Whether you considered it high drama or low comedy, the dysfunctional nature of both Congress and the White House was never better illustrated. In the last week, bitter debates about the crisis at America’s southern border, in addition to efforts to provide more aid to Ukraine and Israel, were somehow all pushed together in one unholy mess that unraveled on the floors of the U.S. House and Senate.
Factions within both the Democratic and Republican parties in both the House and the Senate battled opponents on their own sides of the aisle and across it as President Joe Biden and congressional leaders sought to exploit the divisions to get their way. It involved an effort to impeach a cabinet member, as well as cross-party bargaining and secret agreements. At the same time, advocates for shutting down the border, for open borders, and for and against Ukraine and Israel were all seeking to somehow influence the outcome without alienating advocates for other causes.
Though the result of all this arguing, dealmaking, obstruction and grandstanding is not yet finally decided, it appears as if, as was always likely to be the case, nothing is going to be done about the border or supplemental aid to Ukraine or Israel. One can explain it as what is always going to happen when key issues are up for grabs in a presidential election year at a time of divided government. Still, it’s deeply unfortunate because Congress should have been able to decide each of these issues independently—if for no other reason than, despite torrents of rhetoric to the contrary, none of them really had anything to do with the others.
Is Ukraine more important than Israel?
But that’s the problem. Biden and the Democrats with the eager assent of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his clique of establishment supporters insisted that aid to an embattled Israel must be tied to the far greater amount of money they wish to devote to—in the Kentucky Republican’s words, “the most important thing.” As far as he is concerned, that would be Ukraine.
In response, the House GOP majority and those Republican senators who think the elderly and ailing McConnell has outlived his usefulness, thought that in order to consider Biden’s foreign-aid bill, which also includes “humanitarian aid” for Palestinians in Gaza, it must also be fused with a border security bill. They demanded measures that substantially addressed the collapse of security at America’s southern border, which has led to estimates of anywhere from 4 million to 6 million illegal immigrants pouring into the country as a result of the president’s statements and decisions that have substantially suspended enforcement of the existing laws.
Of the three causes, the supplemental aid to Israel is the one with the most broad-based support with overwhelming majorities of both parties in both houses prepared to vote for it. Indeed, Republicans were all set to vote Israel on $17 billion in their version of an aid bill as opposed to the $14 billion Biden wanted to give it. And that is exactly why Biden and McConnell, who otherwise share few positions, have been determined to tie the assistance that will help Israel pursue its post-Oct. 7 war against Hamas terrorists to the next massive round of arms and cash to be sent to Ukraine, which resisted a 2022 Russian invasion and is now intent on winning back territory Moscow seized from it in 2014.
While the Democrats and the last vestiges of the Bush-era GOP agree that Kyiv, which received about $150 billion in American taxpayer dollars last year, must get another $61 billion in 2024, many Republicans think what they call the D.C. uniparty is dead wrong. They’re skeptical about the necessity and wisdom of spending an unlimited amount of cash fighting a proxy war against Russia “for as long as it takes.” In this conflict, both sides are locked in a World War I-style stalemate. So, while there are more than enough votes for the Ukraine package in the Senate, a majority of House Republicans oppose it.
Democrats pretend to care about the border
To get any Republicans to back Ukraine, Biden and the Democrats had to agree to stop pretending that the fiasco they created at the border—and the humanitarian crisis it created in border states and then in the deep-blue urban areas where many of the illegals subsequently went—was a figment of the conservative imagination. Even Republicans who eschewed isolationist sentiments believed that it was inappropriate to go on spending unlimited amounts of money on Ukraine while neglecting the obligation to defend the nation against what amounted to an invasion of illegal immigrants and drugs that were largely being trafficked by criminal cartels.
But the measures that Democrats were prepared to concede were far from adequate for dealing with the situation.
The package negotiated by the White House, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and McConnell was considered by some as better than nothing. But it gave the federal government carte blanche for a variety of amnesty measures for illegals and allowed the continued abuse of the asylum system, further incentivizing millions more to rush the border. That process was created for refugees who were fleeing their countries of origin in fear for their lives rather than, as is the case with the millions who are coming from Central America and elsewhere, merely seeking economic advancement without following the laws regarding legal entry in the United States.
Conservatives pointed out that if Biden now recognized the problem he had created, he had all the power he needed to fix it without any new laws. The bill didn’t mandate the shutting down of the border and would have merely enabled the current catastrophe, rooted in extra legal actions by the administration, to continue unchecked but this time with their consent. And that they would not give.
