JI Interview: Meet Rep. Brad Schneider
The Dem who puts his own money where his mouth is on Israel
WASHINGTON – The 10th Congressional district in Illinois is one of the most competitive across the country. From 2010-2016, the district switched parties in four consecutive elections. Interestingly, Representative Brad Schneider (D-IL) faced his Republican rival Robert Dold in the district’s prior three elections.
Schneider is firmly outspoken in his criticism of President Donald Trump. In an interview with Jewish Insider, he explained, “The President has governed as he has campaigned, which is somewhat chaotic and inconsistent. He can say one thing on one day and have a complete reversal on the other.” When asked if the President has made any positive contributions, the Illinois lawmaker pivoted to attacking Trump’s domestic policies. “What he’s (Trump) doing on health care depriving 23 million Americans of insurance during the next decade is a massive step in the wrong direction.” While voters in the 10th Congressional District are considered more ideologically pragmatic, Schneider appears to be betting on a growing fatigue with Trump’s rhetoric and policies that might just allow a lawmaker in this district the rare opportunity to be re-elected and sent back to Washington consecutively.
A strong supporter of Israel, Schneider sent his son Adam to the Chicagoland Jewish High School (CJHS). In recent weeks, Schneider has introduced several pro-Israel bills including legislation that would boost funding for the Department of Defense to carry out research with Israel focused on tunnel detection technologies. Additionally, Schneider took the lead on a bipartisan bill that would strengthen Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME), which is especially timely given the administration’s $110 billion arms sales deal with Saudi Arabia.
Nonetheless, the Illinois lawmaker offered a nuanced take on the Taylor Force Act, a bill that would suspend US economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority if they continue to reward stipends to families of terrorists. “It’s important when you talk with Israelis, that Israel maintains its ability to work with Palestinian security forces, especially in the West Bank as Hamas tries to topple the PA. It’s important that the US continues to have its leverage and exert its influence in the region with the Palestinians,” Schneider noted.
In an increasingly polarized environment, Schneider — who previously worked as a management consultant — stands out for previous donations to Republican officials including former Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) who had previously represented Illinois-10 from 2000-2010 as well. At a 2012 debate, Schneider cited the politician’s pro-Israel record for why he sent financial support across party lines.
For the six-foot-three Schneider, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, bipartisan support of Israel remains an important cause. “Nobody wants peace more than the Israelis. Their kids have gone to war. But, they are not willing to take a bet on peace in the sacrifice of long-term security. That has always been the US position, a bipartisan position,” he said.
Jewish Insider: Can you please describe how the QME legislation that you introduced recently will tangibly improve Israel’s security?
Representative Brad Schneider (D-IL): “Today we introduced a tunnels bill. They both are related in a sense. Israel is the United States’ strongest and most important ally in the region, perhaps in the world. Part of the foundation going by to President Ronald Reagan in the 1980’s is that Israel will never be able to a quantitative advantage over those who want to do Israel harm. The sheer numbers of the Arab armies. The strategic advantage has to be a qualitative one. Better technology, training and equipment. Jumping ahead to today, the President visited Saudi Arabia: made a promise of $110 billion weapons package to Saudi Arabia. We are talking about a record setting scale. It’s important in the context of that Israel continues to maintain its qualitative military edge (QME). That the President recognize that and Congress articulate our position on that. Taking the step further: one of the important things in this new bill that when the administration is considering providing weapons that the administration consults with Israel and get its input on what the strategic implications of a sale like that would be and secondly takes into account the possibility of those weapons going from state to non-state actors given the chaos in the region. This will continue to ensure and strengthen Israel’s robust QME and in doing so keeping Israel safe.”
JI: How would you assess the Trump administration’s handling of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in securing the “ultimate deal?”
Schneider: “It’s too early to assess. These kind of conversations are just beginning. They have not resulted in any negotiations per se. The President is pursuing a path that previous administrations have tried and failed at. You see already some of the challenges that this administration will face. Earlier in the week, it was announced that the Palestinians had announced that they will stop providing payments to families of terrorists. Then, on Wednesday, and he (Tillerson) kind of hedged a little bit. We are having these discussions and the Palestinians said we will not stop doing that. This is a fraught challenge. That said: nobody wants peace more than the Israelis. Their kids have gone to war. But, they are not willing to take a bet on peace in the sacrifice of long-term security. That has always been the US position, a bipartisan position.”
JI: What is your view of the Taylor Force Act?
Schneider: “US policy is clear that the Palestinians have to stop providing payments to families of terrorists. It’s important when you talk with Israelis, that Israel maintains its ability to work with the Palestinian security forces, especially in the West Bank as Hamas tries to topple the PA. It’s important that the US continues to have its leverage and exert its influence in the region with the Palestinians. I am adamantly against these payments by the Palestinians. I am working with my colleagues here to find a way to put pressure on the Palestinians to stop it but I also understand that we need to make sure that we preserve the ability to have leverage and the Israelis to continue security cooperation with the PA.”
JI: A fierce debate has arisen regarding the role of the US in the Qatar-Saudi clash, which has spread across the Middle East. Do you believe that Washington should take an even-handed mediating role or favor one side?
Schneider: “We have to be able to have frank conversations with our allies in the region. I don’t think it’s a question if we pick Saudi Arabia or Qatar. We have a large base in Qatar. There are real concerns about providing funds to terrorist organizations. We need to be honest with them that this behavior needs to stop. We can’t ignore the fact that there are issues with Saudi Arabia. There are individuals in Saudi Arabia who also supported groups that we have had problems with. It’s not a matter of being neutral or being even-handed but about understanding the complexity and diversity of our interests and working through diplomacy with our allies to address those issues.”
JI: Putting aside Israel, how would you describe President Trump’s administration?
Schneider: “The President has governed as he has campaigned, which is somewhat chaotic, inconsistent. He can say one thing on one day and have a complete reversal on the other. It’s important for the US to develop and implement. I have real strong concerns in the area of Foreign Affairs. The President’s budget is cutting the State Department and development budget by a third. It’s a three-legged stool. Diplomacy, development and defense all go together. Secretary Mattis has said if you cut diplomacy you will have to buy more bullets. There is no more cost effective way to promote our interests in any region of the world including in the Middle East as the investment in diplomacy and development.”
JI: Can you name one positive contribution President Trump has made during his time in office?
Schneider: “We’re waiting to see. He’s talked about infrastructure. What I’ve seen so far hasn’t been positive. What he’s doing on health care depriving 23 million Americans of insurance during the next decade is a massive step in the wrong direction. What he’s doing with the environment, pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord is an absolute mistake. I have real concerns with the policies coming out of this administration. I will stand up to the policies of the administration that I disagree with but when there are opportunities to move something forward, I will work with anyone who has ideas and an open mind to solve problems together.”
JI: The 10th Congressional district has flipped changed party hands multiple times from 2012-2016. Are you concerned about the 2018 race?
Schneider: “I was the first Democrat to win in 2012. I lost in 2014 and I’m back now. I am not focused on the next election. I’m focused on serving the district today. I believe that if I pay attention to the values and priorities of the district if I work hard to represent those values and priorities in Congress, if I make sure that I stay in touch with the people I represent, I’m going to have an opportunity to make a difference in the 10th district.”
JI: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Schneider: “It’s good to be back and pick up where I left off to have the opportunity to step into a leadership role. I have the opportunity to do that particularly around the US-Israel relationship. It’s also focused on issues around education, preserving our environment and making sure our economy is working for everybody.”