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Upcoming Congressional Speech Backfires on Boehner, Netanyahu

By scheduling the speech without the White House’s blessing -- plus two weeks before Israel’s own elections -- it came across as entirely political.
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If the goal of House Speaker John Boehner asking Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress in early March was to undermine the Obama administration’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, well, that backfired -- at least in the short term. On Tuesday, a key group of Senate Democrats, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Menendez “told the White House they will hold their fire on Iran sanctions until March 24, taking pressure off the Obama administration as it seeks to complete negotiations about the country's nuclear program,” NBC’s Frank Thorp reports. The reason why it backfired: By scheduling the speech without the White House’s blessing -- plus two weeks before Israel’s own elections -- it came across as entirely political. And it ultimately turned into Democratic-vs.-Republican fight. “Israel has been, for several decades, a bipartisan cause in Washington,” the Atlantic’s Jeffery Goldberg writes. But he adds that Netanyahu’s poor relationship with Obama -- including this most recent end-run around the White House -- alienates Democratic lawmakers (“One Jewish member of Congress told me that he felt humiliated and angered by Netanyahu’s ploy to address Congress ‘behind the president’s back’”) and American Jews (who overwhelmingly voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012).

Bibi is now getting blowback at home

And the New York Times writes that Netanyahu is now getting some serious blowback at home with the elections coming up. “Yehuda Ben Meir, an expert on public opinion at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said surveys had consistently shown that Israelis see a decrease in American support and a nuclear-armed Iran ‘as the two most serious threats, almost equal in severity.’ Israelis are highly critical of Mr. Obama, and may appreciate Mr. Netanyahu’s standing up to him, but losing congressional Democrats, Mr. Ben Meir said, would play differently. ‘Most people in Israel feel or think or believe that mainly this was done for internal political reasons,’ Mr. Ben Meir said. ‘His base may say he went because of the Iranian issue, but those swing voters — and what’s important is always the swing vote — it could among certain parts of the electorate harm him. It might be that he didn’t properly estimate the fallout.’”

White House yanks plan to roll back 529 accounts

Backfiring and blowback also applied to President Obama’s proposed elimination of 529 college-saving plans. Indeed, the White House quickly reversed course on Tuesday and dropped the proposal. "We proposed it because we thought it was a sensible approach, part of consolidating six programs to two and expanding and better targeting education tax relief for the middle class," an administration official told NBC News. "Given it has become such a distraction, we're not going to ask Congress to pass the 529 provision." There are two big lessons here: One, it shows why tax reform is SO HARD; you touch one popular tax break (even if it makes ton of economic/efficiency sense), and folks will scream bloody murder. Two, it’s a story about the political/journalist class. Raise your hand if you have one of these 529 accounts for your children or grandchildren. As one observer tweeted, “You can see the major class bias of many journalists when they act as though *everyone* benefited from the 529 program.” In fact, the benefits under the program are disproportionately skewed to Americans earning six figures or above -- who represent just a sliver of the population. Still, we’re surprised the White House didn’t see this blowback coming when it first proposed the plan.

And that yanking came very quickly

Yet there’s another story here, too: That the White House yanked it SO QUICKLY -- especially while the president was overseas -- suggests it’s still holding out hope to strike some sort of tax deal with congressional Republicans. If you want to see tax reform happen in the 114th Congress, the speed of the Obama White House’s retraction might give you hope.

The Democrats’ danger of focusing so much on the middle class

A final related point to this 529 story: We get why the White House centered President Obama’s State of the Union speech on “middle class economics” -- especially considering that the economic recovery hasn’t trickled down to the middle and lower classes. But there is a danger here for Obama’s team and the Democratic Party. You don’t want to be seen as the folks who are trying to keep Americans IN the middle class. Yes, many Americans are either in the middle class or think they’re in the middle class. But not everyone WANTS to be in the middle class forever; they might have their sights higher.

Senate Judiciary Committee holds confirmation hearing for AG nominee Loretta Lynch

Finally, Obama’s nominee to be his next U.S. attorney general, Loretta Lynch, today has her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The New York Times sets the stage. “If she is confirmed, Ms. Lynch would be the nation’s first African-American woman to serve as attorney general. Her allies have sought to differentiate her from Mr. Holder, an outspoken liberal voice in the administration who clashed frequently with Republicans who accused him of politicizing the office. In particular, Ms. Lynch is expected to face tough questioning about her opinion of the president’s decision to unilaterally ease the threat of deportation for millions of unauthorized immigrants. Mr. Holder approved the legal justification for that action, enraging some Republicans. Ms. Lynch, the United States attorney in Brooklyn, will say that while she had no role in compiling the justification for the president’s action, the legal underpinning was reasonable, according to officials involved in her preparation.” The hearing begins at 10:00 am ET.

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