No dinner tonight. Too many people, the AIPAC folks say, to fit around tables, so it starts later than it has in the past — 8:30. Meaning Bibi doesn’t speak until 10.
The count is officially over 13,000. There is a huge swathe of empty seats in front of the press section, but that could be because the security is so tight and the lines are so long.
The blessing was delivered by Rev. Jim Vickers, an African American pastor from Cincinnati, and Efrem Goldberg, an Orthodox rabbi from the Boca Raton.
The Maccabeats and Rick Recht
one other guy (AIPAC flacks — names, I need names!) deliver probably the best Star Spangled Banner I’ve heard in years.
The Idan Rachel Project, a keyboardist and a single female singer, deliver a rousing Hatikvah.
Richard Stone, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, says AIPAC is his most beloved son. Or something.
He also says:
I wonder if Congress has ever had a more critical role in the cause we all believe in than it has at this moment.
Obama campaign: Try not to read too much into that.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate minority leader, begins as he has in the past, remembering "Bubba" Mitchell, one of the four AIPAC leaders who transformed the organization in the 1980s.
McConnell says the current administration’s policies on Iran are "not enough," although he says they are the same as its predecessors. His point: Iran is more dangerous. Subtext: Dont blame George W. Bush, Iran wasn’t so dangerous then.
(In fact, this administration has been more aggressive than any of its predecessors in isolating Iran. And it could be argued that danger runs on a continuum — that is, if Obama’s predecessors had been more aggressive, he wouldn’t have had so far to catch up.)
His digs at the Obama administration are getting applause.
"As President Obama conceded before you yesterday," McConnell says, referring to Obama’s concerns about the dangers of a nuclear Iran in terms of emboldening terrorists. "Concede" is an interesting verb.
He is determined to prevent a nuclear Iran and I appreciate his affirmation of our common goal.
The question is why the administration’s efforts haven’t succeeded in halting Iran’s nuclear weapons program
The reason … is that its policy contains a critical flaw.
McConnell runs through Obama’s engagement policies.
But instead of using this period (Jan.-Dec. 2009) to demonstrate progress Iran used this period to continue to enrich uranium.
So Congress, impatient, stepped in to institute a sanctions programs, McConnell says.
PresidentObama "reluctantly" signed Iran sanctions and divestment act.
With this legislation Congress handed the president a tokl he did not seek.
Now the president is relying "too heavily" on sanctions and the "ambiguity" of its military policy.
This is not a policy, it is a talking point.
He wants to hear "what we will do and why."
In attempting to preserve all options, it has blurred the most important one, a … military campaign to end Iran’s nuclear program.
Chides administration for "all options" language with Syria, Iran and Libya, but without painful consequences, what does it mean? he asks. (Ask Muammar Qaddafi, who clearly got away …. Oh, wait.)
I am prepared to propose such a policy, a policy that has the clarity and specificity that the situation demands. If Iran at any time, at any time begins to enrich uranium to weapons grade levels, or decides to go forward with a weapons program, then the United States will use overwhelming force to end that program.
He expects this would have strong bipartisan support,.
If the administration is somehow reluctant to articulate it, then Congress will attempt to do it for them.
If intelligence community comes up with the goods, McConnell says he will consult with the president and authorize military force.
(UPDATE: McConnell’s proposal is not attached to any legislation I know of, and certainly not to any of the bills AIPAC activists will promote on the Hill tomorrow.)
Nancy Pelosi is speaking; her friend and past AIPAC president Amy Friedkin introduces her, noting how she carried replicas of Gilad Shalit’s dogtags while he was in captivity.
While we’re waiting for the beef of her speech, let me contextualize (okay, fisk) McConnell’s address: Any reporter dealing with sanctions can tell you that this administration has not been reluctant to embrace them. Treasury, State and Commerce are perpetually bringing in reporters to demonstrate how they are making sure third parties comply with sanctions. Sanctions and outreach were never sequential; as articulated by Dennis Ross, the point of outreach was to persuade other nations that the U.S. was testing all options toward bringing those nations on board — ie, offering carrots to Iran so the other nations would agree to use the stick. And "all options on the table" was a policy introduced by the George W. Bush administration.
Pelosi thanks AIPAC for "strong advocacy of foreign aid" — she means the whole package. This is one of the few prickly points between AIPAC and the congressional GOP. Tomorrow lobbyists will ostensibly have on their wish list maintaining current levels of Israel assistance, but Ester Kurz, AIPAC’s legislative director, made clear in a video address yesterday that they should press for the whole package. AIPAC does not under any circumstances want Israel’s assistance teased out of the global package.
Pelosi notes that Congress, under Democratic leadership, turned into law the Bush administration’s 2007 Memorandum of Understanding guaranteeing Israel an average $3 billion a year in defense assistance for ten years, and then departs from the prepared text:
Until then, we were speaking loudly but carrying a small stick.
Huh. She sounds pissed at McConnell.
Her overall point is that neither party gets to hup the Iran issue — she nods to the GOP for its passage of the most recent sanctions. But she’s not going to let the Republicans get away with saying that Democrats are trailing in this area. (In fairness, Republicans generally cast Iran toughness as Congress v. Obama. and credit congressional Democrats. But her point is that Obama should not be excluded from getting credit.)
Congress and President Obama have acted on this commitment: turning our promises of action into crippling sanctions against the Iranian regime. Thank you to AIPAC for your leadership and support. During my time as Speaker, under the leadership of Chairman Howard Berman, we enacted the strongest Iran sanctions legislation ever passed by Congress–imposing sanctions on companies that sell Iran technology, services, know-how, and materials for its energy sector. We offered foreign banks a choice: they can deal with institutions that support weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, or they can do business with the United States. But they cannot do both. In December, under Republican leadership, we built on these measures, targeting the Central Bank of Iran and further isolating the regime from the global economy.
The United States is leading the charge with our allies and at the U.N. In recent weeks, under pressure from the Obama Administration, Iranian banks have been put on a path toward expulsion from SWIFT, which is an international network used to transfer money. This action would cut off one of Iran’s only avenues left to conduct business in the global economy.