Editorial Roundup: United States

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

Nov. 3

The Washington Post on House Speaker Mike Johnson:

The House passed on Thursday night a proposal by Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) that pairs $14.3 billion in emergency funding for Israel with $14.3 billion in cuts to the Internal Revenue Service, but the unserious plan will go nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate. And President Bidenhas promised a veto if it somehow winds up on his desk. What happens after the show vote will become the first test of Mr. Johnson’s capacity for national leadership since taking the gavel on Oct. 25.

The hopeful view of this help-Israel-and-cut-the-IRS gambit is that it’s cynical: Mr. Johnson follows in the footsteps of previous speakers, from both parties, who have brought up extreme legislation to appease party hard-liners before moving on to something more pragmatic. If that’s his play, it can serve as the prelude to what would become a good-faith negotiation to fund the United States’ most important ally in the Middle East as it defends itself from an Iran-backed terrorist movement guilty of horrific atrocities.

The more unsettling possibility is that the neophyte speaker wants to embody the role of “MAGA Mike Johnson,” as former president Donald Trump dubbed him on social media, in an effort to consolidate power inside the House GOP conference. In that case, Mr. Johnson is engaging in legislative obstructionism and brinkmanship even at the risk of undermining key bipartisan foreign policy objectives. In addition to cutting help for Ukraine and resources to increase border security from his bill, the speaker also cut out the White House’s proposals for humanitarian assistance for Palestinians.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) argues poignantly that supporting the self-defense of Ukraine against Russia and Israel against Hamas are interconnected struggles for freedom against authoritarianism. But Mr. Johnson, who received backing from a wing of the party that openly scorns Mr. McConnell, says he is determined to consider funding for Israel and Ukraine separately.

That could be defensible, barely, if he were to bring separate bills on each piece of Mr. Biden’s emergency supplemental request to the floor. Instead of doing that, Mr. Johnson is injecting a tax-policy poison pill. Even if the speaker were to do this to offset the cost of helping Israel, defunding the IRS would be counterproductive. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said on Wednesday that Mr. Johnson’s plan would lead to a $26.8 billion decline in revenue. The head of the tax agency estimates that the proposal would ultimately increase the deficit by $90 billion over 10 years. It’s obvious that fewer tax collectors, and less technological modernization, will mean less revenue gets collected.

This posturing comes in the context of Mr. Johnson’s having ascended to the speakership after nearly a month of chaos and the rejection of three other GOP nominees. He benefited from the Republicans’ sheer fatigue and a lack of enemies. Mr. Johnson is the least experienced House member to get the gavel since 1883.

Reasons to be nervous abound. During Mr. Trump’s effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election, Mr. Johnson recruited 125 House Republicans to join him in signing an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to throw out the results in four states won by Mr. Biden. He has supported efforts to ban abortionnationally, opposed a bill last year to codify same-sex marriage rights and has referred to the “ so-called separation of church and state.”

But there are glimmers of hope that he’ll grow into the role. He is mild-mannered and preaches civility. Because he has political capital with ultraconservatives, Mr. Johnson might have more leeway to make compromises than former speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who always feared — for good reason, it turns out — that hard-liners would deploy a motion to vacate against him. Moreover, every House seat will be on the ballot again a year from now, so Mr. Johnson has incentives to govern in a way that will not imperil his party’s five-seat majority. The GOP must defend 18 seats next year in districts carried by Mr. Biden in 2020, so part of the new speaker’s job is not alienating moderate suburbanites.

At least rhetorically, he also espouses a traditional Reaganesque view of national security that emphasizes the importance of U.S. global leadership. His congressional district includes Barksdale Air Force Base, headquarters of the Air Force Global Strike Command, and Fort Johnson, the Army post formerly known as Fort Polk.

In a new job with such a steep learning curve, Mr. Johnson deserves a minimum of grace and patience — but not an infinite amount. Now that this defund-the-IRS bill has passed the House, with only 12 Democratic votes, Mr. Johnson should allow Congress to pass Mr. Biden’s supplemental funding proposal so that Israel, Ukraine and our own southern border get the help they need.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/11/03/mike-johnson-house-israel-funding/


Nov. 3

The New York Times on a humanitarian pause in Gaza:

Four weeks ago, Israel began its military campaign to defeat Hamas, in retaliation for the attack on Oct. 7 that killed more than 1,400 people, kidnapped some 240 others and destroyed a fundamental sense of security for all Israelis. Israel has a right to defend itself against this threat at its border, and the United States, its closest ally, has rightly pledged to stand by its side until that sense of security is restored.

