WASHINGTON — In the days leading up to Friday’s United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel, Congressional leaders united against the measure circulating the international body. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced that the resolution’s true purpose was to “defame and delegitimize” Israel. In the President’s own party, opposition was just as fierce. Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) urged the President to veto the resolution and incoming Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) emphasized that he is “strongly opposed to the U.N. putting pressure on Israel through one-sided resolutions.” The list goes on and on. At least 71 Congressional members, from both parties, issued public statements against the UN Security Council measure. Not one Congressional member publicly urged for an abstention before the diplomats in New York voted.
Nonetheless, President Obama ordered his UN Ambassador Samantha Power to abstain allowing the controversial resolution to pass. AIPAC did its best to highlight the legislative branch’s opposition, re-tweeting outrage from members of Congress encouraging a veto. But, the legislative branch’s opposition seemed to have little influence on the Obama Administration’s views.
While noting the Senate’s role in confirming presidential appointees, Aaron Keyak, Managing Director of Blue light Strategies, told Jewish Insider, “At the end of the day, if (the President) wants to vote a certain way at the UN, there is no member of Congress that can stop them.”
Lashing out against Obama’s decision at the United Nations to “empower evil,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) vowed to cut U.S. funding for the UN. The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that punitive measures being discussed for early January include withdrawing the US from the international organization UNESCO or passing a law that would bar funding to implement the resolution. However, even if such legislation were to be successful, the anti-settlement resolution at the UN would still remain, as it requires Russia and China to reverse their viewpoint, which is considered highly improbable. Similarly, Democratic National Committee member Robert Zimmerman urged Congress to investigate the resolution, but an additional examination will not overturn the measure itself.
In a conference call with reporters on Friday afternoon, Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor, acknowledged the Congressional opposition to abstaining when questioned by a journalist. “We have great respect for Senator Schumer and for a number of members of Congress of both parties who I recognize took a different view from us,” Rhodes noted. However, the Obama administration official quickly pivoted to the argument that the Netanyahu government had accelerated settlement construction during recent years preventing Ambassador Power from issuing a veto. According to Rhodes, ideological opposition towards Israeli settlements — despite Congressional disapproval — pushed the President towards abstention.
Guy Ziv, Professor of International Relations at American University and a former Capitol Hill staffer, told Jewish Insider that the President’s power in Foreign Policy has expanded during the two-month lame duck period after the November elections at the expense of Congress. Citing President Bill Clinton’s issuing of the Israeli-Palestinian peace parameters in the final month of his term or President Ronald Reagan’s outreach to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in December 1988, Ziv clarified that Obama’s current move at the UN was consistent with previous US leaders in adopting controversial foreign policies while bypassing the legislative branch during this sensitive period.
The extension of executive power in Foreign Policy was also apparent in September when America and Israel signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) offering the Jewish state $38 billion over 10 years. As part of the deal, Congress is effectively prevented from offering Jerusalem additional aid and the Jewish state is discouraged from lobbying the legislative branch for more of it. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) called the MOU “likely unconstitutional. The constitution was delivered and constructed to give the House of Representatives… the power to initiate decisions on taxation and spending. So it is not clear to me how you could prohibit our capacity to weigh in in a way that is locked in by an executive branch agreement that we inhaled.”
Secretary of State John Kerry will be delivering Wednesday morning a speech in which he outlines a “comprehensive vision for how he believes the conflict can be resolved in the Middle East,” noted Mark Toner, Deputy State Department Spokesman, on Tuesday. Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer issued a statement urging Kerry not to outline his parameters of a final-status agreement. Nonetheless, as with the UN Security Council vote, the Obama Administration appears to be proceeding with this speech in the face of objections from Congress.