First Read is the NBC Political Unit’s morning briefing on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
Will cooler heads prevail in the U.S.-Israel spat?
Fights between friends are always nastier -- and more personal -- because you expect more from friends than you do your enemies or strangers. But to prevent that friend from becoming an enemy or stranger, cooler heads ultimately have to prevail, no matter who was at fault. And that’s the situation the United States and Israel find themselves in right now: President Obama, who is often compared to the emotion-less/cool Mr. Spock, was about as icy as we’ve seen him when talking about Prime Minister Netanyahu at yesterday’s news conference with Afghan President Ghani. Obama said he has a “business-like relationship” with the prime minister, but added, “This can't be reduced to a matter of somehow let's all hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya.’” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, who arranged Netanyahu’s controversial speech to Congress, “has shown no trace of contrition for his role in the clash and little sign that he is rethinking his approach.” And now there are the stories coming out of Israel with even Netanyahu critics saying the U.S. has gone too far.
Neither side is backing down
Bottom line: Neither side is backing down, though Netanyahu did apologize for the apparent anti-Arab remarks he made on Election Day, and he tried to walk back his opposition to a two-state solution. The problem for Israel is that they’re the unequal partner in the alliance -- they’re the side getting financial assistance, military help, and diplomatic cover from the United States. The problem for the Obama administration is domestic politics -- there’s a Republican Party willing to exploit any disagreement between Obama and Netanyahu for political gain. That SHOULD be a formula for cooler heads to prevail, right?
Jeb writes pro-Israel op-ed after James Baker’s critical remarks about Netanyahu
Sticking with the domestic politics of Israel, Jeb Bush has an op-ed in National Review hitting Obama on Iran and his administration’s treatment of Israel. A snippet: “This is no way to treat an ally. Conducting the foreign policy of a great nation requires maturity and a strategic sense of America’s long-term interests. This is no time for schoolyard antics. With Israel, those interests lie in a firm alliance. Israel and America must work together to build a more prosperous and hopeful future for the region. A state for the Palestinian people, side by side with Israel, will be possible only if the Palestinian people are represented by leaders committed to delivering on the promises made at the negotiating table.” But to us, Bush’s op-ed looks like a bit of clean-up on James Baker’s recent remarks ALSO criticizing Netanyahu -- but without having to throw Baker (a Bush adviser) under the bus.
Liberals turning their attention from persuading Warren to run (which isn’t happening) to influencing Hillary Clinton bid (which is)
The folks over at Hotline made a really good observation yesterday: Liberals groups are suddenly turning their attention from Elizabeth Warren (who clearly isn’t running for president) to Hillary Clinton. Case in point is this story: The liberal group Progressive Change Campaign Committee “is starting a campaign Tuesday aimed at pushing Hillary Rodham Clinton to adopt a full-throated liberal agenda in her all-but-certain presidential campaign, signaling that even some on the far left of the Democratic Party are now more focused on shaping Mrs. Clinton’s eventual platform than they are on finding an alternative to her.”
Why that “John Doe” investigation in Wisconsin remains a problem for Scott Walker
Because of stories like this piece by Yahoo’s Mike Isikoff. “[Wealthy businessman John Menard Jr.] wrote more than $1.5 million in checks to a pro-Walker political advocacy group [Wisconsin Club for Growth] that pledged to keep its donors secret… In the past two years, Menard’s company has been awarded up to $1.8 million in special tax credits from a state economic development corporation that Walker chairs, according to state records.” How did this all come to light? “The contributions by Menard, made in 2011 and 2012, were uncovered among hundreds of emails and internal documents seized by state prosecutors in the course of a wide-ranging criminal investigation into whether Walker’s campaign committee violated state campaign finance laws — including those requiring public disclosure — by funneling large donations to outside, nondisclosing advocacy groups, such as the Wisconsin Club for Growth.” Yet as Yahoo notes, the “John Doe” probe has stalled, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear arguments next month about whether it should proceed. The good news for Walker: That court is controlled by conservatives.
Terry McAuliffe + Tony Rodham = Trouble
Speaking of investigations, what do you get when you combine Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Hillary Clinton’s brother Tony Rodham? Another newspaper headline like this from the Washington Post: “Report: Va. Governor received special treatment from Homeland Security.” Per an inspector general’s report, “McAuliffe was among several politically powerful individuals from both parties, including Sen. Harry M. Reid … seeking special visas for foreign investors through a program administered by the department. But intervention on behalf of McAuliffe’s GreenTech Automotive company by Alejandro Mayorkas, now the department’s No. 2 official, ‘was unprecedented,’ according to the report. The long-anticipated report found no evidence of law-breaking. But members of the department’s staff perceived Mayorkas’s actions as ‘politically motivated,’ and the report concluded that he had ‘created an appearance of favoritism and special access.’” Tony Rodham’s role here? “McAuliffe’s company had partnered with Gulf Coast Funds Management, a firm that specializes in obtaining EB-5 visas for investors. Gulf Coast was led by Anthony Rodham, brother of then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.” Also, this is the SECOND Tony Rodham story in the past week.
Coats’ retirement gives Democrats an opening. How big is that opening? You’ll have to ask Evan Bayh
Yesterday’s announcement that Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN) isn’t running for re-election next year created an opening for Democrats to win the seat in this GOP-leaning state. Back in the last presidential cycle, of course, Democrats won the Senate race in Indiana after Republicans ended up with a nominee, Richard Mourdock, who was too conservative and too problematic. (Mourdock knocked off incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar in the GOP primary.) And the opening might even be bigger if former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) decides he wants his old seat back. But despite what happened in 2012, Republicans have an excellent shot at holding on to the seat -- thanks to a deep congressional bench that includes Reps. Susan Brooks, Todd Young, Todd Rokita, and Jackie Walorski. (Though Rep. Luke Messer took himself out of consideration.) And don’t miss this this piece by Bloomberg’s Dave Weigel: The Tea Party gets a third crack at winning in Indiana. Bottom line: Like in 2012, who wins the GOP nomination will have a considerable impact on the race.