Israel and the U.S. congressional elections (ISRAEL HAYOM OP-ED) Yoram Ettinger 07/25/12)
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During a June 15, 2012 seminar at the Begin-Sadat Center for
Strategic Studies, Bill Schneider, a leading expert on U.S. politics,
reaffirmed that both chambers of Congress play a key role in
determining U.S.-Israel relations.
In 1990, U.S. Secretary of the Navy Henry Garrett II asked Senator
Daniel Inouye, chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on
Defense, to delete from the proposed defense bill an amendment
stipulating the upgrade of the port of Haifa for the benefit of the
Sixth Fleet. “Senator, I am the Secretary of the Navy, and I know
that the Sixth Fleet does not need the upgrade.”
Inouye retorted: "Mr. Secretary, according to the U.S. Constitution,
I supervise you, and I have determined that the Sixth Fleet would
benefit from such an upgrade.” Inouye’s position derived from the end
of the Cold War which eroded the importance of the port of Naples,
and from the gathering sandstorms from the Persian Gulf (leading to
Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait) which enhanced the significance of the
port of Haifa for the Sixth Fleet. The port of Haifa was upgraded
despite opposition by President George H. W. Bush and Secretary of
State James Baker who orchestrated Secretary Garrett´s appeal.
The recent turmoil in Egypt has exposed the uncertainty surrounding
U.S.-Egypt relations and the reliability of the port of Alexandria,
enhancing the significance of the Israeli ports of Haifa and Ashdod
to the Sixth Fleet. It underscored the vitality of Congress as a
joint-front-seat-driver in setting the national security agenda.
In November 2012, Americans will elect all 435 members of the House
of Representatives, 33 U.S. senators and thousands of state and local
elected officials, some of whom will eventually reach Capitol Hill.
According to a July 23, 2012 Rasmussen national poll, since mid-2009,
Republican congressional candidates have been systematically more
popular than Democrats. Of all likely voters, 43 percent would vote
for Republican congressional candidates, if the election were held
today, while 40% would elect Democrats.
Most polls forecast a strong possibility of a sustained — although
moderately eroded — Republican House majority (currently at 242
Republicans to 190 Democrats and 3 vacancies). Democrats need a
robust tailwind — which is not currently in sight — to regain the
House majority. At the same time, the Democratic majority in the
Senate (53:47) is vulnerable. However, the number of toss-up Senate
races — such as Florida, Massachusetts, Maine, Missouri, Montana,
North Dakota, Virginia, Wisconsin, Nevada, Ohio, New Mexico and
Hawaii — is relatively large. Therefore, the race for the Senate
majority — which may indicate the winner of the presidency — is wide
House and Senate majorities will be greatly affected by the
presidential approval rating on election day. Will Obama be
a “coattail president,” sweeping his party to victories, as he did in
2008 (69% approval rating), or will he be an “anchor-chained
president,” dragging his party to defeats, as he did in 2010 (46%),
and as Presidents George H. W. Bush (34%), Jimmy Carter (37%) and
Gerald Ford (45%) did in 1992, 1980 and 1976 respectively?
The fate of congressional races also depends on the number of
Democratic and Republican seats up for re-election. The more seats a
party holds, the more vulnerable the party. Therefore, the 23 seats
on the ballot currently held by Democrats — as opposed to only 10
Republican-held seats — pose a threat to the Democratic majority.
However, the substantial Republican House majority — which exposes
more Republican seats — provides an opportunity for a Democratic gain
in the House.
Congressional retirements may also indicate an electoral trend, in
addition to reflecting political aspirations or fatigue. Thus, the
six Democratic — versus three Republican — retirements from the
Senate, and the retirement ratio of 15 Democrats to 11 Republicans in
the House, could reflect legislators’ own assessments of the odds in
the November election.
The outcome of the Congressional races will, also, be determined by
the turnout rate and by the appeal of the individual candidates to
the Independents, who account for some 40% of the electorate.
Usually, the Independents include “swing voters,” “switch-overs”
and “undecided voters.” The turnout rate will be influenced by the
enthusiasm and frustration factors (e.g., “anti-establishment,” “Hope
& Change,” shattered 2008 hopes) generated by the presidential and
To realize the significance of the November 2012 congressional
elections, one should be aware that Congress is the most powerful
legislature in the world. This is the co-equal, co-determining branch
of the U.S. government, the most authentic representative of the
American people, which has the muscle — when it chooses to exercise
it — to initiate, amend, suspend and overrule presidential policies.
International observers, and especially friends of Israel, should
focus on the congressional races. When it comes to third down and ten
yards to go, Israel has no better, trusted and effective friend than
both chambers of the U.S. Congress.
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