But the fight against Hamas is not a war against another nation, one that respects international law or the laws of war. Hamas is a terrorist group, one whose founding charter called for nothing less than the destruction of the Jewish state. “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it,” the group’s founding charter says in its preface, quoting Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. And while it may cling to the idea that it represents Palestinians, Hamas has shown that it has little regard for the lives of civilians in Gaza: Hamas militants have long hidden themselves in mosques and schools and hospitals, intentionally placing civilians in harm’s way.

People around the world, including in the United States, who have justified the attacks by Hamas would do well to understand exactly what this group continues to stand for.

This situation makes Israel’s fight against Hamas exceptionally difficult. As a liberal democracy, the only one in the Middle East, Israel has made a commitment under international law to protect Palestinian civilians while pursuing its military objectives. While it is true that Hamas has made no such commitment, Israel holds itself to a different, higher standard. It cannot allow anger and the desire for vengeance to undermine its moral obligations.

After weeks of airstrikes by Israel and the continued firing of rockets by Hamas, civilians in Gaza have paid a grave price. Thousands have lost their lives or suffered serious injuries. As reporters for The Times detailed, Gazans under siege “say there is a surge of severely injured children entering hospitals, doctors operating without anesthesia and morgues overflowing with bodies.” There are shortages of food, water and fuel needed to power everything from desalination plants to generators.

That is why so many of Israel’s allies, including President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have called for a humanitarian pause to see to the urgent and immediate needs of civilians. Restoring access to food and safe drinking water should be first priorities, as well as delivering medical supplies and other essential aid. Israel has expressed concern that aid will only be diverted to support Hamas, but it is worth trying to get it to the civilians who desperately require it.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far resisted them, those calls have grown louder and more insistent after Israel’s recent bombardment of the Jabaliya neighborhood in Gaza, which Israel said targeted Hamas militants located there. UNICEF, a children’s aid organization, described the damage as “horrific and appalling,” and it said in a statement that the attacks follow weeks of bombardment “that have reportedly resulted in more than 3,500 children killed.”

A pause in hostilities between Hamas and the Israel Defense Forces would not be, as Mr. Netanyahu declared recently, a surrender to terrorism, nor is a pause the equivalent of a cease-fire, as a White House official noted. Israel has warned that a blanket cease-fire would accomplish little at this point other than allowing Hamas time to regroup.

A humanitarian pause, in contrast, would give some relief to Gazan civilians and allow Israel to make progress on another key part of its objectives: the release of hostages. Two American hostages were freed during an earlier brief pause in shelling, and another pause, or a series of them, could allow more of the hostages still believed to be held by Hamas a chance at being returned to their families.

A humanitarian pause would also allow more of the millions of civilians who remain in Gaza an opportunity to move to relative safety until the hostilities end. The Rafah border crossing was opened earlier this week, allowing hundreds of foreigners, including dozens of Americans, to leave Gaza and enter Egypt.

For any such measure to be effective, both sides in this conflict must abide by it. Hamas would have to agree, through its interlocutors, to stop launching rockets at Israel. Arab countries in the region should also put pressure on Hamas to release all of its hostages, which include many women and children.

There is no guarantee that a humanitarian pause, particularly in a conflict with a terrorist group, will ensure the safe return of hostages or end the suffering of civilians. It is certain, however, that inaction will lead to more civilian suffering and may increase the risk that this conflict will spark a regional conflagration. Already, supporters of Hamas in the region and elsewhere are using the deaths of Palestinians to urge Hezbollah and other armed groups to join the fight against Israel — while absolving Hamas for its role in Gaza’s suffering.

Israel’s leaders have tried from the outset of this conflict to prepare their country for a long war, and a humanitarian pause is unlikely to change that fact. But it is a vital step to ease the burden on civilians in Gaza, and to allow international aid agencies, which are essential to life in Gaza, to keep functioning. Israeli officials have so far been willing to hear the concerns of allies who have pressed Israel to live up to its commitments to the laws governing conflict. Those laws are designed both to regulate conduct during hostilities and also to create a baseline of humanity for what follows.

ONLINE: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/03/opinion/gaza-israel-humanitarian-pause-ceasefire.html


Nov. 5

The Wall Street Journal on Biden's potential reelection:

Public-opinion polls are a snapshot in time, and results can change quickly in politics as events intrude. But the polls have been sending Democrats and President Biden the same election warning for months, so perhaps they’ll eventually start listening.

