Jordan’s relations with Israel have improved under Bennett, King Abdullah told Congress

Jordan’s relations with Israel have improved since the new Israeli coalition government took office, Jordanian King Abdullah II told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in a meeting last Thursday.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), a longtime member of the House committee, recounted the committee’s conversation with Abdullah in an interview on Friday with Jewish Insider.

“He was quite favorable to the new government,” which is made up of an ideologically diverse coalition led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Sherman said. “In general, the theme was that he was able to work things out with the new government better than he had in the prior two years under what turned out to be the last two years of the Netanyahu administration.”

Sherman said he questioned Abdullah about the U.S.’s efforts to extradite Ahlam Tamimi — a Jordanian national convicted by an Israeli court in the 2001 bombing of a Sbarro pizza shop in Jerusalem that killed 15 people, including two Americans, who was released in a 2011 prisoner swap — but said the king “didn’t give a substantive response.”

Although Israel was a prime topic of conversation — including tensions in Jerusalem and Jordan’s water dispute with Israel — Sherman emphasized that “[Jordan’s] relationship with Israel is just one of the things that the king and his government have to deal with,” and the committee’s meeting addressed other issues including Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

Sherman said Abdullah expressed support for the Iraqi government, which faces threats from Iranian-backed militias.

“It went well,” Sherman said of the meeting overall. “I’ve been in so many meetings with King Abdullah. [I] kind of regard him as an old friend.”

The California congressman emphasized that Jordan maintains broad bipartisan support in Washington.

“One comment I made is that support for King Abdullah and Jordan is like the last bipartisan thing in Washington. I mean — make a list of everything that has more bipartisan support than support for Jordan. I wish support for Israel were quite at that high a level,” Sherman said. “Part of that is derivative — a lot of the support for Jordan comes from those who support Israel. But then King Abdullah is able to pick up a little bit of support from people who are not always supportive of the U.S.-Israel alliance.”

Sherman noted that Abdullah’s son, the 27-year-old Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah, was present in the meeting — as he was in all of the king’s meetings on Capitol Hill last week — although he was not an active participant in the discussions.

The crown prince “is clearly being educated at a young age,” Sherman said. “Perhaps only in a monarchical system does anyone as young as the crown prince sit in on such a meeting… It’s a different system. And it doesn’t always work well, but it’s working well for Jordan right now.”

Sherman added that the lawmakers did not discuss the “disagreements and unpleasantness among the powers that be in Amman from a couple months ago” — referring to a wave of high-profile arrests following an attempted coup in April, including of Prince Hamzah, the brother of King Abdullah, and several of Hamzah’s associates.

Lawmakers praise new Israeli government’s support for bipartisanship after Middle East trip

Months after partisan fights over Israel reached a fever pitch during the recent war between Israel and Hamas, seven House lawmakers who traveled to Israel, the West Bank and Qatar last week told Jewish Insider that they were heartened by the new Israeli government’s commitment to ensuring that the U.S.-Israel relationship remains bipartisan.

The weeklong trip by members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, from July 6 to 11, was the first House delegation abroad since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Gregory Meeks’s (D-NY) first as chairman. Meeks was joined by six other Democrats and three Republicans.

The delegation met with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, MK Mansour Abbas, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other PA officials, Palestinian business leaders and Qatari officials. The trip also included a July 4 celebration at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, attendance at the inauguration of Israeli President Isaac Herzog and a visit to the U.S. Central Command airbase in Qatar.

Trip participants consistently praised the new Israeli government’s frequent commitments to maintaining a bipartisan U.S.-Israel relationship. 

“One of the things I take great encouragement from was the commitment of everyone we spoke to within the government, to ensuring that support for the U.S.-Israel relationship within Congress remains a bipartisan issue,” Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) told JI.

Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC) added that “there is a sense of excitement of the possibilities that our two [new] administrations may bring to the table… there is a feeling of hope and optimism.”

The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and Israel’s opposition to the agreement, was also a primary topic of conversation with Israeli leaders, according to several lawmakers on the trip, as were concerns about how U.S. aid to Gaza might end up inadvertently benefitting Hamas.

Multiple members highlighted the unlikely nature of Israel’s new governing coalition, which includes a spectrum of parties from the right wing to a left-wing Arab party, but expressed confidence that it could hold together.

“I’m going to give [Bennett] the benefit of the doubt,” said Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), the most senior Republican on the trip. “I’m optimistic that they can [hold together]… It’s not that they agree on everything, it’s that their tone was upbeat, positive. You can tell there’s a genuine affinity for one another. And let’s face it, Prime Minister Bennett, his survival [politically] depends on making this work.”

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) — who was visiting Israel for the first time — said she appreciated that coalition members were upfront in acknowledging that the political grouping is unorthodox.

“Sitting down and having very human conversations with all these people I have read so much about was the most remarkable part of the meetings for me,” she said. “Hearing them all actually say, ‘We know that this is an interesting coalition… We know that it’s going to be difficult,’ helps make sense of something that on paper seems very confusing.”

The group met for approximately two hours with Bennett, who received high praise from both Republicans and Democrats.

“Prime Minister Bennett is really committed to ensuring an open and honest relationship with the United States as the close friends and allies with shared values that we have,” Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) said. “We had a terrific conversation with him about both the challenges that Israel faces, especially on the security front… but also about the promise and the optimism from the high-tech industry, to working hard to ensure opportunity for all Israelis, Jewish and Arab.”

