Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move

He has sided with foreign autocrats over his own intelligence community; backed foreign dictators over his own military commanders; and supported foreign despots over his own allies abroad. 

But President TrumpDonald John TrumpFlorida GOP lawmaker says he's 'thinking' about impeachment Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort Kurdish group PKK pens open letter rebuking Trump's comparison to ISIS MORE broke new ground on Thursday when he urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE to deny two Muslim congresswomen entrance to the country for a fact-finding visit, accusing them of harboring hatred toward “Israel & all Jewish people.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The move reverberated across Washington, as pro-Israel groups condemned the president for threatening U.S.-Israel relations; foreign policy experts chimed in with warnings of frayed diplomatic ties; and stunned Democrats issued waves of statements denouncing Trump for pressuring a foreign government to deny his American political opponents rights of free passage. 

Some characterized the development as unprecedented. 

“I can't think of any other president, Democrat or Republican, doing something as outrageous as this,” Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanTop progressive calls for Pompeo's salary to be withheld over Sondland's blocked testimony Democrats take Trump impeachment case to voters Democrats press Nadler to hold Lewandowski in contempt MORE (D-Wis.), a co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Thursday by phone. “If this is just providing cover for Netanyahu, that's wrong. If this is Donald Trump playing politics, that's wrong.

“Once again, Donald Trump is denigrating the office of the presidency,” he added.

Robert Danin, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said it’s “unprecedented to have a president urge a foreign country not to welcome two elected members of the United States Congress to their country.”

Danin, a former career State Department official who specialized in Middle East issues, argued that Trump has done Israel a disservice by politicizing U.S. support for Israel, and said it was “embarrassing” for Netanyahu to be seen as bowing to Trump’s demands after the Israeli government initially indicated it would allow the congresswomen to travel there.

“I think it's worrisome on a number of fronts,” said Danin, who is also a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. “It’s worrisome for the U.S.-Israel relationship. It’s further politicizing the relationship between Israel and the United States in U.S. politics.”

“He’s trying to do harm to the Democratic Party,” Danin said of Trump. “Normally, we have a tradition of keeping politics at the water’s edge.” 

Heading into the week, it appeared that Tlaib, a daughter of Palestinian immigrants, and Omar, a Somali-born refugee to the U.S., had been cleared to visit Israel and occupied regions controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, said last month that all members of Congress would be welcome to enter Israel, “out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America." The trip was scheduled to begin Sunday.

That promise evaporated on Thursday when Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, announced that Tlaib and Omar were not welcome, citing Israel’s entrance ban on “anyone who denies our right to exist in the world.” 

Both Tlaib and Omar have been roundly criticized — even by many of their fellow Democrats — for their position on Israel, including their support for the so-called boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, an international campaign designed to press Israel on human rights issues surrounding the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Hotovely’s announcement came roughly an hour after Trump promoted the notion of blocking the visit. 

“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning. “They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!”

Netanyahu is facing a tough new election on Sept. 17, when he hopes to rally fractured conservatives to his side, and there had been reports before Trump’s tweet that Israel was poised to prevent the trip. It's unclear whether his pronouncement tipped the scales on the decision. 

But Democrats wasted no time linking the two events, vilifying Trump and Netanyahu alike for trying to score political points at the expense of sitting Congress members.

“This action gives in to the basest forms of prejudice, as well as consciously damages the vital and strong relationship our two nations have enjoyed for more than 70 years,” said Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.), another Muslim lawmaker. “This is an obvious appeasement of President Trump’s wishes, and a blatant political calculation to appeal to Israel’s right-wing parties.”

The move was roundly criticized by foreign policy experts as well as supporters of Israel, with some arguing that the decision weakened Israel’s reputation and played into a political talking point.

“Israel’s PM has turned 2 critics into martyrs, weakened its reputation as the region’s strongest democracy, & jeopardized the tradition of bipartisan American support for Israel-all to give in to @realDonaldTrump’s desire for a political talking point. Talk about short-sighted!” tweeted Richard Hass, a foreign policy veteran of both Bush administrations and the current president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

As usual, the overwhelming majority of Hill Republicans did their best to steer clear of Trump’s latest controversy. But it was serious enough that a handful of prominent GOP lawmakers spoke out against it.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: GOP lawmakers offer election security measure | FTC Dem worries government is 'captured' by Big Tech | Lawmakers condemn Apple over Hong Kong censorship Lawmakers condemn Apple, Activision Blizzard over censorship of Hong Kong protesters Youth climate activists get Miami Beach to declare climate emergency MORE (R-Fla.), a staunch ally of Israel who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, called Israel’s decision a “mistake,” while Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe On The Money: Senate fails to override Trump veto over border emergency | Trump resort to host G-7 next year | Senators to push Turkey sanctions despite ceasefire | McConnell tees up funding votes MORE (R-Maine) singled out the Trump administration for urging Israel to deny the women entry.

“Instead, the Administration should have encouraged Israel to welcome the visit as an opportunity for Reps. Tlaib and Omar to learn from the Israeli people,” Collins tweeted. “We have to be willing to talk if we want people to change their views.”

Several other Republicans offered support for Israel’s decision, including Sens. Rick Scott (Fla.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham says he shares Kurdish 'concerns' over cease-fire Majority of Americans believe Trump's Syria move has damaged US reputation: poll Senate GOP braces for impeachment trial 'roller coaster' MORE (S.C.).

Since he took office in January 2017, Trump has defied presidential norms — especially in the area of foreign policy. At times, his approach has shocked Democrats and Republicans alike.

At a joint news conference in Helsinki last year, Trump defended Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinCongress plays party politics regarding Syria and Saudis Pelosi, Schumer hit 'flailing' Trump over 'sham ceasefire' deal Pompeo to meet Netanyahu as US alliances questioned MORE even though his own U.S. intelligence community concluded that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election.

ADVERTISEMENT

Trump later invited Putin to the White House, a move that unnerved the president’s top intelligence official at the time, Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray Coats281 lobbyists have worked in Trump administration: report Former intelligence chief Coats rejoins law firm Remembering leaders who put country above party MORE.

Trump has repeatedly sided with Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnKim poses for photos on white horse on sacred mountain, plans 'great operation' Beware the 34th month of Trump's presidency The Trump doctrine: Principled realism or endemic confusion? MORE, saying the North Korean dictator has not been testing ballistic missiles, contradicting some of his own U.S. military officials.

At a meeting in Brussels, Trump bashed NATO allies as “delinquent” for not contributing more in defense funding, ripping close ally Germany as being a “captive of Russia.”

But Trump’s tweet on Thursday morning seemed to leave even his biggest, most vocal critics aghast.

“Israel’s denial of entry to Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar is a sign of weakness, and beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel,” said Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCummings to lie in state at the Capitol House Republicans 'demand the release of the rules' on impeachment Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union —Dem wants more changes to Pelosi drug pricing bill | Ebola outbreak wanes, but funding lags | Johnson & Johnson recalls batch of baby powder after asbestos traces found MORE (D-Calif.). “The President’s statements about the Congresswomen are a sign of ignorance and disrespect, and beneath the dignity of the Office of the President.”

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump knocks Romney as 'Democrat secret asset' in new video Giuliani asked State Dept. to grant visa for ex-Ukraine official at center of Biden allegations: report Perry won't comply with subpoena in impeachment inquiry MORE, the Democratic front-runner who hopes to face Trump next year, was just one of many 2020 hopefuls who condemned Trump’s meddling.

“No democracy should deny entry to visitors based on the content of their ideas — even ideas they strongly object to,” Biden said. “And no leader of the free world should encourage them to do so.”