The latest Siena College-New York Times poll of six battleground states, released on the weekend, is a five-alarm fire for Democrats a year before the election. It shows Mr. Biden losing to Donald Trump in five of six states on which the 2024 election is likely to hang.

Mr. Biden trails Mr. Trump by 10 points in Nevada, six in Georgia, five in Arizona and Michigan, and four in Pennsylvania. He leads only in Wisconsin in the survey, and there by two points. Those are awful numbers for an incumbent and would add up to more than 300 votes in the Electoral College. Numbers like that could help the GOP pick up Senate seats in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona.

Especially striking is that Mr. Biden does worse than even Vice President Kamala Harris against Mr. Trump. A generic, unnamed Democrat leads Mr. Trump by eight points. This suggests voters have soured on Mr. Biden in particular, and the survey shows 71% of voters think he is too old to run again, including 51% of Democrats.

The usual caveats apply. The election is still a year away, and Mr. Trump has benefited from his relative lack of exposure while being out of office. As voters focus on the election next year, Mr. Trump’s manifest liabilities will reassert themselves. And that’s before his three criminal trials play out, two of which are scheduled for the first half of next year.

But the results in survey after survey show that Mr. Biden is in perilous re-election shape. His Bidenomics pitch hasn’t worked as voters remain sore about rising prices and a fall in real wages during his Presidency. His age and carriage are huge weaknesses even against the 77-year-old Mr. Trump.

The war in the Middle East is now dividing Mr. Biden’s coalition, as anti-Israel progressives turn on the President. We think Mr. Biden deserves credit for supporting Israel, and so do most Democrats. But in a closely divided country, even a small defection by a core group of voters can turn a swing state.

All of this should be cause for soul-searching in the Oval Office and with Jill Biden in the private White House residence. There’s a compelling case that Mr. Biden can best help his party, and the country, by announcing he won’t run again. He can say he wants to focus on helping Ukraine and Israel defend themselves against Russia and terrorist militias, and let younger Democrats take on Mr. Trump.

In 2020 Mr. Biden won as the Democrat most likely to beat Mr. Trump, and he did. But he now risks squandering that legacy by losing to Mr. Trump in a rematch. Mr. Biden surely doesn’t want to go down in history as the Democrat who overstayed his welcome and restored Donald Trump to power.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-five-alarm-biden-re-election-fire-nyt-siena-trump-2024-2f3f826c


Nov. 7

The Los Angeles Times on SCOTUS, domestic abusers and gun relinquishment:

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider the consequences of its extraordinarily reckless opinion in the notorious Bruen gun case when it hears arguments Tuesday on whether the 2nd Amendment forbids laws that require domestic abusers to temporarily relinquish their deadly weapons.

The hearing follows the court’s announcement that it will soon also take up a federal ban on so-called bump stocks — equipment that can turn a semiautomatic rifle into a weapon that fires almost as rapidly as a machine gun.

It is tempting to believe that the court will recognize its overstep last year in New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn, Inc. vs. Bruen, and back up enough to find gun violence restraining orders within the ambit of the Constitution and within Americans’ power to protect themselves from escalating gun violence.

But don’t be too sure. The Bruen opinion expressed the court majority’s slavish devotion to originalism — a fundamentalist doctrine that looks to late 18th century conditions to determine the constitutionality of modern laws.

Following the court’s originalist template, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year invalidated a federal statute dealing with domestic violence restraining orders because when the Bill of Rights was drafted, there were no domestic violence laws that included temporary relinquishment of guns. If the justices agree with the appeals court’s ruling, red flag laws in California and 19 other states would likely go down along with the federal law.

That would be disastrous. About a quarter of women murdered in the U.S. each year are killed by current or former partners using guns. The killers tend to give warnings in the form of threats or prior attacks, and potential victims can petition courts for emergency orders that require accused abusers to give up their guns temporarily and refrain from purchasing new ones. The Supreme Court may well snatch away that shield.

The case at hand deals with a Texas man named Zackey Rahimi, who assaulted his girlfriend and threatened to shoot her if she told police. Her petition to a Texas court for a domestic violence restraining order was granted, and after several incidents in which Rahimi fired guns in public, police searched his home and found numerous weapons. He was charged with violating a 1994 federal law that bars people under domestic violence restraining orders from possessing or purchasing guns.