On top of that, House Republicans wanted to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for his failure to defend the border and for lying to Congress. Mayorkas would have been acquitted by the Senate, and many deplore the promiscuous use of impeachment—though Democrats are in no position to make that argument after trying to impeach Trump over his efforts to have Ukraine investigate Biden family corruption in 2020. The impeachment of Mayorkas failed by just one vote, and Republicans are likely to try it again.
To add to the toxic atmosphere, conservative Republican senators were furious at McConnell for negotiating a deal with the Democrats over immigration and foreign aid that was largely kept secret until the last moment. The package passed the Senate but was dead on arrival in the House.
At that point, House Speaker Mike Johnson tried to pass a standalone aid to Israel bill without anything about immigration or Ukraine. Biden, furious over being stymied over Ukraine and worried about the growing left-wing revolt within his party about support for Israel, threatened to veto the bill; as a result, it failed miserably with a handful of Republicans and most Democrats opposed to it.
Following that, the Senate passed a foreign-aid bill on Thursday that gave Ukraine and Israel the money they want with nothing about border security, but with GOP conservatives (who still want to address the border in a meaningful way and are uninterested in unlimited spending on Ukraine) and anti-Israel Democrats like Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) dissenting. It will almost certainly not pass in the Republican-controlled House.
Where does that leave any of these issues?
Reform of the immigration system will have to await a new political alignment in Washington. Democrats are aware that their policies have created this crisis, and their base’s enthusiasm for open borders has now become politically toxic. The impact of the unchecked flood of illegals is overwhelming social-welfare systems around the country and threatening the interests of working-class Americans. But having made a gesture on the issue, they think they can blame the bill’s failure on former President Donald Trump and the Republicans, and leave it at that.
Passage of a foreign-aid bill that will do anything for Ukraine or Israel is equally problematic. The machinations in the Senate have further embittered conservatives, leaving the quest for some kind of consensus, even at a lower dollar amount for Ukraine, unlikely in the House.
That leaves the cause of aid for Israel, which needs the help as the war against Hamas drags on, also in trouble.
As much as many in the pro-Israel community accept the dubious notion that the illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the Hamas assault on Israel is part of the same struggle, a lot of Americans don’t buy it. Nor should they blithely expect Americans to spend abroad while ignoring their needs at home.
Yet while we can decry the political backbiting and the inability of either the Senate or the House to function effectively, coupled with the White House’s mismanagement of both foreign aid and the border, the implications of this series of fiascos for Israel are painfully obvious.
After a generation of American policymaking that sought to keep Israel dependent on U.S. arms, kicking the habit is going to be difficult. And it is impossible to contemplate a shift away from that dependence in the middle of a costly war. But in addition to demonstrating the failures of the American political class, the shenanigans on Capitol Hill make it clear that this dependence needs to be addressed if Israel’s security is to be preserved.
Biden’s two-faced policy on Israel
It is impossible to separate the failure of the administration and Congress to agree on aid for Israel from Biden’s equivocal stance on the war against Hamas. He has endorsed Israel’s right to self-defense and the destruction of Hamas. At the same time, he has increasingly kowtowed to the intersectional left by agreeing to the smears of Israel about the treatment of Palestinian civilians that many in his party endorse. He’s also exerted brutal pressure on Israel to pursue the war less vigorously and to accept ceasefire proposals that, while potentially freeing the remaining hostages being held by Hamas, will essentially mean the genocidal terrorist movement will emerge from the fighting victorious, thus letting them get away with the largest mass murder in Israel’s history.
Were Biden as resolutely for Israel as some of his Jewish apologists claim, then he would not have refused to budge from his demand that it be tied to a package that gave nearly five times as much money to Ukraine. For Biden to threaten a veto of a standalone Israel-aid bill, even after it was already obvious that he didn’t have the votes for Ukraine assistance or his charade about the border, demonstrates that he is far more worried about antagonizing left-wing activists chanting antisemitic slogans on campus and the streets of American cities than about leaving Israel in the lurch. He may well turn out to be the last pro-Israel president from the Democratic Party, as many have said, as the next generation embraces woke ideology and toxic intersectional lies about the Jewish state. Equally bad is the willingness of a GOP Senate leadership that is just as out of touch with that party’s base to go along with Ukraine taking hostage aid to Israel. The debate over immigration and foreign aid illustrates that in addition to Congress being dysfunctional, the old bipartisan pro-Israel consensus is already a relic of the past.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him: @jonathans_tobin.