Daily Kickoff

Daily Kickoff: 3rd vote, no charm — Menendez now votes against anti-BDS bill | Seth Klarman’s complex $1B bet | New Florida Judge’s prayer

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DRIVING THE CONVO — House Republican leaders voted to remove Rep. Steve King (R-IA) from the Judiciary and Agriculture Committees on Monday following widespread calls for his reprimand for his comments last week which appeared to defend white nationalists and white supremacists.

Republican Party leaders, except for President Donald Trump, strongly rebuked King. “If he doesn’t understand why ‘white supremacy’ is offensive, he should find another line of work,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) called on King, who is now in his 9th term in Congress, to resign. “I think he ought to step aside and I think Congress ought to make it very clear he has no place there,” Romney said. Asked about King’s comments outside the White House, Trump told reporters, “I haven’t been following it.”

In a lengthy statement issued Monday night, King doubled down on his remarks, calling McCarthy’s decision to remove him from committees “a political decision that ignores the truth.” He vowed to “continue to point out the truth and work with all the vigor that I have to represent 4th District Iowans for at least the next two years.”

Abe Foxman emails us: “It’s better late than never. It’s about time for responsible Republicans to distance themselves and their party from bigots who have tried to embrace them. Now let’s hope POTUS does the same.”

Ari Fleischer captures the mood on the right: “I’m glad the GOP took this action against Steven King. Plain and simple, it’s the right thing to do. I also hope Democrats do the same thing and remove from their leadership and committees the Democrats who met with Louis Farrakhan.”

Meanwhile, House Democrats have scheduled a vote on a resolution of disapproval of King today. Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), the party’s No. 3 leader, said he would introduce the resolution to express “disapproval of Mr. King’s comments and condemnation of white nationalism and white supremacy in all forms.”

ON THE HILL —The Senate failed for the third time in a week to advance legislation that would reauthorize the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. and Israel and an anti-BDS measure after Senate Democrats blocked it from reaching the 60 vote threshold. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who voted against the motion, immediately filed for cloture again, setting up a fourth procedural vote.

— Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who in the first two rounds voted with the GOP along with his Democratic colleagues Joe Manchin (WV), Doug Jones (AL) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), voted against the motion. “I don’t like the Majority Leader using the US-Israel relationship as a political pawn,” Menendez told Al-Monitor. Menedez seemed to have the backing of NORPAC, which calls itself the nation’s largest pro-Israel political action committee. “I would prefer for this legislation to be introduced at a time acceptable to both parties,” President Ben Chouake told JNS.

HEARD THE OTHER DAY — Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) in an interview with MSNBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin on Sunday — Mohyeldin: “I know after your election you came out in support of boycott efforts, but you had some critics. They say you were vague about that during the election. How do you respond to your critics, and how would you vote if that bill makes its way to the House today?” 

Omar: “I was not vague about that issue. I actually did get an opportunity to vote on a state version of that bill, and I voted no. It is unconstitutional. One of the strongest ideals of this nation is that people have an ability to freely express themselves, and I really have [a] strong belief in the First Amendment.”[Video]

— Batya Ungar-Sargon tweets“She’s right — Ilhan Omar was not vague. She explicitly told the Jews in her district in no uncertain terms that she does NOT support BDS, and then came out in support of BDS after the election. No vagueness there — just an epic flip flop!”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib photographed with pro-Hezbollah activist who says Israel has no right to exist — by Philip Klein: “Freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., was photographed with a Palestinian activist who praised the terrorist group Hezbollah, said Israel did not have the right to exist, and has called for Israeli “Zionist terrorist” Jews to return to Poland… Over the weekend, Abbas Hamideh tweeted out a photo of himself with a smiling Tlaib, writing, “I was honored to be at Congresswoman @RashidaTlaib swearing-in ceremony in Detroit and private dinner afterward with the entire family, friends and activists across the country.” [WashExaminerDailyMail]

Rep. Ayanna Pressley condemns anti-Semitism after quoting Alice Walker — by Nik DeCosta-Klipa: “Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) is making amends for quoting Alice Walker in a tweet last week, after the newly sworn-in Massachusetts congresswoman was made aware of the acclaimed author’s alleged history of anti-Semitism. “I fully condemn and denounce anti-Semitism, prejudice and bigotry in all their forms – and the hateful actions they embolden,” Pressley tweeted Monday afternoon.” [Boston]

WATCH — Meghan McCain grilled Women’s March Inc.’s Tamika Mallory on The View on Monday for refusing to condemn Louis Farrakhan’s past remarks about Jewish people: “I would never be comfortable supporting someone who said, ‘I am not anti-Semite, I am anti-termite.’ ‘It’s the wicked Jews, the false Jews, promoting lesbian, homosexuality.’ … A lot of people — and I include me in this — think you’re using your organization as anti-Semitism masked in activism and are using identity politics to shield yourself from critiques.” [Video]

TODAY AT THE UN — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to address the UN General Assembly at 10 AM in a ceremony to assume the chairmanship of the Group of 77, the largest bloc of developing countries at the United Nations. [Livestream]

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met with Abbas yesterday and stressed that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the only path to peace.

