Meet the ‘Most Kosher Bacon’ in Congress
WASHINGTON – A bright red ‘Make Airports Great Again’ baseball cap sits prominently in Representative Don Bacon’s (R-NE) office alongside pictures of his three granddaughters. The Nebraska lawmaker has voted in line with President Donald Trump’s positions 100% of the time, according to Five Thirty Eight. Similar to the real-estate mogul turned President, Bacon presents himself as an outsider and notes there was only one General serving in Congress until he ran in 2016. “I offered something unique. I think Congress needs to have people who have been successful outside of politics. We have a lot of successful politicians, but we need successful businessmen, doctors, farmers and military people,” he told Jewish Insider. While occasionally disagreeing with the President’s tone, Bacon strongly backs Trump’s key foreign policy decisions. “When it comes to targeting Assad with cruise missiles, they needed to know there is a new sheriff in town. You can’t just gas your own people. It’s a message to the world that he’s different than President Obama,” he added.
Before entering Congress, the freshman lawmaker served for nearly 30 years in the US Air Force attaining the rank of Brigadier General. During his lengthy military career, he earned two bronze stars and five Meritorious Service Medals in addition to commanding multiple tours as a Wing Commander at Ramstein Air base in Germany. Deployed to Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Bacon witnessed a particularly difficult period for US servicemen with daily mortars and rockets and 120 fatalities per month when he arrived. However, Bacon credited the surge pushed by General David Petraeus for dramatically improving the security conditions in Iraq. “The Petraeus surge really worked. I got to see it first hand. Every month we could see progress and that was incredible. Petraeus was able to use Sunni tribes to secure our wins. He turned the Sunni leadership against Al-Qaeda,” he explained. When working in Germany, Bacon highlighted how he worked with the Israeli government on long-range missile defense to combat threats from Iran.
Bacon is a steadfast backer of Israel, and he called for President Trump to take more decisive action to support the Jewish State. “Israel has Jerusalem as its capital. We ought to recognize it,” he said. The Nebraska lawmaker urged Trump to be cautious about his pursuit of the “ultimate deal” between Israelis and Palestinians. “All of our presidents come in with this vision that we can broker some major peace deal. I’m not convinced we can with the Palestinians until they recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state,” he added. “I would have encouraged Trump not to push down that path because I don’t see a good negotiating partner.”
A fan of Harley-Davidson, Bacon has been riding motorcycles since he was only 13 years old. The GOP cornhusker enjoys using his last name for political use. During the campaign, he asserted that “A vote for Bacon will always be a vote against pork.” Concluding the interview on a light note, the Nebraska lawmaker smiled and pointed out that at AIPAC events, he’s frequently introduced as the “most Kosher bacon anybody’s ever met.”
Jewish Insider: Why did you run for Congress?
Rep. Don Bacon: “I’m a 30-year air force guy and I decided to get out early. I could have stayed longer as a general, but I was concerned with the direction of the country. I wanted to get involved. My Congressman who had been there 16 years lost. I thought maybe this is why I am here. When I made the decision, we were over a trillion dollars in annual deficit. I didn’t like our foreign policy. I thought we were treating our ally Israel bad. I was concerned about nationalizing health care. I wanted to add my conservative values. I also realized that at the time we knew of one general in Congress. I feel like that I added something different: 3 decades of military service. I served in Europe and NATO and worked with the Israelis doing missile defense. I did the long-range missile defense focused on Iran. I offered something unique. I think Congress needs to have people who have been successful outside of politics. We have a lot of successful politicians, but we need successful businessmen, doctors, teachers, farmers and military people.”
JI: What were the most powerful moments from your 30 years of military service?
Bacon: “I served in Baghdad and received three rockets or mortars per day in the area that I was at. What excited me most about being there was when I got there were 120 fatalities a month: we were suffering. When I left, there were months that we got zero. The Petraeus surge really worked. I got to see it first hand. Every month we could see progress and that was incredible. Petraeus was able to use Sunni tribes to secure our wins. He turned the Sunni leadership against Al-Qaeda.”
