Obama takes responsibility for Democratic ‘shellacking’

Republicans win at least 60 seats to reclaim the US House; Israel "indifferent to results," happy with bipartisan support for state, says Ayalon.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, JORDANA HORN
November 4, 2010 00:21
4 minute read.
US President Barack Obama

311_Obama says talk to the hand. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

 
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WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama on Wednesday acknowledged the heavy losses suffered by his party in the midterm elections and suggested he might have to scale back his ambitions during the second half of his term.

In Tuesday’s race, Republicans won at least 60 seats to reclaim the US House of Representatives four years after relinquishing it and picked up at least six US Senate seats to give Democrats a razor-thin majority that will make passing legislation difficult for both parties. Final results in several races had still not been confirmed by press time.

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Obama called the election results “a shellacking” in a White House press conference Wednesday afternoon. “It’s hard. And I take responsibility for it in a lot of ways.”

He said that Democrats would have to work together with Republicans, and that “there’s no doubt that as I reflect on the results of the election, it underscores for me that I’ve got to do a better job, just like everybody else in Washington does.”

He pointed to tax cuts and energy policy as places where he was likely to yield policy ground, but he didn’t address international issues at all during his remarks to the press.

The election itself was dominated by economic concerns as the rate of unemployment has hovered near 10 percent and Americans continued to feel insecure about their future. These worries helped fuel the ultraconservative Tea Party movement that in turn aided Republican victories, giving the GOP more seats in Congress, state legislatures and governors’ offices across the country.



Most of the Republicans who won Congressional office are considered strongly supportive of Israel, and several Israeli officials and pro-Israel groups said they were confident the tradition of bipartisan support for Israel will endure.

“Israel congratulates the American people on their celebration of democracy. We are indifferent to the actual results because we are proud of the bipartisan support for Israel,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. “The strength of our relationship is not defined by any particular political parties in Israel or the US and we will continue our strong relationship based on shared values and common goals.”

“It is abundantly clear that the 112th Congress will continue America’s long tradition of staunch support for a strong, safe and secure Israel and an abiding friendship between the United States and our most reliable ally in the Middle East,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said in a statement Wednesday.

But there have been some questions raised about what the surging Tea Party, which is focused on budget-cutting and largely opposes foreign aid, will mean for aspects of the US-Israel relationship that include funding for the Jewish state.



Eric Cantor, the US House Republican minority whip who is now expected to become Majority leader, has suggested that aid to Israel could be moved to a separate budget, perhaps allocated through defense rather than foreign operations, but that has concerned many Washington hands who think the move could leave Israel vulnerable.

There are also questions about what the Republican elevation in Congress will mean for Obama’s efforts to forge an Israeli-Arab peace, since he’s likely to face more pushback from a Republican Congress to pressure on Israel and the notion that he’s been politically weakened could play into perceptions and calculations on both sides.

Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni pushed back against the idea that any diminishment of the power of Obama – who has pressed Israel to take difficult steps – would help Israel’s situation.

“If Congressmen were elected who support Israel, this is good for Israel,” she said during a speech Wednesday. “He who says that a weak US or a weak American president is good for Israel is not just speaking stupidly, they are encouraging something that endangers Israel itself,” she added.

In a statement issued to the media, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said there is a large amount of support for Israel in both the Senate and the House both among politicians who are leaving their posts and those who were newly elected. He said that he has worked to foster strong ties with the US, and hopes to continue to work with Obama to advance the peace process and the mutual interests which exist between Israel and the US.

Zalman Shoval, a confidant of Netanyahu, was quoted by AP as saying that despite the change in Congress, foreign policy was squarely in the hands of the White House.

“Foreign policy is the prerogative of the president, even if he is weak,” said Shoval.

Though American voters were most concerned about the economy, and not the situation in the Middle East, when they cast their votes, the general mood could still have implications for Israel, according to Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Hoenlein said Tuesday’s election was mostly concerning in “what this reflects about the mood of the American people – the anger that’s there, the frustration, and how that translates.

“We don’t know what the attitude will be to American involvement in Israel in the long run,” Hoenlein said. “Right now, the American people are remarkably committed to Israel in almost record numbers, but I’m concerned.

“When you have this kind of unrest in society, it usually isn’t good,” he concluded.

Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.

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