— Stuart Force, the father of slain U.S. Army Capt. Taylor Force, will be joined by approximately 200 students at a rally to protest Abbas outside One UN Plaza at 1 PM EST. Bassem Eid, a Palestinian human rights activist living in Jericho, will also speak at the rally, addressing the corruption within the Palestinian Authority.

TALK OF THE REGION — Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, on a visit to Lebanon on Monday, said the U.S. will step up efforts to counter Iran’s “dangerous activities” around the region including the financing and activities of Hezbollah. He also said it is “unacceptable” to have a militia outside the control of the state digging attack tunnels into Israel and threatening regional stability.

POMPEO’S MIDEAST TRIP — Mike Pompeo’s Anti-Iran Tour Faces Obstacles of a Fractious Middle East — by Edward Wong and Ben Hubbard: “Jetting from capital to capital, meeting with kings, princes and presidents, [Sec. Pompeo’s] goal was to get Arab countries to work together to roll back Iranian influence in the region and take on the militias Iran is backing. But as the trip drew to a close on Monday, it was unclear whether he had made any notable progress on that front. The obstacles toward building such a coalition are formidable. In practice, it will be difficult for the Arab nations to work closely together on anti-Iran policies because of the complexity of relationships in the region.” [NYTimes]

THE DEBATE — Walter Russell Mead writes… “Trump’s Mideast Strategy: The Trump administration hopes that with limited American support, Israel, Turkey and the Sunni Arab countries can together contain Iran. If so, Mr. Trump can claim credit for improved Israeli-Arab ties and a more stable region even as he cuts back on American troop and aid levels. This is a sounder strategy in the abstract than the Obama team’s gamble on Iranian restraint.” [WSJ]

Hudson Institute’s Mike Doran: “Israel’s fate is a lonely one, but Israel is very powerful militarily, possibly more powerful than at any time in its history, and it is not at all isolated… In the Trump conception, the Middle East is not a round table but a rectangular table. On one side are the United States and its traditional allies. On the other side are its adversaries: Russia and Iran, their proxies, and the Sunni terror groups. The job of the United States, in this conception, is to elevate the power of its friends over its adversaries while simultaneously mediating among the allies, who are a fractious bunch.”

— Elliott Abrams responds to Doran: “Michael Doran is gambling that a policy of aid and comfort to our allies in the Middle East will be sufficient without any American military effort or presence to back it up. He believes this gamble is our best bet, or at least our only realistic bet. I think it won’t work.”

Israel will begin exporting gas to Egypt in a few months’ time — by Aidan Lewis: “Israel will begin exporting natural gas to Egypt in a few months’ time, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday, a key step in the country’s plans to sell its expanding gas production abroad and bolster diplomatic ties.” [Reuters]

STATE-SIDE — Governor Ron DeSantis names Robert Luck to Florida Supreme Court — by David Ovalle: “Robert Luck, a well-respected appellate judge, was named to the Florida Supreme Court on Monday, the second judge from Miami’s appeals court to be named to the high court under new Gov. Ron DeSantis… DeSantis made the announcement Monday morning at the Scheck Hillel Community School in Northeast Miami-Dade, a prominent Jewish school. Luck is the first Jewish justice appointed in over 20 years.” [MiamiHerald

Marc Caputo on the scene: “Judge Luck praises DeSantis for his support of “Israel and, by extension, the Jewish community.” … Judge Luck closes with the blessing known as Ata Chonen from the Jewish prayer, Amidah: “You grace humans with wisdom and teach humanity perception. Bestow upon us Your knowledge, insight and understanding. Blessed are you the grantor of wisdom.”

