.m. on Saturday, he posted: “This is what happens when (President Joe Biden) projects weakness on the world stage…” Pence was quicker, but his campaign is less relevant than Haley’s, but not by much.
Oh yes, the American president, whoever they are and whenever they are in office, is ultimately responsible for whatever happens in this seemingly never-ending conflict. Is there a president whose term featured meaningful peace in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the last 50 years? Saturday’s attacks come one day after the 50-year anniversary of the start of the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
The violence has ebbed and flowed there since that bloody conflict, but I don’t recall there being a resolution, an agreed upon end to the conflict, or even an acknowledgment from either side of the other’s right to exist. The winner in this multi-generational conflict has been the conflict itself. The events of the weekend are more catastrophic than any before it. The intelligence failures are immense. But the hostilities between the parties have never waned.
In the U.S., the president speaks and acts on our behalf. President Biden’s response is what most in the world would expect, reassuring ongoing American support for Israel. No, he didn’t say things like “finish them.” Good. Presidents shouldn’t use that kind of rhetoric so cavalierly.
What is important is that the Biden administration was prepared to respond. While political opponents were mean-Tweeting, the president was on the phone with Netanyahu. By early afternoon, he was announcing to the world that we would support exactly who we always have, and exactly how we have always done it. Good.
Two miles away, just up the hill, the U.S. Capitol sat largely empty. It was Saturday after all. But the building was even more empty than almost any other Saturday. The House of Representatives is inoperable, functionally and legally unable to govern. The body does not have a Speaker. Without one, the House cannot meaningfully participate in the American response to the war in Israel.
Just days before now-former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s ouster last Thursday, an action that has never occurred before in American history, Congress passed a 45-day continuing resolution to fund the government and avoid a shutdown. An important part of the “CR” included a defunding of American support for another ally’s fight for its life, Ukraine.
This CR expires on Nov. 17, a deadline that was the primary source of pressure on House Republicans to become a responsible, governing coalition again. Just days into that short term and inadequate CR, another ally in need is at war.
The rhetoric coming from this caucus is shameful noise. I don’t want to hear critiques from them about anyone or anything. They have voluntarily taken themselves out of the governing process. They can’t fund additional Israeli support. They can Tweet themselves silly, but they aren’t contributing to America’s actual response.
In the Senate, Senator Tommy Tuberville has indicated he plans to continue his blockade of military promotions. Makes sense. The Israeli war is important, but not that important to him.
“We need an Ambassador to Israel and a Chief of Naval Operations,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) as reported by The Hill. President Biden nominated Jack Lew for the ambassadorship last month, and the Navy post has been unfilled since August. Admiral Lisa Franchetti has been nominated to fill it, but her promotion is being held up by Tuberville.
Politics and scores of misinformation aside, our government is how America speaks, acts and advocates for allies in times of war. We don’t make meaningful contributions on the global stage through pithy little social media quips, we do it by governing.
Most importantly, the GOP has engaged in an unscheduled and predictably messy transfer of power. Every member of that caucus needs to be quiet until it recovers from its own, self-inflicted meaninglessness.
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