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Winter Storm Bibi Arrives as DHS Funding Fight Fizzles

Netanyahu addressed a joint meeting of Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Netanyahu addressed a joint meeting of Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Yellow police tape blocked access to the Capitol, a sign of enhanced security for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a colorful accent to the fight over funding the Homeland Security Department.

Why was this Tuesday different from any other? An ice storm. Black-hatted Orthodox Jews. Protesters. A Capitol Police armored car. Elie Wiesel. Robert Kraft and the Lombardi Trophy. Three floor managers at one time on the House floor. Senate President Pro Tem Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, sitting in the presiding officer chair most often occupied by the absent Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. Netanyahu’s staff live-tweeting, in violation of House rules. After weeks of rhetoric over the propriety of speaking to members of the House and Senate without coordinating with the White House, Netanyahu delivered his speech to a joint meeting of Congress.

“We’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well this is a bad deal, a very bad deal,” he said of the U.S.-led talks with Iran on its nuclear program. A few hours later, House conservatives insisted their Republican colleagues were signing onto a bad deal to fund the Homeland Security Department.

Led by Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., the conservatives wanted to turn back the clunkily dubbed motion to recede and concur in the Senate amendment, a vehicle lobbed over by the other chamber to fund the department through the end of the fiscal year and devoid of language blocking President Barack Obama’s executive actions to ease deportations of some undocumented immigrants. They failed to do so. The House voted 257-167 to fund the department through September, a clean measure it then sent to the president.

Netanyahu, who was invited by Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, to address Congress, has been accused of political expediency and of jeopardizing bipartisan support for Israel by agreeing to deliver his speech without running it by the White House first. Democrats mulled boycotting the speech.

That did not come to pass, as Democratic leaders and the rank and file by and large filled their seats in a packed chamber. Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., who said he would not attend and made Netanyahu’s breach of protocol the centerpiece of his comedic speech at last month’s Washington Press Club Foundation Congressional Dinner, said he changed his mind at the last minute at the “request of constituents and friends.”

Among the guests in the House chamber was the Nobel Peace Laureate Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and powerful symbol of Jewish resolve who was recognized by Netanyahu and applauded mightily by the chamber. Wiesel was seated near Kraft, the New England Patriots owner who was on the Hill attending the speech and parading his team’s Super Bowl trophy around the Capitol complex.

After the speech, email inboxes were crammed with members agreeing, disagreeing or forging a more neutral path.

The partisan flare-ups between Democrats and Republicans that surfaced around Netanyahu’s speech gave way shortly to intraparty combat, as House Republicans trained their fire on one another over Homeland Security funding. Democrats were content to yield virtually all their time on the floor to provide the two GOP factions, led respectively by Massie and Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, plenty of time to fight it out.

While Simpson and Appropriations ranking member Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., were the floor managers, reflecting the traditional Democrat-Republican setup, Massie and his faction noted the other two agreed on the basics of funding the department. The result was a sight not often seen: Three bill managers.

Massie initially objected to the customary waiving of the requirement to read the measure, leading to groans as the clerk began to read the entire bill. Perhaps realizing the enormity of the task and the time involved, Massie soon withdrew his request and the chamber began debate on the measure. It wasn’t the only time Massie dialed back a request to the speaker.

As the debate wound down, Massie invoked Netanyahu. “Today, we heard Mr. Netanyahu say this is the most powerful legislative branch in the world, organization in the world. I would say it is. Except for when the Senate decides it’s not. We need to stand up, use the power of the purse, exercise our constitutional duty to fund only legal and constitutional activities,” he said in closing.

Lowey was recognized and in the span of a few seconds said she supported the Senate’s motion and yielded back her time, content to let Simpson take the lead in refuting Massie. The veteran appropriator obliged, forcefully describing the position of his more junior colleague and his allies as being divorced from reality.

“If this voting to defund Homeland Security — that doesn’t have any funding for the president’s action — hurts our case, then I would say that any law that passes Congress can’t be declared unconstitutional because we all voted for it. That’s not reality,” Simpson said, imploring his colleagues to support the Senate motion. They did, or at least 75 Republicans did, joining 182 Democrats to pass the measure. Cue the one-minute speeches.

Meanwhile, outside the House chamber, another round of wintry mix blanketed Capitol Hill, falling on the heads of the CodePink types bemoaning Netanyahu’s presence, as well as the Orthodox Jewish visitors who followed the Israeli leader to the Hill.

The not-so-heavenly weather prompted the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms to close the Capitol’s North Door for a short time. An ice sheet approximately 2 feet wide and 15 feet long menacingly hung off the side of the building. With a day such as this, no one apparently wanted to take any chances.

Emma Dumain, Matt Fuller, Hannah Hess and Rachel Oswald contributed to this report.


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