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Morning Plum: From many Democrats, an odd silence on Netanyahu’s speech

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To hear Congressional aides tell it, many House Democrats are angry at the prospect of Benjamin Netanyahu addressing Congress at a time when it could set back President Obama’s hopes for progress in nuclear negotiations with Iran. But relatively few of them are willing to say so publicly — the latest indication that Democrats remain deeply skittish about appearing to be out of sync with whatever Israel wants.

Netanyahu was invited to address Congress by the House GOP leadership, with no heads up to the president. It’s true that some Democrats — House leader Nancy Pelosi included — have sharply criticized GOP leaders for a breach of protocol. But a handful of Democrats have gone further and argued that the speech should be delayed, on the grounds that it looks like a politicized effort to promote new sanctions legislation that could undermine ongoing nuclear negotiations. They want the speech delayed until after the current round of talks with Iran wraps up.

Yet very few Dems appear willing to give voice to that position — in public, at least.

I’m told by several sources that a number of Jewish House Democrats recently met to privately discuss putting out a statement calling for a delay in the speech. Yet the Members could not agree on what it should say, specifically in terms of how critical it should be of Netanyahu’s speech or how directly it should lean into the idea that the speech might set back Iran talks. So Members agreed instead to put out statements on their own.

As of now, very few Democrats have publicly voiced this position. Among them are Reps. Steve Cohen, Keith Ellison, Maxine Waters, Earl Blumenauer, Jared Huffman, and Senator Chris Coons. Others have criticized the “protocol” of the speech — which isn’t that hard, given that this criticism is mostly directed at Republicans — but have stopped short of calling for a delay, which could have actual consequences. Meanwhile, there is a letter circulating among Democrats that calls for a postponement, but it is unclear how many of them have signed it.

Politico reports this morning that “dozens” of House Democrats are threatening to boycott the speech. But virtually all of them are lodging this threat “privately.”

At any rate, calling for a delay in the speech stops well short of any boycott — and some Democratic aides have been mystified by the unwillingness of Dem Members to even call for a postponement. A public statement from the likes of House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, who is seen to have strong pro-Israel credibility, could make a difference.

What makes this reticence more remarkable is that even some right wing media figures have expressed discomfort with the Netanyahu speech. As Peter Beinhart has written, even those who support Netanyahu on Iran see his speech as “insolent” towards the president, and thus inappropriate.

As one House Democratic aide put it to me: “This wouldn’t be hard. This isn’t about Israel — it’s about standing behind the president and defending him as Republicans try to sabotage the Iran talks.” But, apparently, it is hard for many Democrats to take any step, even in defense of policies they support, that might be portrayed as hostile to Israel.

To be fair, perhaps more Democrats will publicly take a more forceful stand in coming days. It is notable that even some Dems have been willing to criticize the speech. Beyond that, it’s also notable that Democrats have repeatedly held off on voting on Iran sanctions — in the face of sharp criticism — in order to honor the White House’s request to give negotiations a chance. But, given that polls have shown solid majority support for the general idea of lifting sanctions in exchange for Iran restricting its nuke program, the fact that those things are seen as breakthroughs only illustrates just how slow and difficult it has been to carve out a political space where Congressional Democrats don’t feel the need to be 100 percent aligned with Israel at all times.


* TOP REPUBLICAN: SCOTUS MAY ‘DESTROY’ OBAMACARE EXCHANGES: Some welcome candor from GOP Rep. Tom Cole, who is close to the House GOP leadership:

Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, acknowledged that “there has not been a unified Republican position” on how to replace the health care law or respond if the Supreme Court upholds the challenge to subsidies in states using the federal insurance exchange.
Until now, Mr. Cole said, House Republicans did not have to specify an alternative to the 2010 health law because “we knew it would not get through the Senate” when Democrats controlled that chamber. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of plaintiffs challenging the subsidies — a decision is expected this year — “it will destroy health insurance exchanges in 30-odd states in the blink of an eye,” Mr. Cole said, adding that Republicans needed to be prepared for that possibility.

