WASHINGTON (JTA) — Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has tried hard to distract attention from the government shutdown triggered by President Donald Trump’s quest for funding for a $5.7 billion wall with Mexico.
The majority leader’s job just got more complicated after a fellow Kentucky Republican, Sen. Rand Paul, defected from a policy that McConnell has tried to use to bludgeon Democrats: passing legislation to attack Israel boycotts.
On Thursday, writing in The American Conservative, Paul said that as much as he opposed boycotting Israel, he opposed using government to limit boycotts more.
“I strongly oppose any legislation that attempts to ban boycotts or ban people who support boycotts from participating in our government or working for our government,” Paul said.
Twice this week McConnell has tried to advance a bill that would codify into law the $38 billion in defense assistance over ten years former President Barack Obama promised Israel. The bill would also create federal laws that would protect from lawsuits states that pass laws banning business with Israel boycotters. Each time, Democrats filibustered the bill. McConnell was set Friday to try a third time.
Democrats say they don’t want to move on any legislation until government reopens. A substantial number in their ranks also oppose legislation targeting boycotters on free speech grounds, however much they otherwise oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.
An argument this week, advanced by McConnell and the bill’s main sponsor, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is that Democrats are in fact soft on BDS, and fear being exposed in a floor vote. Paul may have just crippled that argument.