She sought to walk back her weekend remark saying that “Israel is a racist state,” but Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., found the Biden Administration, Democratic House leaders, and colleagues of both parties running away from her remarks and loudly reaffirming their embrace of the Jewish state.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed, by a 412-9 vote, a resolution declaring that Israel “is not a racist or apartheid state” and that the United States “will always be a staunch supporter.” Forty-three fellow Democrats, including three Washington colleagues, signed a letter saying they were “deeply concerned” about “unacceptable comments” by Jayapal.
President Biden announced that he had invited Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the country’s right-dominated coalition, to the White House. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, after meeting Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, tweeted: “We reiterated our special relationship, emphasizing a continued commitment to shared, fundamental values, such as respect for human rights.”
It was a second public stumble by Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, quite recently heralded by CNN and MSNBC commentators as a rising power in the House. The first flub was last fall’s letter to President Biden, signed by 30 members of the CPC, urging negotiations with Russia over its war with Ukraine, and that the U.S. “redouble efforts to seek a realistic framework for a ceasefire.”
The letter came out just as Ukraine was mounting a successful counterattack. Jayapal was forced to publicly walk it back with an effort to duck blame, saying: “The letter was drafted several months ago but unfortunately was released by staff without vetting.”
The Ukraine letter was occasion for another Jayapal walk-back. She gave up plans to seek a position in the Democrats’ House leadership. As is, the entire Democratic leadership issued a statement Sunday that began with the words: “Israel is not a racist state” and reaffirmed the “special relationship between the United States and Israel.”
Jayapal has become a familiar face on MSNBC and CNN shows. The advent of Cable TV news, shaped to ideological preferences of viewers, has put Congress’ loudest mouths on the air. On the right, Fox News has featured nasty, posturing right-wingers like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and QAnon-aligned Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. They raise millions of dollars, speak to adoring audiences, and bring down the wrath of followers on those seeking to work out society’s compromises.
Jayapal has been the star player on the left, celebrated by MSNBC hosts Rachel Maddow and Joy Reid. Far more engaging than her presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, she has starred in such gatherings as the weekend Netroots Nation conference of progressive bloggers, at which the “racist state” gaffe was made. She has written New York Times columns on her non-binary offspring and decision to get an abortion.
Both left and right claim they get dismissed for who they are. Jayapal played the race card in a Seattle Times interview, saying a “double standard” is applied to progressives: “it’s not right to call out progressives, but then not recognize that most of us who get called out are women, Black, brown, immigrant. You cannot, you just cannot skip over that.”
Similar words, in defense of Jayapal, were spoken on the House floor by Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri. C-SPAN cameras, covering the House vote, spoked Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, leader of “The Squad” of outspoken identity politicians of the left, hugging her Washington colleague.
The brouhahas over Jayapal obscure upbeat news. Our state’s delegation has, in words of the late Sen. Warren Magnuson, been home to “work horses” rather than “show horses.” The stable still contains the breed Maggie was talking about. Examples:
Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., has steadily risen as a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, and entered the leadership as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. DelBene and Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., have both chaired the more business friendly New Democrat Coalition. Kilmer has chaired a bipartisan committee assigned to find ways the House can work more effectively.
As chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, when Democrats were in the majority, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., produced and passed a defense authorization bill free of the ideological riders that Republicans attached to this year’s legislation. Smith worked with U.S. military leaders as they pushed back on efforts to politicize the Pentagon during the last, disastrous year of the Trump Administration.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., crafted and won bipartisan support for the CHIPS Act, a $280 billion, five-year package designed to restore domestic microchip production and make the United States more competitive against China. The legislation even garnered a vote from Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
Newly elected Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp-Perez, D-Wash., is co-chair of the “Blue Dog Coalition” a centrist group committed, in her words, to “fiscal stability, national security, rural America and blue-collar work.” A fellow rookie Democrat, Rep. Mary Peltola of Alaska, is the other co-chair.
Jayapal occupies one of Congress’ safest seats, and the House has a large block of progressives. Problem is, they’ve not yet fathomed that a seat at the table doesn’t entitle you to eat the entire meal. Effective liberals have learned on the job, however. Initially hazed and treated as a pest by Congress’ elders, Sen. Hubert Humphrey became, in Lyndon Johnson’s words, “my link with the bomb throwers” and a major player on civil rights. Seattle Rep. Mike Lowry did deals with Southerners as a member of the House Budget Committee, trading support for veterans benefits in exchange for aid to the homeless.
This week, however, is for backpedaling. Jayapal ended up voting for the Israel resolution. She could grit her teeth at providing cover for House Republicans’ clumsy leadership. The GOP leadership was itself under fire for inviting longshot Democratic presidential candidate (and conspiracy theorist) Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., to testify at a Thursday hearing on censorship.
Kennedy was outed in the New York Post last week for alleging, at a Manhattan fundraiser, that the COVID-19 virus was engineered to spare Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese. Of course, he offered no supporting evidence and ducked behind the claim of media persecution.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has refused calls to disinvite Kennedy, thereby offering him a national platform. At the same time, however, McCarthy has said he is outraged – outraged – at Jayapal’s “racist state” remark and called on the Congressional Progressive Caucus to remove her as its chair.