Posted on June 11, 2014 in Countdown

Wait What?! Eric Cantor Defeated in Primary

Excuse us if we seem all over the place, but we can’t help but be in shock today after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning loss in the VA-07 primary yesterday. Cantor was dealt a sharp blow by a relatively unknown candidate, Dr. Dave Brat, who boasted a campaign war-chest of $200,000. No, we didn’t forget a zero. There are so many angles we can talk about. Democrats are of course painting this as another example of Republican infighting, but even Tea Party groups didn’t fully put their weight behind Brat, who seemed to pull-off a genuine, grassroots “out with the old, in with the new” upset. Another approach: with the last Jewish Republican in Congress out, it looks like AIPAC has lost its number one GOP sheriff. Others are saying this makes comprehensive immigration reform dead on arrival, but that may also be an overstatement. After all, Lindsey Graham, a cosponsor of the “Gang of 8” immigration bill, comfortably won his primary yesterday and avoided a runoff. Graham seemed to do an all-around better job of explaining reform efforts to his constituents – by actually visiting his district. The White House is just as unsure as Congressional Republicans on how to paint Cantor’s loss. Cantor was seen as a main obstacle to immigration reform and was supposed to become the face of GOP obstructionism on immigration for groups like the Democratic National Committee in the lead up to November. Now, top Obama advisors are saying immigration reform was only a small part of Cantor’s loss, hoping they can control the narrative and continue pushing for legislation. Right now, the only thing we know for sure is that no one saw this coming.

Democrats and Republicans Face “Hard Choices” in 2016

Is it too early to talk about 2016? Until Cantor’s shocking loss yesterday (see above), all attention was on Hillary. This week, Hillary Clinton released a new memoir, giving the public a preview of the Hard Choices in her career – and no, we don’t mean making up her mind on whether Jerusalem is the capital of Israel or not,  or whether we should go to war in Iraq. (Spoiler alert: she voted yes on Iraq. Double spoiler alert: she admits that she regrets the decision in her new book.) Will Democrats have to make their own “hard choices” in the lead up to 2016 given that it’s widely assumed Clinton will run? Clinton thinks so. When asked if the Democratic Party was “frozen” because of her, Clinton replied, “People can choose whatever they choose to do on whatever timetable they decide.” Hard choices indeed. Meanwhile, on the GOP side, there are indeed some choices to be made. So-called “reform conservatives” are attempting to influence potential candidates to re-think their party line and “seize the party’s 2016 policy agenda.” The movement, still in its early stages, has been raising questions about whether the Republican Party will be receptive to new ideas. The GOP Convention in Texas last weekend shows how difficult “reform” might be.  Senator Ted Cruz, who has mostly clung to obstructionist policies, came out on top in the convention’s straw poll. How did he celebrate? By renouncing his Canadian citizenship, of course. See? It’s definitely not too early to talk about 2016.

Palestinian Unity: Tone Down the Rhetoric, Congress!

Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are circulating a bipartisan draft letter addressed to President Obama asking the administration to “impress on President Abbas the need for him to cease any alliance” with Hamas and reconsider aid to Palestinians until Hamas accepts the Quartet Principles and denounces the use of violence. It may be a rush to judgment, but at least it isn’t as bad as the original draft of the letter, which boldly criticized Palestinians for continuing to “attack Israel’s legitimacy” and accused Abbas of “distracting efforts” that have apparently undermined the process and Israel’s “commitment to seeking peace.” Of course, there was no mention of Israel’s own distracting efforts, and it’s obviously impossible to question Israel’s commitment to peace. Maybe it was divine intervention that caused Cardin and Collins to reconsider the strong language. Or maybe a lack of signatures? The revised letter still asks Obama to rethink economic assistance from the Palestinians – though in a more moderate tone – and suggests that Abbas’ efforts to join international organizations will jeopardize the peace process. The letter is still troublesome, but ultimately unsurprising, coming from a tone-deaf Congress. We think Secretary of State John Kerry is taking a better approach by continuing to work with the interim Palestinian cabinet while monitoring the government’s policies and actions going forward.  Encouraging a cohesive and united Palestinian government that can effectively enforce and implement policy and agreements should remain a top priority for the United States as it seeks a two-state solution. A period of guidance and support is appropriate to ensuring the interim Palestinian government continues to abide by the principles needed to receive U.S. aid.

Sisi’s High Profile Inauguration Met with Low Level Officials

We’ve been bringing you news on Egypt over the past few years – both the encouraging highs and crushing (and sometimes predictable) lows – like this one: On Sunday, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi was inaugurated as Egypt’s president in a high profile ceremony after his not-so-surprising win last month. In his inaugural address, Sisi said his paramount objectives in the coming months would be “defeating terrorism and achieving security” and, in a concealed reference to the ousted Muslim Brotherhood, promised “no leniency [or] truce with those who resort to violence.” Given the political instability that has ravaged the Egyptian economy, Sisi also promised to prioritize economic rehabilitation stimulated by strong government intervention. Only time will tell if Sisi can live up to his promises, but things aren’t looking so great for those hoping for a more pluralistic and inclusive Egypt. In what could be seen as a snub, or at the very least begrudging acquiescence to the current state of affairs, the United States and E.U. members sent low-level officials to the ceremony. But the lack of high-ranking officials didn’t stop congratulatory phone calls or a reconsidering of aid. President Obama called to congratulate Sisi and conveyed “his commitment to working together to advance the shared interests of both countries.” For now, Egypt’s new strongman should be careful not to bask in his “landslide victory.” Instead, President Sisi must begin the much-needed process of restoring a weary Egyptian economy and nation.

“Breaking the Silence” on the Occupation

As the anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War draws to a close today, there is a marked shift in perspectives on the terrible plight of Palestinians and the ongoing violation of basic rights in the region. This week, after 10 years of gathering accounts from Israeli soldiers serving in the Palestinian territories, the Israeli NGO “Breaking the Silence” literally broke the silence. They held a ten-hour, nonstop recitation in Tel Aviv, where former Israeli soldiers gave first-hand accounts of the occupation. The stories, with subjects ranging from random assaults to “provocation and reaction” strategies, show the ongoing humiliation and oppression of Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation – young men, mothers, children and grandparents. Stressing the need to reverse the normalization of the occupation among the Israeli public, this formidable collection of testimonies provides rare and invaluable perspectives of the IDF’s mistreatment of Palestinians. The event was a necessary reflection of the abusive behavior committed by occupying forces and the inexcusable reasons used to do so: boredom, dehumanization and desensitization, and career advancement. Although certainly not enough after 47 years of occupation, Breaking the Silence’s efforts are an important step toward shedding light on the harsh reality of life for Palestinians. Further, the recent killing of two unarmed Palestinian teenagers last month is now being deemed an Israeli war crime by Human Rights Watch, serving as another catalyst for a vital worldwide conversation of Israeli’s harsh treatment of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.