While the House of Representatives is passing bills to fund the government, the Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is refusing to bring those bills up for a vote in that body, even identical ones that had been passed at the end of last year when Trump had indicated he would agree to it before he abruptly reversed course and demanded finding for his stupid wall.
But not to worry, the Senate is not doing nothing. While the government grinds slowly to a halt and people undergo hardships as a consequence, Ryan Grim and Glenn Greenwald write that the very first bill that the Senate is likely to bring up is one that punishes people who criticize Israeli policies and support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement that is intended to pressure the government of Israel to end its apartheid-like treatment of Palestinians.
WHEN EACH NEW CONGRESS is gaveled into session, the chambers attach symbolic importance to the first piece of legislation to be considered. For that reason, it bears the lofty designation of H.R.1 in the House, and S.1 in the Senate.
In the newly controlled Democratic House, H.R.1 – meant to signal the new majority’s priorities – is an anti-corruption bill that combines election and campaign finance reform, strengthening of voting rights, and matching public funds for small-dollar candidates. In the new 2017 Senate, the GOP-controlled S.1 was a bill, called the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” that, among other provisions, cut various forms of corporate taxes.
But in the 2019 GOP-controlled Senate, the first bill to be considered – S.1 – is not designed to protect American workers, bolster U.S. companies, or address the various debates over border security and immigration. It’s not a bill to open the government. Instead, according to multiple sources involved in the legislative process, S.1 will be a compendium containing a handful of foreign-policy related measures, a main one of which is a provision, with Florida’s GOP Sen. Marco Rubio as a lead sponsor, to defend the Israeli government. The bill is a top legislative priority for AIPAC.
In the previous Congress, that measure was known as S.170, and it gives state and local governments explicit legal authority to boycott any U.S. companies which themselves are participating in a boycott against Israel. As the Intercept reported last month, 26 states now have enacted some version of a law to punish or otherwise sanction entities which participate in or support the boycott of Israel, while similar laws are pending in at least 13 additional states. Rubio’s bill is designed to strengthen the legal basis to defend those Israel-protecting laws from constitutional challenge.
These are the Israel-defending, free-speech-punishing laws which Rubio’s bill is designed to strengthen. Although Rubio is the chief sponsor, his bill attracted broad bipartisan support, as is true of most bills designed to protect Israel and which are supported by AIPAC. Rubio’s bill last Congress was cosponsored by a several Democrats who are still in the Senate: Bob Menendez, N.J.; Joe Manchin, W.Va.; Ben Cardin, Md.; Ron Wyden, Ore.; Gary Peters, Mich.; and Debbie Stabenow, Mich.
The support among Democrats for bills that would punish supporters of the Boycott Israel movement is now particularly awkward given that two of the most prominent newly elected Democratic members – Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, the first two Muslim women in Congress – are both supporters of that Israel boycott.
That the newly elected United States Congress would choose to prioritize protection of this foreign nation — at the expense of the Constitutional rights of American citizens and over countless bills that would help Americans — was only one of the stinging criticisms voiced to the Intercept by ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Kathleen Ruane.
This bill is likely to easily pass in the Senate because the leader of the Senate Democrats Chuck Schumer is one of the most ardent supporters of Israel and boasts of being its ‘guardian’.
Bernie Sanders has blasted this move and made the right call.
It’s absurd that the first bill during the shutdown is legislation which punishes Americans who exercise their constitutional right to engage in political activity. Democrats must block consideration of any bills that don’t reopen the government. Let's get our priorities right. https://t.co/rHvpBHtHI5
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) January 6, 2019
But in the House of Representatives at least, there is likely to be some push back against this move because support for Israel is rapidly slipping among Democrats, people of color, and young people both Jewish and non-Jewish. As Philip Weiss reports, there are eight new congresswomen of color, including two of Native American ethnicity, who are taking more progressive stands.
The news though is that many of the new women of color in the House are highly sympathetic to Palestinians and likely to push that sympathy on Capitol Hill. These women know that their base has their back. That degree of autonomy is new in the Congress.
And yes, it also signals that the internecine battle in the British lib/left over criticism of Israel being the same as anti-Semitism is going to come to the Democratic Party soon.
Meanwhile in other news, it is clear that Trump is getting a little desperate because he has painted himself into a corner with his adamant insistence on wall funding before he signs any new appropriations bills. His offer to replace the concrete in the wall with steel was a pathetic attempt at trying to look reasonable. He now speaks of declaring a national emergency and using the military to build the wall, thus allowing him to claim victory. But that is a move that is monumentally stupid and will be immediately challenged in court.
Meanwhile new congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in an interview with 60 Minutes, continues her campaign of speaking her mind and flatly called Trump a racist. This of course has long been obvious to anyone with the minimum of logical skills but given the practice by politicians of avoiding such terms, this has led to a lot of pearl-clutching. This is truly an ’emperor has no clothes’ moment and it will be interesting to see if other politicians and news media figures pick up on it and openly refer to Trump and the GOP’s racism. Interestingly, Trump has so far avoided attacking Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter but I wonder how long he can resist the temptation. Attempts by his allies to discredit her have backfired badly.
There is no way that he can win that fight because she is clearly much smarter than him, is media-savvy, clearly thinks of him with contempt, is not overawed by the office of the presidency or senior leadership, and simply does not give a damn. She is blowing the Overton window wide open. In the process, she is going to make the Democratic establishment, long accustomed to playing the inside game of oligarchy-friendly politics, squirm because she is demanding that the party stand for the welfare of ordinary people, not compromise so much by giving things away. With her leading the charge for progressive policies in the House and Bernie Sanders in the Senate, the nature of political debates is going to look a lot different from the past.