It’s difficult to quantify whether Jews are in line to hold any sort of a record number of top positions in the Obama administration or the next Congress, but it’s clear that a large number of Jews stand to serve in key positions.
Among the latest is U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman.
The California Democrat dethroned Michigan’s John Dingell to chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The panel has jurisdiction over critical areas including potential legislation setting pollution standards, health care and energy policy.
Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia will be the No. 2 Republican leader in the House, where Reps. Robert Wexler and Debbie Wasserman Schultz saw their stocks go up after their campaign efforts on behalf of President-elect Barack Obama in Florida.
In addition to Rahm Emanuel as Obama’s chief of staff, Ron Klain will play the same role for Vice President-elect Joe Biden.
Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod will serve as a senior advisor to the president.
Penny Pritzker, the Hyatt hotel heiress, was supposedly in line to head the Commerce Department, but The Washington Post says she’s unlikely to take the job. Politico quotes unnamed officials saying she took herself out of the running because of concerns that past business dealings would pose confirmation problems.
Pritzker was named one of the top picks on this year’s Forward 50 list.
Another name being thrown around for a possible administration posts include Larry Summers at Treasury.
Hello pot, the kettle’s on Line 3.
Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who doesn’t exactly have the strongest bona fides when it comes to Israel or any foreign policy, is questioning whether Democrat Barack Obama is really as staunch a supporter of Israel as he contends.
CBS News reports that at a rally in Bowling Green, Ohio, Palin questioned the Democratic presidential nominee’s Israel commitment.
Palin’s remarks came as she raised the issue of a 2003 banquet for Rashid Khalidi, who has been referred to as a former PLO spokesman and has been critical of Israel. Khalidi is now a Columbia University professor.
Today’s New York Times also has a story on the controversy.
Conservative bloggers and more recently John McCain’s campaign have questioned why the Los Angeles Times won’t release a video tape it has of the event.
“And the twist here is that there’s a videotape of a party for this person, back in 2003, a celebration of him, and Barack was there, and we know some very derogatory things were said there about Israel and America’s support for that great nation,” CBS reports Palin said. “And among other things, Israel was described there as the perpetrator of terrorism instead of the victim.”
“What we don’t know is how Barack Obama responded to these slurs on a country that he now professes to support,” she said.
In responding, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., suggested that Palin look in the mirror before throwing out charges.
“Gov. Sarah Palin – who prior to her nomination for Vice President had never spoken publicly about Israel in any major forum – has no standing to question Barack Obama’s unshakable commitment to Israel and its security,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “He has demonstrated this commitment over many years through word, deed, legislation, and votes. Frankly, her attempts to question Barack Obama on Israel are unfounded and pathetic.”
Supporters of Barack Obama readily acknowledge a lingering reluctance among many Jewish voters to embrace the presumptive nominee. The campaign has recently stepped up its outreach to Jewish voters and the Jewish community at large, including naming long-time adviser Daniel Shapiro to a formal role in the Obama campaign.
Jewish and political leaders say the effort to win over voters has proven particularly difficult in South Florida.
But could the solution to Obama’s problem be as simple as noshing on a bagel and lox?
Maybe, says U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who has been tapped by the Obama campaign to speak with Jewish leadership councils in Florida and addressed the Denver-area council over the weekend.
“He just has a learning curve with our voters, which he’s going to rapidly close when we bring him down and take him around for some bagels and cream cheese in the condos,” Wasserman Schultz said Sunday during a National Jewish Democratic Council reception outside the Golda Meir House in Denver.
Senior citizens and South Floridians are beginning to embrace Obama because they understand that beyond the issue of Israel Republican John McCain is not in sync with Jewish voters on domestic and social issues, she contends.
Other Jewish leaders, though, say the Obama campaign’s outreach efforts have been hampered because most of the Illinois senator’s Jewish surrogates are more liberal or progressive.
“He needs a Joe Lieberman type,” said Rabbi Marc Schneier, referring to the Connecticut Democratic senator turned Independent who has been supporting McCain. Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic nominee for vice president, remains a popular figure with many Conservative and Orthodox Jews.
Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and a past president of the North American Board of Rabbis, says it’s critical for Obama to have more conservative surrogates if he is going to be able to acquire wider support within the Jewish community.
“You cannot ignore those and the standing of the orthodox Jewish community,” he said.
The Washington Post has a great story today about the record (albeit still pretty miniscule) number of women in Congress with children under the age of 13.
The grand total, by the way, is 10. This is in a year when the total number of women in Congress is itself at a record high, with 16 women in the Senate and the 74 in the House.
Ironically, the story points out, the new five-day per week schedule adopted by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (herself a mother and grandmother) is particularly grueling on parents:
“We have a lot of long weeks in Washington and short days, not using the time well at all,” said Rep. Heather Wilson, a Republican from New Mexico, according the Post.
Sophomore Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida gets marquee billing in the story. According to the Post, Wasserman Schultz, a mother of eight-year-old twins and a three-year-old daughter, keeps her kids close by hosting each separately for one week in Washington while Congress is in session.
And when she’s stuck at a candidates’ forum and can’t find a pen, she’s not above pulling out a peach crayon from her purse.