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Democratic Disarray

Fred Barnes

By Fred Barnes

Published March 23, 2015

Democratic Disarray

Just last week the White House boasted that President Obama is setting the agenda despite Republican control of the House and Senate. He's in a stronger position now than before the midterm elections in November. "The White House is declaring victory over Washington," according to Politico.

The euphoria didn't last long. It was snuffed out when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reelected in Israel in the face of a strenuous effort by the White House to sideline him. Obama responded not by congratulating Netanyahu, even grudgingly, but by criticizing his campaign and announcing that the administration's policy toward Israel would be reevaluated.

That isn't all. On Capitol Hill, support by Democrats for the president's agenda is eroding. His request for authorization to use military force against ISIS terrorists is widely opposed by Democrats. His appeal for "fast track" authority to facilitate passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade treaty, has attracted little support. Neither bill is likely to win congressional approval.

Obama's aides insist Republicans are merely reacting to the president's initiatives. They are, but not favorably. The bigger problem for Obama is himself. He is the cause of most of the trouble besetting his presidency. The return of Senate minority leader Harry Reid from an accident has made matters worse.

The impact on the Democratic party is anything but positive. Democrats are excited only to the extent they can thwart Republicans, as they did in blocking the GOP attempt to strip funding for Obama's executive order on immigration from the Department of Homeland Security budget. The Democrats may have a bright future over the long run, but the 22 months left in Obama's second term will be painful.

From the Netanyahu episode, we learned that Obama is not a gracious man, even when being gracious would serve his interest. He was furious over the invitation from House speaker John Boehner to address Congress. The president's approval had not been sought.

The White House mounted a heavy-handed campaign to force Netanyahu to cancel his appearance. A boycott of the speech was encouraged. Democrats lobbied for the event to be moved to a more modest setting than the House chamber. The Congressional Black Caucus was recruited to denounce the invitation to Netanyahu as disrespectful to the president. Boehner gave Netanyahu the opportunity to back out if it was necessary for political reasons in Israel with its election on March 17. But Netanyahu refused. He spoke on March 3.

Obama elevated the speech, which focused on Iran's nuclear threat, into an international event. Netanyahu is Obama's least favorite foreign leader, and nasty leaks about him trickled out of the administration. It wasn't surprising he declined to meet with Netanyahu at the White House.

But what if the president had welcomed Netanyahu to Washington, met with him in front of TV cameras, and talked about their mutual goal of preventing Iran from producing nuclear weapons while conceding they have differences over a nuclear deal with Iran? That would have taken much of the drama and some of the significance out of Netanyahu's appearance.

Instead, Obama reacted peevishly to the speech. He said it contained nothing new. When Netanyahu won reelection last week, the White House complained about what it said was Netanyahu's "rhetoric that seeks to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens." In truth, Netanyahu had simply warned that Arab voters were voting in large numbers against him, hoping to stir casual voters sympathetic to him to go to the polls.

Boehner was vindicated by Netanyahu's reelection. It was the first time the "Obama machine" had been defeated in a national election, a Republican official noted. Boehner weathered attacks, including MoveOn.org's demand that he be prosecuted under the Logan Act for illegally interfering in foreign affairs.

For a president supposedly in charge, Obama is MIA in Congress. Winning fast track authority is crucial, but there's no evidence he's lifted a finger on its behalf. Without it, a trade bill can be subjected to poison pill amendments designed to kill it.

Meanwhile, Boehner and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi are working on a permanent fix on the issue of Medicare fees for doctors that shrink annually with congressional action. Again, Obama is not in the picture in this rare instance of bipartisanship.

The Senate experienced a three-week interlude of bipartisanship in January while Reid was recovering at his home in Washington's Ritz-Carlton Hotel. When he returned, smooth and friendly relations ceased. Reid invoked a 60-vote requirement just to have a vote on overriding Obama's veto of the Keystone XL pipeline bill. This was unprecedented on a veto override.

Reid reached a new low by organizing a filibuster of legislation outlawing human trafficking. Democrats said a provision barring federal funds from paying for abortions had been slipped into the bill and must be taken out. The provision was no secret. It was on page four of the legislation and renewed a federal law in effect for the past 39 years.

The bill had bipartisan support and was reported out of the judiciary committee unanimously. It was non-controversial—that is, before Reid stepped in. In response, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said he will delay a confirmation vote on Loretta Lynch for attorney general until Reid calls off the filibuster.

You can see where this is headed. Reid is engineering a stalemate in which bipartisanship is out the window and passage of a popular bill is thwarted. This is part of Reid's strategy of showing that Republicans—and McConnell in particular—can't govern effectively.

Republican disarray "has contributed to this dynamic of the White House being the one—and the only one—that's on offense," Press Secretary Josh Earnest told Edward-Isaac Dovere of Politico. Surely he jests.

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Fred Barnes is Executive Editor at the Weekly Standard.

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