ROAD FOR THE NEW KNESSET— Drawing fire from the right and the left, Netanyahu rival Benny Gantz told Druze activists that he will fix controversial nation-state law… David Horovitz explains why Israel is vulnerable to election cyber meddling… Ehud Barak charged yesterday that Netanyahu broke with Israel’s ambiguity over its strikes against Iranian targets in Syria for political reasons… MK Bezalel Smotrich was elected as head of the right-wing National Union party on Monday night. He expressed hope to head a religious-Zionist bloc… Yair Lapid ruled out joining forces with MK Tzipi Livni, vowing he “won’t unite with the left”…

2020 WATCH — Interviews with senior aides for several top Democratic prospects indicate that the waiting game to jump into the presidential is almost over… Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is expected to announceshe’s forming a 2020 exploratory committee ahead of a trip to Iowa… Bernie Sanders to meet with former campaign staffers about 2016 harassment issues… Michael Bloomberg and Joe Biden will attend Rev. Al Sharpton’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in Washington, D.C. next week…

** Good Tuesday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email Editor@JewishInsider.com **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Quibi Faces Quandary: Meeting Ambitious Content Goal [TheInformation] • Gary Barnett taps Sush Torgalkar of Westbrook Partners as CEO of Extell [TheRealDealWSJ] • Documents show Glencore provided nearly $1 billion in loans to aid investments by accused businessman Dan Gertler [WSJ] • Facebook, fighting off skeptics, plans to invest $300 million in journalism programs [CNNBusiness] • Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron wrestles with the Bezos divorce [VanityFair]

SPOTLIGHT — Seth Klarman’s Hedge Fund Baupost Has a Complex $1 Billion Bet on PG&E — by Miles Weiss, Allison McNeely and Katherine Doherty: “Seth Klarman’s Baupost Group has been the poster child of the hedge fund industry’s ill-timed stock-market bets on the troubled utility PG&E Corp., which announced plans for bankruptcy… Baupost also bought $1 billion of legal claims in November that an insurer held against the utility, giving the hedge fund the right to recover losses incurred from the deadly wildfires in 2017… For Baupost, the claims are in keeping with Klarman’s penchant for knotty litigation and bankruptcy workouts, from Puerto Rican debt to U.S. nuclear power plants… Since the end of September, when Baupost last reported its equity holding, PG&E’s shares have plunged about 82 percent… PG&E’s plight is magnified because in California utilities can be held liable for property damage from a fire caused by their equipment. State investigators have already found the utility responsible for sparking 17 of the 2017 wine country fires.” [Bloomberg]

Justice Department issues new opinion that could further restrict online gambling — by Tom Hamburger, Matt Zapotosky and Josh Dawsey: “The Justice Department late Monday issued a legal opinion that could further restrict online gambling even as some states have been moving to embrace it — a restriction long sought by GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who controls one of the world’s largest casino empires… Curtailing such online gambling ventures has been a major goal of Adelson, who with his allies has argued that Web-based gambling would hurt children, invite criminal activity and produce little actual revenue for states.” [WashPost]

Ben Brafman to Quit Harvey Weinstein’s Defense Team — by Lachlan Cartwright: “Ben Brafman has decided to leave Harvey Weinstein’s defense team… Superstar attorney Brafman clashed with his client after Weinstein informed him of the plan [to hire new lawyers], according to Page Six. Brafman will now have to seek court permission from Justice James Burke to depart the team.” [DailyBeast]

TALK OF THE NATION — As Government Pulls Back, Charities Step In to Help Released Migrants — by Jose Del Real and Manny Fernandez: “The sole shelter in San Diego, run by Jewish Family Service of San Diego, has processed nearly 5,000 asylum applicants since it began operating two months ago. It was built “on a wing and a prayer,” according to [Kevin] Malone, and has had to move five times to find adequate space… Kate Clark, the director of immigration services at Jewish Family Service, said the organization stepped in nine weeks ago when it learned migrants were being “dumped at the border.” [NYTimes

TALK OF THE TOWN — A bat mitzvah girl debuts a new way for blind Jews to participate in an ancient tradition — by Michelle Boorstein: “When 12-year-old Batya Sperling Milner stood before her community at her bat mitzvah… she read from the Torah, just like any other Jewish kid. At the same time, the Saturday service at Ohev Sholom synagogue on a snowy D.C. Sabbath morning was absolutely unique to the little girl with the brown bob and the elaborate henna on her left hand… For Milner, who is blind, and her family, it was just a question of how it would happen… The N.W. Washington family thought innovations might be needed, so they went on a journey to find them. Milner’s mother, Aliza Sperling, wound up writing a 40-page paper that made the case for blind Torah readers and lectured from it in synagogue, launching a new conversation in the D.C. area’s Modern Orthodox community. A software engineer created encoding and a computer program that may wind up transforming the Torah-reading experience for visually-impaired people.” [WashPost]

Under the Chuppah in Havana — by Ruth Oratz: “I had never been to a group wedding. Nor did I ever think I would experience my first during a balmy December evening in Havana. But 60 years after Castro’s revolution, this wildly romantic and surreal event was the culmination of my visit to Cuba’s Jewish community, which today is reviving in ways most people could never expect. Indeed, standing in a synagogue where 16 couples joined together in Jewish traditions once outlawed on the island, one would think that it never ceased.”[Tablet]

