Carper’s retirement could send McCollum bill supporter to the Senate

Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) co-sponsored legislation calling to restrict military aid to Israel, but a pro-Israel supporter described her views on the Jewish state as more nuanced

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Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) walks to a House Democrat caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on May 31, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Tom Carper’s (D-DE) retirement, announced last month, is set to prompt a political reshuffling in Delaware, with Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) seen as a strong favorite to succeed Carper in the Senate. Her election would make her one of the few Black women to ever serve in the Senate.

Blunt Rochester’s likely ascension — she’s backed by Carper, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and President Joe Biden in a deeply Democratic state — would also bring her support of Rep. Betty McCollum’s (D-MN) legislation seeking to restrict U.S. aid to Israel to the Senate, adding to that of Sen. Peter Welch (D-VT)

The Delaware lawmaker has served in the House since 2017, and has not been a particularly prominent voice on foreign policy issues. Carper, who has served in the Senate since 2001, has recently taken positions critical of Israeli policy and the U.S.-Israel relationship that baffled and frustrated members of Delaware’s pro-Israel community.

David Margules, a member of that community who has known Blunt Rochester for around three decades and was an early supporter of her first congressional campaign, told Jewish Insider that, even when he has disagreed with measures Blunt Rochester has supported, she has remained open and communicative.

“She will call things as she sees them, but she also has been very, very good about hearing people out on things, listening, and also very honest about issues and how she feels about them,” Margules said. “There have been a number of occasions where she was considering signing onto something that she knew that I might have a headache over, and she or her staff would call up in advance, tell us what she’s thinking, and want to hear what we have to say about it, and they’d take it into consideration.”

In addition to her sponsorship of McCollum’s bill — although she has yet to sign back onto it in the new Congress — Blunt Rochester condemned Israel’s decision to block Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from visiting in 2019, a decision she said “only undermines the U.S.-Israel relationship… and should be reversed immediately.” 

During the 2021 war between Israel and terrorist groups in Gaza, Blunt Rochester joined more than 100 Democratic colleagues on a letter — led by a group of frequent critics of Israeli policy — calling on the administration to press both sides for an immediate cease-fire.

Blunt Rochester has nevertheless maintained a generally conventional pro-Israel legislative record.

She co-sponsored legislation opposing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement; supporting the expansion of the Abraham Accords; advancing a range of cooperative military programs with Israel; and backing health technology and PTSD research collaboration with Israel. She has voted in favor of recent pro-Israel bills and resolutions.

Following a vote earlier this year in favor of a resolution supporting the U.S.-Israel relationship and the Abraham Accords, Blunt Rochester said in a House floor speech that she was “disappointed” the resolution did not reaffirm support for a two-state solution or peace with the Palestinians, while reiterating her support for normalization and the U.S.-Israel security relationship. Numerous other members, including some prominent pro-Israel Democrats, issued similar statements.

“I don’t have concerns in the sense that she has been an absolutely rock-solid supporter of Israel’s security interests and U.S. support for Israel,” Margules said. “There have been some issues around the margins, where she has indicated some critical views of policies… You might agree or disagree with a specific criticism, but she comes at it from an honest place.”

Blunt Rochester visited Israel in 2017 with then-House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) on a trip sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, an AIPAC-affiliated nonprofit. Her Senate run has been endorsed by J Street.

Margules also said that Blunt Rochester is “still learning” about Israel policy, and that her work has been more focused on local Delaware issues.

“When a [measure] like the McCollum [bill] comes across, she does not tend to view the [measure] in the context of a broader strategy by people who seek to undercut the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Margules added. “She takes the [measure] on its merits, she reads it carefully, and if she agrees with what’s in the [measure], she’s willing to sign on to it without a ton of focus on who is promoting the [measure]… I believe that as she is called on more and more to deal with those kinds of issues as senator, she will be more focused on those kinds of subtle things.”

Elsewhere in the Middle East policy space, Blunt Rochester co-sponsored numerous measures during the Trump administration seeking to prevent war with Iran, as well as removing the U.S. from involvement in the Yemen conflict. She also co-sponsored the Never Again Education Act expanding Holocaust education.

Blunt Rochester’s departure from the House for a Senate run will also open up Delaware’s sole House seat, providing a rare opportunity likely to attract ambitious politicos from across the state. State Sen. Sarah McBride, a rising star in Delaware politics who would be the first openly transgender member of Congress, declared her candidacy earlier this week

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