Cantor, Israel, and the Midterms

There’s certainly something odd about House GOP leader Eric Cantor telling a foreign Prime Minister that he intends to side with the foreign government against US government policy. But of course all that’s really going on here is that Cantor is speaking a bit too candidly about something everyone knows to be true—the government of Israel’s policy preferences carry a lot of weight in the US Congress.

I think the more interesting issue is that objectively speaking Cantor’s claim that the GOP takeover of congress decreases Barack Obama’s leverage over Bibi Netanyahu is mistaken. After all, it was already the case before the election that Netanyahu had a working legislative majority in the House on key issues. The real change is the decline in importance of guys like Henry Waxman, Howard Berman, Anthony Weiner, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Alan Grayson, and other strongly AIPAC-friendly members of congress who are reliably liberal on domestic issues. It used to be that Barack Obama had an ambitious legislative agenda that relied on the active support of this group of people. That gave them some leverage even over the aspects of American foreign policy that the congress doesn’t have any formal responsibility for.

Now things have changed. It’s true that Eric Cantor will do what he can to obstruct Obama’s policy toward Israel, but Eric Cantor can also be relied upon to disagree with Obama quite systematically about almost everything. The result is that while Obama’s set of politically feasible options vis-à-vis Israel is still constrained, it’s in practice less constrained than it was before the election precisely because the other constraints on him are now tighter.