By: Yoram Ettinger | CCNS

The outcome of the November 2020 election to the US House of Representatives and Senate will greatly impact US national security policy, in general, and US-Israel relations, in particular.

This impact will be intensified by more “Progressive Democrats” in the House of Representatives – currently, 95 out of 233 Democrats – who share the following worldview (which is a prime-challenge for Israel’s public diplomacy):

*A drastic cut in the defense budget;
*Multinational – rather than unilateral – military actions;
*Embracing the UN and disavowing peace-through-strength in favor of pliability;
*Cosmopolitan, rather than national, worldview, dismissing Biblical roots of the US Constitution, civil rights, governance, and culture.
*Embracing Iran’s Ayatollahs and the Muslim Brotherhood, and devaluing pro-US Arab regimes, which are threatened by the Ayatollahs and the Brotherhood;
*Islamic terrorism is driven by despair, not by anti-US Islamic fanaticism, and should be addressed diplomatically and legally, rather than militarily;
*Underestimating Iran’s threat to the Middle East and the world-at-large; *Ignoring Israel’s unique role as a force-multiplier in face of mutual threats;
*Overlooking the fact that the US-Israel mutual threats and challenges transcend disagreements over the Palestinian issue;
*Disregarding the intra-Arab Palestinian track record and its impact on the US;
*Considering Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines as a prerequisite to peace;
*Ignoring the benefits to regional stability and US interest derived from Israel’s control of the Golan Heights and the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria;
*Subordinating harsh Middle East reality to well-intentioned oversimplification.

Thus, the moderate Democrat and steadfast pro-Israel Congresswoman Nita Lowey, the powerful chairwoman of the House Full Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, who opposed the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, is retiring from Congress. She will be succeeded in Congress by Mondaire Jones who is supported by the leadership of “Progressive Democrats.” The three leading candidates to chair the most powerful Appropriations Committee (Marci Kaptur, Rosa DeLauro, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz) – assuming that the Democrats will retain the House majority – are closer to the “Progressive Democrats” than to Nita Lowey, when it comes to Israel. Two of the leading candidates to chair the Foreign Operations Subcommittee are Congresswoman Betty McCullum (who may chair the Defense Subcommittee, which appropriates much of the US-Israel defense cooperation) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who are among the fiercest critics of Israel in the House of Representatives.

The moderate Democrat and staunchly pro-Israel Congressman Eliot Engel, the veteran chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who opposed the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, was defeated in the Democratic primary by Jamaal Bowman, a Progressive Democrat, supported by anti-Israel individuals and organizations. Should the next Chairman be pro-Israel (e.g., Congressman Brad Sherman, who opposed the Iran agreement), his – and the Committee’s – position on Iran, the Middle East, and Israel will be heavily impacted by the growing weight of the “Progressive Democrats.”

Similar – but more moderate – changes may take place in the Senate, should the Democrats become the majority party, replacing the slate of pro-Israel Republican Committee and Subcommittee Chairmen (Republicans and Democrats defend 23 and 12 seats respectively, with 8 vulnerable Republican seats and only  2 vulnerable Democratic seats).

Hence, the most veteran, effective, liberal Democratic Senator, Pat Leahy, a supporter of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, opponent of the relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and a consistent (low key) critic of Israel, would be the next President Pro-Tempore and a leading candidate to be the next Chairman of the most powerful Appropriations Committee (unless he prefers the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee), and certainly the next Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, which oversees foreign aid and various cooperation initiatives with Israel.

The veteran, moderate Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, a supporter of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, and a moderate supporter/critic of Israel, opposing the relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, would be the leading candidate to the chairmanship of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.

The long-serving, moderate, Democratic Senator Jack Reed, a supporter of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, opponent of the relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and – like most Democrats in both Chambers – calling for Israel’s withdrawal from the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria, would be a leading candidate to become the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, which is involved in all US-Israel military aspects.

Senator Bob Menendez, the veteran, moderate and systematic supporter of Israel (in defiance of President Obama, opposing the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement!) would become the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, but would be subjected to heavy pressure by the “Progressive Democrats.”

The co-equal and co-determining Legislature

Contrary to conventional wisdom, both Chambers of Congress – which constitute the most powerful Legislature in the world and the most authentic representative of the constituents – are not a second-class branch of government.  They are co-equal to the Executive, possessing the muscle to check, defy, oversee, overrule, direct, investigate, suspend, fund, and defund the Executive on domestic, foreign, and national security issues.

For example, Congress initiates most sanctions against foreign countries, and on many occasions in defiance of the President. In 2017, Congress legislated sanctions on Russia despite President Trump. In 2015, the Senate refused to ratify the nuclear agreement with Iran, thus enabling Trump to withdraw from the agreement in 2018. In 2014, Congress foiled President Obama’s attempts to delay the funding of additional Iron Dome missile defense systems during Israel’s war (“Protective Edge”) against Hamas terrorists. In 2012, despite Obama’s opposition, Congress cut foreign aid to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government by $450MN and imposed additional sanctions on Iran. In 2002, Congress forced President Bush to transform the Office of Homeland Security into a Department of Homeland Security. Since 1999, the Senate has refrained from ratifying President Clinton’s Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. In 1990-1992, Congress substantially expanded US-Israel strategic cooperation in defiance of President Bush and Secretary Baker. In 1986, Congress overruled President Reagan’s veto and imposed sanctions, which led to the downfall of South Africa’s Apartheid regime. In 1984, 1976, and 1973, in spite of opposition by Reagan, Ford, and Nixon, congressional legislation led to the end of US military involvement in Nicaragua (the Boland Amendment), Angola (the Clark Amendment), and Southeast Asia (the Church-Case Amendment) respectively. In 1973, Congress overrode President Nixon’s veto of the War Powers Act, limiting presidential powers to commit US forces abroad without congressional approval. In 1974, Congress passed the Jackson-Vanik Amendment – over President Nixon’s opposition – which led to over a million Jewish immigrants to Israel.

The power of Congress is stipulated by the US Constitution, which aims at securing civil liberties by highlighting the centrality of the constituents while precluding excessive Executive power. Thus, US presidents are constrained by checks and balances, limited government, and a strict separation of powers among the Legislature (which is accorded the first article in the Constitution), Executive and Judiciary. Therefore, unlike European and Israeli leaders, US presidents are not super-legislators, nor do they determine the congressional agenda or congressional leadership.

Moreover, Congress possesses the Power of the Purse, the authority to impeach, establish and abolish Executive departments, confirm Supreme Court Justices and ambassadors, etc.

The President proposes, but Congress disposes.

The President is the commander-in-chief, but only as authorized and appropriated by Congress, which has been a systematic supporter of the mutually-beneficial US-Israel cooperation.

The 2020 annual Gallup poll of country-favorability documents a 74% favorability for Israel, compared to a 23% favorability for the Palestinian Authority. This fact highlights the significant potential/challenge of enhanced ties between the American people and their representatives on Capitol Hill and Israel.

Will Israel’s public diplomacy rise to the challenge posed by the current ideological trends in the US?

This column was originally published at MIDA.