‘McJesus’ art sculpture at Israeli museum upsets Christians, sparks calls for removal — by Nicole Darrah: “A sculpture of “McJesus” — Jesus modeled as Ronald McDonald — has upset Christians in Israel, where the art remains on display. Hundreds of Christians in the Middle Eastern country are calling for the art to be removed from the Haifa Museum of Art, where the display has been up for months. It was previously on display in other countries without any issues.” [FoxNews]

Israel to scour Danube in search for Holocaust remains: “Israeli divers are to search the Danube in Budapest with Hungarian help to recover remains of Jews murdered during the Holocaust. Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, visiting Budapest, said remains would be sent to Israel for a Jewish burial.”[BBC]

TRANSITIONS — Josh Hammer, most recently a clerk for Judge Jim Ho on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is now Editor-at-Large of the Daily Wire. He will be of counsel at First Liberty.

Jennifer Blatus, most recently communications director for Rep. Max Rose (D-NY), is joining Stu Loeser & Co. as a media strategist. h/t New York Playbook

SPOTTED — Via Daniel Lippman: Treasury chief of staff Eli Miller having dinner with U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Ron Gidwitz at Fiola Mare on Monday night.

DESSERT — The Melbourne bakeries that tell a story of Jewish migration — by Ian Lloyd Neubauer: “Carlisle St in the suburb of Balaclava is home to Glick’s, a bakery founded in 1960 by Holocaust survivor Mendel Glick… Mr. Glick also came up with the idea of selling piping hot challah… There are now three more Glick’s bakeries in Melbourne and two in Sydney.” [BBC]

REMEMBERING — Elias M. Stein, Mathematician of Fluctuations, Is Dead at 87 — by Kenneth Chang: “Elias M. Stein, a mathematician who pioneered work in a field that was originally devised to describe the vibrations of strings but that proved to have a wide range of applications, including charting the fluctuations of stock markets and gravitational waves, died on Dec. 23 at a hospital in Somerville, N.J… Elias Menachem Stein was born on Jan. 13, 1931, in Antwerp, Belgium. In 1940, when he was 9, German troops invaded Belgium, and the Steins, who were Jewish, fled to the United States. Elias arrived with diamonds in the soles of his shoes; his father, a diamond merchant, had hidden them there. His family settled on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.” [NYTimes]

BDAY OF THE DAY — Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Wire Ben Shapiro turns 35. Asked how he’s celebrating, Ben told JI’s Adam Rubenstein: “Had dinner with the family on Sunday night, will take my wife out for dinner some other time this week. Then it’s off to DC to speak at the March for Life.”

BIRTHDAYS: Diplomat and attorney, former domestic policy advisor to President Carter, US Ambassador to the EU (1993-1996), Deputy Secretary of Treasury (1999-2001), Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat turns 76… Professor of electro-optics at the Jerusalem College of Technology, author of several books on Science and Judaism, Yehuda “Leo” Levi, Ph.D. turns 93… Entrepreneur and philanthropist, she is the owner of The Wonderful Company which operates POM, Fiji Water, Teleflora, Wonderful Pistachios and other businesses, Lynda Rae Resnick turns 76… Teacher at Santa Barbara City College and long-time member of Congregation B’nai B’rith in Santa Barbara, Madelyn Palley turns 70… Chair of the Aspen Institute’s Middle East Program and EVP at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, formerly Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Near Eastern Affairs, Toni G. Verstandig turns 66… President and managing partner of The Stagwell Group, a private equity fund focused on the marketing services industry, Mark Penn turns 65 (h/t Playbook)…

Football coach who has worked in both the NFL and CFL, he served in 2017 and 2018 as the head coach of the Toronto Argonauts, Marc Trestman turns 63… President and CEO since 2007 of Discovery Inc., an entertainment firm whose brands comprise 20% of the ad-supported pay-TV viewership in the US, David M. Zaslav turns 59… Cryptographer, computer security specialist, blogger, writer, author of 13 books, CTO at Resilient (an IBM company), a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, Bruce Schneier turns 56… Former White House deputy press secretary, later VP at Goldman Sachs and managing director at both TPG and Mercury, LLC, Adam Levine turns 50… Basketball analyst for Fox Sports since 2017, after long stints at ESPN and CBS, he played basketball professionally in the USBL, Europe and for Maccabi Ra’anana, Doug Gottlieb turns 43… Senior policy correspondent at Vox focused on health care, Sarah Kliff turns 34…