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AIPAC Delegates Hit the Hill

Groups see Congress, not administration, as most crucial

Allison Hoffman
March 23, 2010
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan) and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, yesterday.(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan) and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, yesterday.(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

Why does AIPAC hold its annual policy conference in Washington, D.C.? It’s not just to make it easy for politicians to show up for its plenary sessions and gala dinners! This morning, a few thousand delegates, who have spent the two days focusing on various threats to the Jewish state—Iran, the Goldstone Report, daylight between it and the United States—are taking their umbrellas and fanning out across Capitol Hill to do what lobbyists do: lobby.

AIPAC’s machine is, of course, legendary. And its traditional wheelhouse is the two legislative chambers. Despite the fact that the group’s new president, Lee Rosenberg, was among Obama’s most active supporters, he pointedly told delegates the other night that, given the state of affairs between the administration and Israel, “It is Congress, the bedrock of American support for Israel, which must act.”

Act on what? On Iran sanctions, for starters. That’s the issue that tops a set of talking points staffers handed out to delegates yesterday afternoon in training sessions. What else? Obama requested $3 billion of assistance in the new foreign aid bill: given the economy, it could use some shoring from the pressure it will inevitably receive from all sides.

The delegates—most of whom have lobbied their members of Congress before, on these exact issues—seemed most anxious about how to respond if members asked about “the situation.” (The diplomatic one, not the Jersey Shore one.) One longtime legislative lobbyist for a left-leaning Jewish group told me that, at the end of the day, “This Congress isn’t going to move without the administration.” (Want evidence of that? Look no further than the fight to get the health-care legislation passed.) Accordingly, AIPAC staffers advised their charges to reassure members of Congress that the episode was “regrettable” but that they, at least, were not in conflict with the administration.

And Netanyahu? He’s also heading to the Hill for his own meetings this morning, before he goes to see Obama privately at 5:30 this afternoon.

Allison Hoffman is the executive editor of CNN Politics.