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Senate loses its left-wing leader on foreign policy

Wisconsin's Russ Feingold was no ordinary Democratic senator. He staunchly staked out unabashedly liberal positions on all things foreign policy and national security related, right up until his defeat Tuesday night.

Feingold is, or was, technically the third-ranking Democratic senator on the Foreign Relations Committee, after Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) and Chris Dodd (D-CT). With Dodd retiring, Feingold stood to become chairman if Kerry were ever tapped for secretary of state. In fact, the rumor around town is that the prospect of an independent-minded Feingold leading the panel worried the White House so much that it had negative implications on their consideration of Kerry for Foggy Bottom.

Even as a mere rank-and-file committee member, Feingold was more active on foreign policy than most. He had as many as five full-time staffers on the issues, we're told, which is more than double the contingent for the average senator. Feingold had an extensive foreign-policy agenda, the leading item of which was his call for the administration to set a flexible timetable for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

Feingold emerged after 9/11 as a champion of the liberal opposition to President George W. Bush's policies regarding the global war on terror. He was the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act in 2001 when it first came up for a vote. He voted against giving Bush authorization to wage war in Iraq and pushed for withdrawal timelines throughout the war, often ignoring the wishes of Senate Democratic leadership. He introduced a resolution to censure Bush for violating Americans' civil rights through what he said was illegal domestic wiretapping.

Over the past two years, Feingold pleaded with the Obama administration to fulfill its promise to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He also used his perch as chair of the Africa affairs subcommittee to call for changes in U.S. policy toward Sudan. Whereas the House has a caucus of dozens of liberal antiwar lawmakers, in the Senate, Feingold led the few who shared his views and made sure those views entered the public debate.

On the economic front, Feingold resisted all free-trade agreements as well as Obama's efforts to relax export controls to countries like China and India. Those in the foreign-policy community who agree with those positions just lost their greatest advocate on Capitol Hill.

Notably, Feingold was also genuinely committed to bipartisanship. He famously voted for Attorney General John Ashcroft and voted against Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner only days after Obama's inauguration. He also worked with John McCain to craft campaign finance-reform legislation.

With Feingold gone, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Democratic roster is more centrist, just as the Republican side of the bench is set to become more conservative. With Dodd also leaving the Senate this year, that's a lot of institutional knowledge to lose in one night.

And if Kerry ever does become secretary of state, Feingold is no longer in the running to replace him. Kerry's departure would leave the job of chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee up for grabs, with Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) as the early favorites.

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Pro-Israel group claims election victory

One prominent pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington is already praising the GOP takeover of the House of Representatives as a net benefit for Israel.

"While Democrats are likely to keep control of the U.S. Senate, Republicans will take over the U.S. House of Representatives following Tuesday's elections. This is likely to have implications for Israel-related issues such as Israel's relationship with the United States and the push for sanctions against Iran," said an e-mail blasted out by The Israel Project only minutes after news stations called the turnover of House control a certainty.

"The takeover of the House by Republicans is great news for Israel and her supporters," the email quotes Ari Fleischer, White House spokesman under President George W. Bush, as saying. "The House leadership and almost every single GOP member is rock-solid behind Israel. At times like this, Israel needs friends everywhere."

But the Israel Project's e-mail then quickly turns on its head and praises Congressional Democrats in the House and Senate for their staunch support of Israel.

"The House Democratic leadership has been powerfully supportive of Israel, and Speaker Pelosi has been nothing short of passionate in her successful pursuit of biting sanctions against Iran - a key interest of the pro-Israel community," The Israel Project quotes David Harris, president and CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, as saying.

So which is it? Is The Israel Project saying that Republicans or Democrats are better for Israel?

"American voters on both sides of the aisle support Israel," Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and president of The Israel Project, says in the e-mail.

The Israel Project identifies several key Congressional changes that could impact the Israel debate on Capitol Hill. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) will take over the House Foreign Affairs Committee from Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA). House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), who the Project calls "staunchly pro-Israel," will likely be the next Speaker of the House and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) could become Majority Leader, "the highest-ranking post a Jew has ever held in Congress," the e-mail points out.

The Project also points toward Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), who could become the new head of the Foreign Affairs subcommittee on terrorism, non-proliferation, and trade, and whoever will replace Barney Frank (D-MA) as head of the Finance Committee, "a key avenue for sanctions against Iran." The top three contenders for chairman are Spencer Bachus, (R-AL), Pete King (R-NY), and Royce.

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