JI: With over 400,000 dead and 4.5 million refugees, how would you assess President Trump’s handling of the Syrian crisis?
Bacon: “Better than President Obama. I don’t see an easy win here at all. In fact, I don’t see a hard win. Assad is terrible. The man has killed hundreds of thousands of his own people. He is a tyrant. ISIS to me is the bigger threat because they are trying to target us. The hard thing is if you go after one or the other you are helping one or the other. And neither one are good. Under President Obama before the Russians got here, he could have put a no fly zone. He could have shut down Assad’s air (force). And now it’s at the point now where he can’t do that with the Russians where they are.”
JI: You have been a strong supporter of President Trump. Are there any areas of disagreement?
Bacon: “I’m more on tone. I’m for NATO doing their 2% GDP. I wouldn’t have told a public forum the Germans are bad. They are our allies. There is a better way to communicate that stuff. To me, it’s more the method of delivery. When it comes to targeting Assad with cruise missiles, they needed to know there is a new sheriff in town. You can’t just gas your own people. It’s a message to the world that he’s different than Obama. On the NATO stuff, he’s push NATO to do more but the tone of it has been hard. I traveled with Speaker Ryan and talked to five presidents and prime ministers. We had to reassure each one that we are committed because there were mixed signals. Some of the messaging is not constructive. When it comes to Russia, he probably should have been clearer early that these guys are adversaries. There is no doubt they were trying to manipulate our elections. What they are really trying to do is divide us: it’s worked. It’s an information warfare campaign.”
JI: Are you concerned that President Trump did not move the US Embassy to Jerusalem as promised and his Secretary of State and National Security Advisor declined to say whether the Western Wall is part of Israel?
Bacon: “I did a press conference where I urged him not to do that. Israel has Jerusalem as its capital. We ought to recognize it. All of our presidents come in with this vision that we can broker some major peace deal. I’m not convinced we can with the Palestinians until they recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. As long as they are paying families to commit suicide operations, I just don’t see a reasonable chance of an agreement with them. Obviously, you have to prove to me that you are ready to have good peace negotiations with Israel before I would push Israel to do it. I would have encouraged Trump not to push down that path because I don’t see a good negotiating partner.
“I just think until the Palestinians show more earnestness in wanting to have peace, I wouldn’t push Israel to do it. Why negotiate with somebody who I think wants your destruction? When you look back, the Palestinians have been offered 97% (of the West Bank). That’s a number I keep hearing. They should have taken that. To me, 97% deal is good. You have got to compromise. They have not done that.”
JI: How have your town halls went when dealing with health care?
Bacon: “I have done five. We’ve had three that were more supporters than opponents there. I’ve had one where there were a lot more opponents than supporters. But, in that case it doesn’t matter. It’s been mixed. I feel good how they have turned out. There were people who disagreed with healthcare. There were people who supported the health care. It’s part of democracy. I’ve not been impressed with some of the tone: the screaming and the shouting. I just don’t think it’s conducive so I delayed doing one until April. I think most people want a dialogue: they don’t mind whether you agree or disagree but they want it to be civil.”
JI: In addition to your political views and military background, is there anything that might be a surprise to some on Capitol Hill about you?
Bacon: “I like driving Harleys. I’ve been driving motorcycles since I was 13. In my early married years, I didn’t have one. My wife realized how much I loved motorcycles and bought me one. So, Bacon likes a hog. Maybe from a Jewish perspective, I was raised in a home where my dad was very pro-Jewish. He taught me early, “those who bless Israel will be blessed,” quoting Abraham in Genesis. I traveled there when I was 15 and always had an appreciation for history. Going to the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem really tugged at my heart. When you realize, the magnitude of 6 million people lost. Then, I had the pleasure of working with the Israelis on missile defense focused on Iran. We worked with the Israelis every day.”
JI: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Bacon: “I get introduced a lot: I’m the most Kosher bacon anybody’s ever met. I got introduced that way at AIPAC.”