Republicans “need to be prepared” for the possibility that SCOTUS will “destroy” the law in three dozen states? Okay. But top Senate Republicans have openly cheered for SCOTUS to accomplish what they failed to accomplish, i.e., repeal. And any such talk of a “fix” or an “alternative” is likely just a bait and switch designed to make the consequences of such a ruling appear less dire. So treat Cole’s “acknowledgment” of a need to be “prepared” with extreme skepticism.

* REPUBLICANS SCRAMBLE TO AVOID SHUTDOWN FIASCO: The New York Times reports that in the wake of the Democratic filibuster of the House GOP bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security while rolling back Obama’s executive actions, Senate GOP leaders are scrambling to develop a Plan B that somehow funds DHS while also blocking those actions. But they’re coming up empty. Rhetoric like this is pretty much all they have right now:

“If they’re going to dig their heels in and say, ‘We’re going to refuse to fund the Department of Homeland Security,’ I think they’re going to be held accountable for that,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican.

Because claiming Obama and Dems are responsible for the shutdown worked so well last time! The latest plan — to scale back the House plan to only target Obama’s more recent deportation relief, not protections for DREAMers– probably won’t get past a Dem filibuster, either. But a reminder: The Courts could still block these actions.

 * CONSERVATIVE REFORMERS PUSH GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES: The Wall Street Journal reports that young reform-minded conservatives are trying to get the GOP presidential candidates to get more serious about offering policy solutions to struggling Americans that go beyond promising that tax cuts across the board will lead to runaway growth and broadly shared prosperity. The counter-arguments coming from traditional GOP economists are telling: They remain wedded to a view that lower marginal tax rates are a cure all. And:

Other GOP economists argue that focusing on specific tax subsidies [for working and middle class Americans] also is a losing strategy. Democrats are bound to outbid Republicans when it comes to, say, raising the tax credit for children, and subsidies and credits often backfire, they contend.

In other words, you can’t compete with Democrats when it comes to handing out goodies, so why bother? Bobby Jindal, for one, has openly espoused that position.

* HILLARY HOLDS HUGE DEM PRIMARY LEADS: A new batch of Quinnipiac polls finds Hillary Clinton with enormous leads among Democratic voters over potential primary challengers Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden. In Florida, it’s 61-9-11. In Ohio it’s 51-14-7. In Pennsylvania it’s 54-12-10.

By contrast, the Republican candidates are all over the place: Jeb Bush leads in Florida; John Kasich leads in Ohio; and Bush, Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee are close to tied in Pennsylvania.

 * JEB-MENTUM IN MICHIGAN!!! Bloomberg News reports that Jeb Bush will test his economic message in a speech today in Detroit, in a state that is filled with working class Democrats and hasn’t supported a GOP presidential candidate in decades. No doubt Bush will focus heavily on inequality and stagnating wages, which is all the rage among the GOP presidential contenders these days.

What to watch for: How Bush will differentiate himself from all the others when it comes to speaking to people’s economic anxieties, while hewing to the usual conservative solutions all the others are likely to call for (such as tax cuts and getting government out of the way so it stops impeding people from getting ahead).

* JEB-MENTUM IN IOWA!!! Meanwhile, the Des Moines Register reports that Bush will make a trip to Iowa in early March, joining Scott Walker and other GOP presidential contenders. This is interesting, because there had been rampant speculation that Bush might avoid Iowa’s anti-establishment conservative caucus-goers — he skipped Steve King’s recent “Freedom Summit.” Bush has signaled that he is more focused on general election viability than on making the usual lurches to the right to win over GOP primary voters. His reception in Iowa will be worth watching.

* AND ANOTHER BLOW TO LAWSUIT AGAINST OBAMACARE: Scott Lemieux has a good overview of the most recent evidence that the lawsuit against Obamacare is based on a fabricated version of its legislative history. Lemieux adds a good data point: A letter from House Dems in early 2010, which the challengers cite as evidence that Congress intended to threaten states with the loss of subsidies, actually undermines a key argument. It shows states were already threatening not to set up exchanges very early, yet no one raised any alarm that this would cost them subsidies (which would badly impede one of the law’s core goals).

Of course, five Supreme Court Justices could still decide there still isn’t enough ambiguity in the disputed phrase, in defiance of the ACA’s overall text, structure, purpose, and legislative history. Not to mention basic logic.