Posted on November 14, 2014 in Countdown
Excuse our absence last week, post-election fatigue got to us. As you have probably heard, the Arab American community experienced its share of triumphs and disappointments. One member of Congress who will surely be missed is Congressman Nick Rahall (D) of West Virginia. During his 38 years of service, Congressman Rahall championed various issues important to our community from Palestinian rights to a balanced U.S. policy towards the Arab World. Encouragingly, Arab American representatives Darrell Issa (R) of California, Justin Amash (R) of Michigan, Charles Boustany (R) of Louisiana, and Richard Hanna (R) of New York all kept hold of their congressional seats. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how the new Republican majority Congress will act on issues important to our community such as the Israel-Palestine Conflict, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, and civil liberties. In the meantime we’re holding our Fall National Leadership Conference next week to regroup and look ahead to 2016. Look for our report in January on the new congressional leadership and committee chairs.
In what had to have been the most awkward lunch date ever, President Obama met with Congressional leaders following the Republican party’s sweeping victory last week. Reportedly sandwiched between John Boehner and Harry Reid, the President reiterated that we was committed to easing restrictions on undocumented immigrants through his executive powers. Boehner then warned the President that unilateral action would ruin his relationship with the new Republican majority and any chances of comprehensive reform along with it. He assured Obama that Republicans would work on reform early in the new session, at which point a fed-up Vice President Biden chimed in pushing for a timeline, asking “February 15? March 15?” Some reports note that the President appeared openly irritated with the interruption, but we think Biden’s frustration is pretty understandable. How much longer can we push off fixing a broken system?
Last Saturday, President Obama introduced Loretta Lynch as his nominee to replace Eric Holder as Attorney General. Although Lynch rarely makes public statements on the subject, her record as a prosecutor suggests a clear commitment to civil rights. Lynch’s experience in civil rights cases could prove extremely useful to the Justice Department, which is investigating the Ferguson, Missouri police shooting of Michael Brown that occurred back in August. Obama will not attempt to push the nomination through during the lame duck session, having been warned by Democrats on the hill that it would be difficult to push through a confirmation with so many competing priorities during the session. If confirmed, Lynch will be the first African American woman to head the Department of Justice. This could be the end of this paragraph, but things are not that simple. Blocking Lynch’s nomination is now being batted around – along with a possible government shutdown – by some who want to punish the President for executive action.
Turning our attention away from the shakeups in Washington, we have to note that Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, a terrorist organization based out of Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, recently pledged allegiance to ISIS. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis is Egypt’s most dangerous extremist group and the first noteworthy terrorist organization to swear allegiance to ISIS. Egyptian and Western officials are concerned that this new relationship will be mutually beneficial to each organization. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis can take advantage of the ISIS’s fiscal resources, weaponry, and large following to bolster attacks on the Egyptian government or perpetrate terrorist attacks abroad. On the other hand, ISIS has now established a possible recruitment channel in the region’s most populous nation. It remains to be seen how this new matrimony will impact each organization but it is a possible sign of the ISIS’s burgeoning allure.
Thinking of ISIS, after returning to work earlier this week Members on the Armed Services Committee did not have to wait long to jump right back into the foreign policy fray. At a committee hearing regarding U.S. strategy against the ISIS, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers that “I’m not predicting at this point that I would recommend that those forces in Mosul and along the border would need to be accompanied by U.S. forces, but we’re certainly considering it.” In the hearing, General Dempsey said that the Iraq would need around 80,000 effective Iraqi military troops to recapture lost territory, retake the strategic city of Mosul, and reestablish border security. Hmm, that’s a lot more than the 1,500 troops the White House announced it would send late last week. Although President Obama has been adamant about not putting too many U.S. boots on the ground, it appears as though his top military advisors are on a completely different wavelength. Groupthink is definitely not an issue with this bunch.