A bipartisan panel of Republican and Democratic lawmakers discussed national security matters awaiting President-elect Donald Trump in the first 100 days of his administration at an annual legislative luncheon hosted by Agudath Israel of America at Alliance Bernstein Global Wealth Management in Midtown, and organized by Ezra Friedlander of The Friedlander Group. Participants included Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), and Randy Weber (R-TX), moderated by Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s vice president for federal affairs and Washington office director.
The panel unanimously asserted that the provision in the new MOU agreement preventing Israel from approaching Congress for additional funds was likely unconstitutional.
“It’s unconstitutional, and as far as I am concerned, I reject it and I will fight it,” said Rep. Engel, adding he will resist efforts to undermine the power of the legislative branch.” I think we’ve already given up too much, and we shouldn’t give up anymore.”
Rep, Jeffries added,“One, it is likely unconstitutional. The constitution was delivered and constructed to give the House of Representatives, in particular through the Ways and Means Committee, 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. The other reason why I don’t think it’s good policy, besides from perhaps it being unconstitutional – certainly inconsistent with the spirit of the constitution – is that we as members of Congress should have the capacity to respond to an emergency circumstance, domestic or foreign, which we did the last time there was a serious conflict and we needed to provide additional military aid to Israel. I don’t think we should give that authority up.”
On the U.S.-Israel relationship under Trump — Engel: “The relationship between the U.S. and Israel has always been strong, in all administrations. You know, there’s been a lot of talk about President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu not liking each other, they didn’t get along personally. And I’d always say, I don’t really care if the president of the U.S. and the prime minister of Israel don’t like each other. What I care about is that strengthening the relationship is the most important thing that matters because the policy of supporting Israel transcends partisan politics in the U.S. Now, there have been some rumblings about President-elect Trump that he has considered or will, and then he retracted, moving the embassy to Jerusalem. The bottom line for me is that embassy should be in Jerusalem.”
“I think we have to give each administration a chance — look, there are some things that Trump has said vis-à-vis Israel that are just terrific, and then there are other things that you worry. One of his big appointees (Steve Bannon) is somebody who’s alleged to be an anti-Semite. I don’t know if it’s a smear or if it’s true. I think we will find out. But I think it is something of grave concern. But I do believe that we have to hold elections in this country, and regardless of who each of us may have voted for, Donald Trump will be our president. We should hope that he succeeds, and one of the places that I want him to have bipartisan support for is our support for Israel.”
Rep. Gosar: “This President-elect, if anybody is guessing what he is thinking, I guess I’d be, ‘You are wrong.’ But here is what I do look at. His son-in-law and his daughter are very proactive in regards to Israel, and I think that’s a good sign. I think that’s really a good sign that he’s looking to that applications. And so, it’s an opportunity. The proof is in the pudding, I’ve always said that. When you start seeing actions and they rhyme with what you promised, that’s an affirmation that we need to see. But I think everyone in Congress would go along that to get back to Jerusalem is the proper thing to do.
Rep. Weber: “No land for peace! The last time we gave up land, we got missiles.”