His challenge rests in part on the argument that he wasn’t yet convicted of anything, so he lost his ability to exercise his 2nd Amendment right without due process. Yet there are many instances in which courts uphold laws or procedures temporarily suspending civil rights, for example when a person accused of a crime is jailed before arraignment or trial. Liberty is at least as fundamental a right as gun possession. Its loss, pending trial, ought to be acceptable upon a showing that there is no less restrictive way to protect the public from potential harm.

The drafters of the Bill of Rights, it goes without saying, were ignorant of the 21st century United States. They knew nothing of large cities, police departments, women’s rights, semiautomatic weapons, the modern military. They wrote for a handful of states tucked between the Atlantic and the Appalachians, at a time of slavery and sharply restricted citizenship. They distrusted standing armies and saw the ability of men to grab their Brown Bess muskets and assemble as at Lexington and Concord to repel an enemy, or to answer the “hue and cry” to track down an accused felony suspect, to be as fundamental to their limited version of democracy as assembling to debate or lining up to vote.

But they knew they were framing rules for a future they could not see, so they wrote in the broadest possible terms, making clear their goal was the “security of a free state,” and leaving it to their descendants to interpret for themselves exactly what it means to infringe on the right to keep and bear arms.

The originalist approach turns the words of the 2nd Amendment into brittle things that cannot encompass the needs of present-day Americans without also endangering them in a way the authors surely did not intend. It is one thing for the people to retain the power to confront an enemy or catch a thief (even though we now have armies spread across the world and police departments in every town and city). It is quite another for them to be powerless even to temporarily protect themselves against one of their own number who has demonstrated a propensity to harm them.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2023-11-07/editorial-domestic-violence-second-amendment


Nov. 1

The Guardian on a plan for the future of Palestinians

For Palestinians in Gaza, life is endured moment to moment, not knowing whether there will be food for their children’s next meal, or clean water for an ailing parent, or – with the death toll now having reached at least 8,796, according to the Gaza health ministry – whether their family will even survive the day.

Israel, however, must look ahead to address what will happen in Gaza “the day after” the war with Hamas. The devastation and need will be almost unimaginable. Though the ground offensive is under way, Benjamin Netanyahu does not have an endgame for this conflict, the extension of which may extend his own tenure as prime minister. Unless Israel can offer such a plan, US patience is likely to run out.

After the atrocities of 7 October, when Hamas killed at least 1,400 Israelis and others, control of Gaza by whatever of the group survives will not be tolerated again. But as the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, told a Senate panel on Tuesday: “We also can’t have – and the Israelis start with this proposition themselves – Israel running or controlling Gaza.”

Instead, Israel is floating implausible ideas. Mr Netanyahu reportedly sought to convince European leaders to pressure Egypt to accept refugees, at least temporarily: an old idea given new life. An Israeli thinktank led by former officials published (then deleted) a paper recommending the “unique and rare opportunity to evacuate the whole Gaza Strip”; a leaked report from an Israeli government research body reportedly advocated the forcible and permanent transfer of all 2.2 million inhabitants. Cairo has been absolutely clear that this is a non-starter, not least because all foresee that Palestinians are unlikely to be able to return.

Nor is there enthusiasm for another idea reportedly explored by the US and Israel, which would see regional powers take control temporarily, backed up by a multinational force, possibly including US and British troops. It is hard to see western leaders opting to put their personnel in harm’s way. More plausible might be an Arab peacekeeping force, funded by Riyadh. The UAE has stressed that it is not pulling back from its normalisation of ties with Israel, and the White House says that Saudi Arabia is still open to a deal. But politically, they could not sign up without a proper deal for Palestinians.

All this leads to the Palestinian Authority, whose prime minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, told the Guardian that it would not run Gaza without a solution for the West Bank. Its already tattered political credibility with its people, many of whom regard it as not only corrupt but as a security contractor for the Israeli state, would be nonexistent.

The relentless expansion and entrenchment of settlements led even many ardent supporters of the two-state solution to conclude that it was no longer feasible. Now it is clear that sweeping it off the table also failed. If the repeated invocation of the two-state solution by western leaders in recent days was partly intended to deflect criticism of their failure to condemn the enormous civilian toll of Israel’s offensive, it also reflects a growing sense that there is no longer a choice. Mohammed Dahlan, sometimes cited as a possible, if controversial, future leader of the Palestinians, also laid out a postwar path to a future state this week. The terrain could not, however, be less promising or more treacherous. It is clear that it cannot be crossed under the current political leadership.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/nov/01/the-guardian-view-on-gaza-after-the-war-there-must-be-a-plan-for-the-future-of-palestinians