This is why Washington is awful: Senators congratulate themselves for giving Israel more money

Sen. Lindsey Graham and colleagues called passing Israel aid one of their "finer moments." As if it was difficult!

By Jim Newell
August 4, 2014 3:43PM (UTC)
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John McCain, Lindsey Graham (AP/Franck Robichon/Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

The last piece of business that the Senate got done Friday morning before adjourning for the August recess was passing $225 million in funding for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system. No problem if you missed that news because you simply assume Congress, even this Congress, will pass whatever the hell Israel wants. You were right. It will!

The vote came on a long night after which the Senate agreed to a temporary patch (as in, no long-term solution) to the Highway Trust Fund. Republicans and a couple of red-state Democrats filibustered Harry Reid's border supplemental. Mike Enzi, acting on Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's orders, blocked unanimous consent for two-dozen diplomatic appointments because Senate Republicans are still mad over the "nuclear option." Additional funding to fight wildfires went nowhere. It's on these and other issues -- a lot of appropriations bills -- that the Senate has decided it can wait until September to either resolve or leave unresolved. No big rush.


But there was never, ever, any reasonable doubt that the Senate would leave without shoving more money at Israel. Which is what makes this little bit of bipartisan back-patting following Friday's passage so hilarious.

“This is a good example of us being able to put aside partisan considerations and work together to help our good friend, Israel,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who first proposed splitting off the Israeli aid from a failed larger package that also included money for the border and to fight wildfires.

“I will stand by Israel for a lot of personal reasons but certainly for political reasons. And I have no hesitation in declaring to the world that’s how I feel,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who called the retiring Coburn a “fine man” despite the floor snafu on Thursday. Reid said he refused to point fingers at the Oklahoma Republican, despite their often contentious relationship.

Reid, McConnell and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) all shook hands after the Iron Dome money finally passed — an uncommon kumbaya moment in a bitterly divided Capitol.

“As dysfunctional as the Congress has been, this is one of our finer moments. We’re about to leave here soon with a lot of work undone. But let it be said what we did have the foresight and the ability — and quite frankly the moral decency — to end on a positive note,” Graham said.

It's quite a sign of congressional dysfunction that agreeing to give Israel money now counts as not just a significant accomplishment worthy of boisterous self-congratulation, but "one of our finer moments," and a sign that maybe the Senate isn't so broken after all. In terms of sure things, giving Israel money is perhaps only rivaled by getting seniors in swing states their Social Security checks on time. It doesn't matter which Congress it is, or how dysfunctional things get. If there was another Civil War and a batch of states seceded from the union but Israel still needed its war money, the two sides would call a cease-fire, the seceding states would temporarily rejoin the union, go to Congress to pass the funding, and then resecede and continue fighting.

The certainty of the Israeli military getting its funding from the United States is what makes any of Harry Reid's maneuvering on the issue, no matter how calculated, a clear bluff. Reid had originally married the Iron Dome money to the border supplemental. This obviously never caught on as a credible threat to Senate Republicans to vote for the border money -- everyone knew that if the border supplemental was voted down, Reid would immediately decouple the two measures and offer up a vote on the Iron Dome money alone. The Senate majority leader would never block Israel's money.


Once Reid did offer up the separate Iron Dome bill Thursday night, however, Sen. Tom Coburn blocked it. Not because he questions the policy of giving Israel a blank check, mind you. Only because Coburn, a retiring deficit hawk, thought the money should be offset. But this was more a statement maneuver by Coburn than something he actually intended to carry through. The Senate wouldn't mind leaving town without resolving pretty much any other issue, but on the Iron Dome? No chance. And so after a good night's sleep, Coburn dropped his objection, and unanimous consent was reached. Even if Coburn had woken up Friday and decided to carry through with his objection, his fellow senators would have found some way to expel him from the Senate or hide him in Gitmo instead of adjourning without approving more aid for Israel.

Earlier last week, the Associated Press got in a spot of trouble for tweeting, "As much of world watches Gaza war in horror, members of Congress fall over each other to support Israel." It linked to an article about the Iron Dome funding. The phrasing was apparently too snarky for some, and so the AP tweeted again, "Many U.S. lawmakers strongly back Israel in Gaza war." Well, sorry if it offends some delicate sensibilities, but mild humor about the deference members of Congress show Israel seems warranted.

Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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Congress Gaza Harry Reid Iron Dome Israel Lindsey Graham Mitch Mcconnell Senate