Engel says Obama's Israel trip is 'great way to start the second term'
Rep. Eliot Engel thinks President Obama's planned trip to Israel should end any remaining criticism that the president is insufficiently supportive of America's closest ally in the Middle East.
"I'm happy he's doing it, I think it'll be successful," said Engel, an outspoken supporter of Israel in Congress. "I think it will put to rest what some people say that he's not pro-Israel."
Because Obama is going after the re-election campaign, Engel said, "nobody can impugn his motives."
"He's not going for political purposes," he added. "It's a great way to start the second term."
Obama's first term was marked by a contentious relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has unofficially but unmistakably aligned himself with the Republican Party in America, and with Mitt Romney in last year's presidential election.
"It's no secret that they haven't seen eye-to-eye on issues," Engel said. "This is a good way for the two leaders to sit down and have a meeting of the minds."
The trip was announced yesterday by White House press secretary Jay Carney, and comes as the administration defends the nomination of Chuck Hagel, who consistently opposed unilateral sanctions against Iran as a senator and once spoke of the adverse effects of a "Jewish lobby" in Washington.
I asked Engel if he thought Hagel should go too.
"Let him go, let him go," Engel said. "He has said some things in the past were questionable. Let him see with his own eyes."
Hagel's nomination received some key support from Sen. Chuck Schumer, who, like Engel, was an occasional critic of the administration's Israel policy during the first time.
"I think it's a very good idea that the President is going to Israel," Schumer said in a statement. "When a president goes to Israel it strengthens the bond between two great friends."