Birthday interview with RJC and JDCA heads
Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, and Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, reflected on their accomplishments and their respective weekend birthdays.
JI: How are you celebrating your birthday?
Matt Brooks (54th birthday on Saturday): “It was my wife’s 50th birthday [on Thursday]. So we’ll have a quiet family dinner. And then my son will be coming home next week from college, so we’ll do a big celebration for her 50th and my birthday in an inlet in Washington next Saturday night when the whole family is together.”
Halie Soifer (41st birthday on Sunday): “I’m celebrating my birthday at the JDCA Board retreat. I can think of no better way to kick off my 41st year than strategizing how to defeat Donald Trump and win back the Senate.”
JI: When you look back, how do you reflect on your life so far?
MB: “I look back on it and I’m amazed at the opportunities that I’ve had and the things that I’ve been able to be a part of. Being in this line of work, you know, really is a blessing. It gives you literally a front row seat to history. It’s incredibly humbling to know that you play a role in helping to change the direction of policy, and to ultimately be of some help to the Jewish people and the state of Israel, and make our own country better. So it’s been an incredible journey. If you’d told me when I was growing up that would be in meetings in the Oval Office with presidents of the United States, I would have never believed it. And you know, sitting in at meetings with the prime ministers of Israel and kings and other heads of state, senators, congressmen, governors — people who really make a difference — and being able to hopefully help their thinking and do some good. So it’s been a great, great experience. Plus, obviously, I have a wonderful family. My wife and I have been married for going on 25 years. I’ve got two amazing kids who are just incredible. So I really am a lucky, lucky guy.”
HS: “I’ve been lucky to work for government officials — including Ambassador Samantha Power and Senator Chris Coons — who are models of political courage and moral leadership. Since leaving government to run JDCA, it’s been gratifying to help build an organization that is values-driven and bringing about political change, including in the 2018 election. Were it not for the Blue Wave, Rep. Nunes would be holding hearings right now on Hillary Clinton’s emails, as opposed to Chairman Schiff leading impeachment proceedings. The 2018 elections were the critical step toward saving our democracy from the corrosiveness of Donald Trump, and I’m grateful every day for JDCA’s role in supporting and electing candidates who share our values — in 2018, in 2020 and beyond.”
JI: What are your birthday wishes, and what do you expect to see by your birthdays next year?
MB: “I look forward to celebrating another great year of hopefully success and accomplishments. I am hopeful that the work that we’re doing at the RJC will be fruitful and impactful, and I strongly believe that we will increase the share of the Jewish world for President Trump over 2016, and that come my birthday next year we’ll be celebrating his re-election.”
“My short term wish for my birthday, since the Eagles are paying the New England Patriots on Sunday in the first rematch since Super Bowl 52 — which the Eagles won 41 to 33. I’m hoping that the Eagles again beat the Patriots, and that will be a great birthday present for me.”
HS: “My birthday wish is to not only ensure that Donald Trump is defeated, but that he gets no more of the Jewish vote than Republicans received in 2018, which was a mere 17% according to exit polling (and 7 points less than 2016). This isn’t a tough sell — Jews overwhelmingly disapprove of Trump because his policies and rhetoric are a betrayal of our values, and believe his emboldening of white nationalism has endangered our community.”
JI: We’re in a very polarized environment, and you will be fighting aggressively for every vote in the coming year. Over the years, have your political differences impacted any personal relationships with your counterparts on the other side of the aisle?
MB: “I have always felt that you can disagree with people on policy or politics, but it’s never been personal for me. One of my closest friends, the best man at my wedding, is probably a radical progressive Bernie Sanders type, and we’re best friends. I’ve been fortunate to have a strong personal relationship with all of the folks who have run the Democratic Jewish organizations in the past, starting with Steve Gutow, who literally I invited and had at my wedding. Ira Forman came to my house when I sat Shiva for my mother. I have a great relationship with Halie Soifer, with Mark Mellman, with David Harris, with Aaron Keyak, with Steve Rabinowitz and Matt Dorf. These are all folks who are in the political battlefield and we will work hard against each other to achieve our goals. But for me, it’s never been personal. And I wished that that was something that had held true in Congress and elsewhere.”
HS: “I value my relationships with Republicans — their views provide an important perspective and certainly bipartisanship is essential to getting anything done on the Hill. That said, most reasonable Republicans I know quietly despise Donald Trump for hijacking their party and damaging our democratic institutions. And since you’re asking, it would be a #shanda if I didn’t wish my Republican counterpart, Matt Brooks, a happy birthday as well. If nothing else, at least we can celebrate our [birthdays] around the same time.”