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October 20th, 2017

Reality Check

Why is the Administration Attacking Schumer?

Jonathan Tobin

By Jonathan Tobin

Published August 12, 2015

 Why is the Administration Attacking Schumer?

On the face of it, it makes no sense.

Senator Chuck Schumer's decision to vote against the Iran nuclear deal is a blow to the administration's effort to smear all opponents of the plan as partisan Republicans who care only about venting spleen at President Obama.

While it did shake up what the New York Times described as the "firewall" the White House is trying to build a veto-proof majority in the Senate to disapprove the deal, it by no means altered the math that indicates that such a margin seems likely to be out of reach for its opponents.

But that didn't satisfy President Obama and his left-wing supporters.

Instead of merely quietly chuckling at Schumer's apparent decision not to rally opposition to the pact in the Democratic caucus and realizing that his silence this week is a sign they had already won, the left has launched a vicious campaign against the senator.

But the reason for what might normally be seen as an overreaction isn't hard to figure out.

The point of the effort to label Schumer a turncoat and begin an effort to stop him from becoming the Democrat's next leader in the Senate isn't so much about winning a battle Obama probably already has in his pocket as it is the first shot fired in Obama's post-deal ratification struggle to undermine the U.S.-Israel alliance.

As far back as April, I speculated that if Schumer did vote no, it wouldn't be meaningful if he did not use his formidable fundraising and lobbying skills to drag other Democrats along with him and actually kill the agreement.

As Seth Lipsky noted in Haaretz, Schumer virtually disappeared as soon as his announcement was made. For a publicity hound like Schumer, that's pretty unusual. But it should also be noted that by releasing the news during last week's Republican presidential debate, he appeared to be timing it to provide the least possible embarrassment for the administration.

That might have worked except for the puzzling decision of the White House to leak the news that Schumer had politely alerted them to ahead of time.

What followed then was an avalanche of anger at Schumer from left-wing sources. Though Democrats had already agreed on Schumer to be Harry Reid's successor once the current Minority Leader announced his retirement at the end of this term, out of nowhere a movement dedicating to stopping him. White House spokesman Josh Earnest even seemed to give that effort tacit approval when he said that it was understandable if Democrats were considering whether Schumer was fit to be their next leader, giving even more credence to the growing belief that Dick Durbin will challenge Schumer.

Worse followed as the rhetoric from left-wing sources heated up and, as the New York Post editorial page noted, spilled over into anti-Semitism and accusations of "treason," as this vile cartoon in the Daily Kos indicated.

Given that the fate of the deal does not seem to be in question, that seems a bit excessive even for the hyper partisan Obama political operation in the White House. After all, Schumer is as reliable a Democratic partisan as any member of the Senate. He's earned the nod as Reid's successor in waiting by spending the last 17 years working tireless for his party and its Senate candidates and backing every bad liberal idea Obama proposed in the last six and a half years until the Iran deal came up.

Moreover, given the fact that Obama is going to need Schumer as he continues to try to govern in the last year and a half of his presidency, what is the point of burning bridges with him when his actions won't alter the fate of the deal?

One simple answer might be that it is merely a function of the president's vindictive nature. It's no secret that this is a leader who runs a top-down administration that does not encourage vibrant debate within its ranks. Obama is notoriously thin-skinned and seems to take criticism or opposition even more personally than most of its predecessors.

But that only goes so far in explaining why Obama is not respecting Schumer's need to stay within the pro-Israel fold.

After spending years covering for the president's efforts to pick fights with the Jewish state by claiming that he will always be the guardian (shomer in Hebrew) of the U.S.-Israel alliance, you'd think Schumer was entitled to be cut some slack on Iran.

But that is not what is happening. The White House isn't content to merely whip Democrats on the issue in an effort to obtain the one-third-plus-one votes they need to sustain a veto of a resolution of disapproval for the Iran deal.

Instead, they are sending a rather pointed message to the pro-Israel community that no one, not even a good Democratic soldier and future leader like Schumer, can get away with crossing the president when it comes to his plans for détente with Iran.

Rather than merely another Obama tantrum at the chutzpah of critics, the singling out of Schumer seems to be the beginning of an effort to rid the Democratic leadership of a staunch pro-Israel figure.

If we assume, as perhaps we should that the Iran deal will not be stopped, the White House may have already skipped ahead to fighting future battles with Israel over what will happen once the pact is put into effect. Obama has already done his best to isolate Israel and its government and to brand opponents of Iran détente as either mindless GOP partisans or guilty of dual loyalty to Israel.

The logical next step is to ensure that no one like Schumer becomes Democratic leader, or at least to inflict the sort of beating on him that will ensure that no many members of his party ever challenge his effort to create daylight with Israel again.

The attacks on Democratic opponents of the deal illustrate the depths to which the administration is prepared to sink to win this fight. But it also reflects its desire to downgrade the alliance with the Jewish state and start chipping away at the heretofore solid and bipartisan pro-Israel consensus.

Polls already show that rank and file Democrats are far less likely to support Israel than Republicans. The assault on Schumer shows that by the time Obama is done, that gap will be far greater.

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JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of Commentary magazine, in whose blog "Contentions" this first appeared.

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