It was a busy, jam-packed day in the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Trekking through those immense and even awe-inspiring halls of power is an experience that stays with you. I found myself wondering, considering how huge our government is, how anything gets done here at all.
And that is indeed the current criticism here — not enough is getting done, and whatever is being accomplished is insufficient as well as painfully slow.
That is the complaint that you hear in almost every office and in each direction that you turn. There are a large number of people shuffling through the connecting corridors between congressional offices in the nation’s capital. Those who are here on this day from the outside all have some kind of interest and agenda they are promoting.
The NORPAC agenda last week was to express our gratitude for various members’ past support for legislation that benefited Israel, to emphasize the importance of a strong U.S.–Israel relationship, and to thank the members in advance for their future support of the Jewish state.
And then there were talking points for us we could make a focused and impactful impression. We thanked members of Congress for their support of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which provides Israel with $38 billion in U.S. aid over the next ten years. We discussed the threat directed at Israel from Syria in particular, considering the presence of Iran and Russia on the Syrian border with Israel.
We also talked to the members about the scourge of the BDS movement directed at hurting and delegitimizing Israel economically and on the world stage with the complicity of the United Nations. We urged the congressmen and congresswomen and the senators we met to support legislation to battle BDS and the hollow foundation upon which most of its claims are based.
Let me say this first — one of the ground rules of these meetings is that the discussions are officially off the record so I cannot discuss the substance of these conversations. As a result, I am limited to writing about the meetings but not quoting any specific comments of the people we met with. So here we go.
In all fairness to the schedules of our congressmen and congresswomen, senators, and their staffs, the morning was dominated by an address to a joint session of Congress by French President Emmanuel Macron. To that end, my group of eight was scheduled to meet with our New York senator, Chuck Schumer, and California Congressman Devin Nunez, a visible supporter of President Trump.
Both sent aides to meet with us and discuss the issues on our agenda. We broke into a
number of groups once inside the U.S. Capitol building and fanned out to different offices of both Democrats and Republicans. We travel quite a ways to spend the day in D.C., and it is disappointing to end up meeting with an aide who is filling in and seems rather dispassionate about these items that are so important to us. On the way home, one of the team leaders told me that his group only saw Congressional aides and that no elected officials actually came out to meet them.
On the other hand, we did have excellent meetings with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. These two are very busy senators, but they took the time to sit around a conference room table and discuss our issues, which they know and understand and realize are important to us.
So again, without going into the substance of the meetings and the ideas articulated by these two senators, let me contrast a similar type of meeting that was scheduled to be held with Senate Minority Leader Schumer with a combined group of about 30 or so mission participants. A Schumer aide, who was an adviser to the senator on foreign policy, explained that Mr. Schumer was pressed for time but he hoped to pop in on the meeting to at least greet us, he said, considering that we traveled all the way there by bus to see the senator.
So while the aide was briefing us and sharing his opinion on our agenda items, he kept looking at his wristwatch and saying that he believed the senator was on the way down from his office and would be with us momentarily. In the meantime his barely audible monologue proceeded with references to Syria, peace, and BDS, and at certain junctures he noted that the senator would be better equipped to comment on this or that matter.
Now we were the ones checking the time because we were scheduled to meet with Senator Cruz in about 20 minutes and we were still waiting for Mr. Schumer. The aide then sent a text message to the senator’s scheduler and commented that whether Schumer came down to meet us was all up to that individual.
Of course, we understood that a high-profile leader like Senator Schumer has a very demanding schedule. But I have to add that we were not just some ragtag lobbying group from somewhere in the hinterlands. We are his constituents, we were there because of our interest and concern about Israel, and he is, as he has always professed, our “Shomer Yisrael.”
Another glance at his watch and the aide said, “I don’t think the senator is going to make it,” and that was the end of that. From there it was on to our meeting with Senator Cruz and wondering to ourselves whether we were going to meet one of his aides as well. After a short walk and under-the-Capitol train ride to the other side of the complex, we were ushered into the senator’s office and were once again seated around a long conference table.
As you know, Ted Cruz was a top contender for the Republican nomination for president. To this day, it is challenging to understand how he was bested by Mr. Trump in 2016. He is relatively young, brash, smart, and outspoken on issues of importance. An aide told us that the senator’s schedule is backed up, not unlike Mr. Schumer’s, but then a side door to the conference room opened and Mr. Cruz entered and took his seat at the head of the table. For a man on a tight schedule, that type of pressure was not made clear to us. For the next 45 minutes, Senator Cruz spoke eloquently about his interest and, indeed, passion for the safety and security of Israel.
Earlier, we had another non-rushed exchange with Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell. It was a great conversation filled with insight but also with expression of concern about how Republicans in both houses will fare in the approaching all-important midterm elections. In the case of Senator Cruz, though he is extremely popular throughout Texas, his Democratic challenger is trailing him in polls by only 3 percentage points. NORPAC will be hosting Senator Cruz in the Five Towns this coming Sunday. You can contact us here for more information on that event.
Both Mr. McConnell and Mr. Cruz pointed out that the party of the incumbent president very often loses seats in both houses in the midterm elections. Whether that will be the case in the age of Donald Trump remains to be seen. Trump detractors believe the Republicans are bracing themselves for a crushing defeat and loss of the majority in the House and possibly even in the Senate. The rules of the game seem to have changed with Mr. Trump at the helm.
One questioner in the meeting with Mr. McConnell asked the senator what he thought about Israel bombing Iranian weapon storage sites in Syria and the fact that, like in the case of the Palestinians in Gaza, many of the missiles are stored or hidden in populated civilian neighborhoods. The person asking the question said, “The New York Times is going to report that the Israeli Air Force dropped bombs on women and children.”
To that, Mr. McConnell responded in his inimitable fashion, “I suggest that you do not read The New York Times.”
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