Republicans Struggle to Address Trump at Jerusalem Celebration

WASHINGTON – In an overflowing room on Capitol Hill Wednesday afternoon, a bipartisan group of Senators and House Members — including Ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ben Cardin (D-MD), Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), and House Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) — celebrated the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.

One name barely mentioned — if at all — was President Donald Trump whose administration’s policies had provoked controversies this week. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster repeatedly refused to clarify whether the Western Wall is part of Israel while standing at the White House podium, and Bloomberg reported that despite the campaign promises, the President intends to sign the waiver to keep the US Embassy in Tel Aviv on June 1. Furthermore, the New York Times noted that Trump revealed sensitive Israeli intelligence regarding the Islamic State to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office.

“It’s great to be celebrating this 50th anniversary of Jerusalem Day. For me, what better time to finally follow through on our promise and relocate our American Embassy to Jerusalem. We have to do it,” said Representative Ron Desantis (R-FL) to a cheering crowd. “Moving the Embassy there is a great statement to say Israel is here to stay, but we are not going to play those games and act like we don’t know where the Western Wall is located.”

Some GOP lawmakers declined to discuss the President’s policies towards Israel. When asked about Trump’s promise to relocate the US Embassy to Jerusalem, Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-PA) told Jewish Insider, “I’m not going to conduct foreign policy for the President. We have three branches: We have the executive branch, legislative branch, and judicial branch. We’ll see what he does.” After Jewish Insider addressed McMaster’s comments about the Kotel, Rorthfus responded, “I did not see the quote,” and then declined to allow the reporter to show him the National Security Advisor’s statements.

Similarly, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) preferred not to specifically address the White House’s specific comments on the Kotel or the intelligence leaks, and explained, “There will be some hiccups along the way but the President’s position being solidly pro-Israel is profound and unwavering.”

On the other hand, Democrats jumped at the opportunity to criticize the administration’s surprising policies towards Jerusalem. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) told Jewish Insider, “The President is incredibly careless and that may risk the lives of several people in the Mossad. It’s a terrible thing to happen. The President should not be so reckless. Everybody else is going to have to be more careful about sharing intelligence with us unless the President blurts it out. It’s a question of confidence.”

The event was hosted by the Religious Zionists of America (RZA) and co-sponsored by a diverse spectrum within the Jewish community including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Hadassah, Alpha Epsilon Pi, and Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations.

Speaking to a small group of reporters, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) touted the bipartisan support of the U.S.-Israel relationship and for the Jewish community in Congress. “Speaking for myself, when the President released a statement on the Holocaust and left out a reference to Jews, I put out a statement where I disagreed. With regards to what happened with an American diplomat and the dust-up claiming that the Western Wall is not their land. I have been very outspoken.” Pointing to fellow Republican Desantis, The New York lawmaker added, “We have very strong positions that don’t change based on whoever is President of the US. Regardless who is President, we should be recognizing Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the Jewish state of Israel, we should move the Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and we should be standing with Israel when she is being attacked by Palestinian terrorists, and I don’t apologize for any of that.”

At the event’s conclusion, hard-line Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX) told the mostly Jewish crowd, “If you think the solution in Israel is two states out of the Promised Land, your faith and your God is much too small.”

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