Republicans, with whom former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had forged increasingly close ties, said they were confident that the relationship between Republicans and Israel would remain strong amid the change in government.

“We still admire Prime Minister Netanyahu on [the security] front. But I was impressed with Naftali Bennett. I really was,” Barr said. “I saw a similar strength and resolve on countering terrorism and countering Iran in Bennett.”

Republicans who spoke to JI were somewhat less effusive in their praise of Lapid— who is center-left politically, in comparison with the right-wing Bennett — although Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) noted that the group’s meeting with Lapid was much shorter than the meeting with Bennett.

Barr called Lapid “charismatic, jovial, committed to the U.S. alliance and friendship” but added that “clearly he does have a different kind of approach than Bennett and Netanyahu.”

“My hope would be that we would have a continuity of the friendship and the security relationship under Lapid as well,” Barr continued.

The new Israeli government, and Lapid in particular, have made it a priority to repair bipartisan relations with the U.S., which became strained under the Netanyahu government. Democrats said they have every expectation those efforts will succeed.

“We had some frank conversations [with Lapid] about how that has ebbed and flowed over the past couple of years, and how, in some circumstances, the United States’ relationship with Israel was used as a bit of a wedge issue back home here in the United States,” Spanberger said. “He made clear his honest appreciation of the fact that we had come with a bipartisan delegation and his desire to see the U.S.-Israel relationship be one that is firmly bipartisan.”

When the delegation traveled to Ramallah, the PA’s “pay for slay” programs to the families of imprisoned and deceased terrorists were a major focus in a three-hour conversation with PA leadership, lawmakers said, although they offered differing accounts of the PA’s receptiveness to those discussions.

“I heard a lot of doublespeak,” Barr said. “What Abbas said was, ‘We will work with the new administration to address their concerns about martyr payments.’ And then in the same breath they said, ‘What do you expect us to do? We’re going to help these families who longer have a support system.’”

Some Democrats offered a more optimistic readout.

“They understand that that is central to really moving forward in their relationship with the United States. They understand that and they’re working toward addressing it,” Deutch said. “This is an issue that exists in law… and they acknowledge that that has to get addressed.”

Schneider added that “from other conversations that I’ve heard and had, my sense is that there has been some movement.”

Rep. French Hill (R-AR) fell somewhere in the middle, saying that the officials initially appeared to have softened on the issue, compared to previous conversations, but backpedaled during the meeting to a more hardline stance.

“As the meeting went on… other people responded to that question and they were much more aggressive saying, ‘You can’t expect us to change that. That would have a major impact on our population’ and sort of retracted some of the technical speak about reforming it,” Hill said.

The Arkansas congressman said that Abbas also voiced strong opposition to the Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and several Arab nations.

“He said that there is no other substitution or approach acceptable to them beyond the 2002 Beirut [Arab League] agreement,” he said.

A number of the lawmakers indicated that they did not find the PA meeting to be productive. 

Schneider said that he “heard the same thing we always hear from them,” and Manning emphasized she “didn’t hear much movement from [Abbas]… or from any of his leadership team” on the PA’s demands for a two-state solution along 1967 borders.

Many of the lawmakers appeared more enthusiastic about a visit with Palestinian business leaders from the Palestinian American Chamber of Commerce. Hill said the conversation included a discussion of problems for West Bank businesses with both the Israeli government and the PA.

According to Spanberger, “They were talking about economic prosperity as a counterpoint to the message of desperation. That the economic investment and the strength of the internal economy that the West Bank could have — that they’re trying to create — how that can function as an inoculating factor against the way Hamas was able, at least in Gaza, to really integrate.” The Virginia Democrat added that the business leaders also supported peace with Israel.

Hill said that the businesspeople also indicated little “faith in the Palestinian Authority’s ability to change the current political direction.”

During the Qatar leg of the trip, lawmakers raised the question of normalizing relations with Israel with Qatari officials, but they did not seem amenable to the idea.

“Qatar views its position as being a neutral arbiter between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Manning said. “They think their current positioning works to everyone’s advantage.”

According to Malliotakis, Israeli officials said they’re looking to countries like Oman and Indonesia for potential future normalization agreements, as well as Saudi Arabia in the longer term.

Meeks, Deutch, Manning, Schneider, Spanberger, Barr, Hill and Malliotakis were joined on the trip by Reps. Sara Jacobs (D-CA) and David Cicilline (D-RI), who did not respond to interview requests.
Two Republican lawmakers — Reps. Peter Meijer (R-MI) and Joe Wilson (R-SC) — who told JI ahead of the trip that they would be participating in the delegation did not ultimately go. For Wilson, the trip conflicted with a delegation to Norway for the Helsinki Commission, for which he is a commissioner. A Meijer spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

The bipartisan duo creating community for Jewish Hill staffers

For many of the thousands of Jewish young people who have traveled to Israel with Birthright Israel, the free 10-day trip has led to lasting friendships and even marriages. 

Because this is Washington, a fateful 2019 Birthright trip led to professional advancement. 

In this case, friendships formed on the trip proved useful for the Congressional Jewish Staff Association, a nonpartisan organization that provides programming and mentorship for the hundreds of Jewish Capitol Hill staffers. Charlotte Kaye, a Republican, and Justin Goldberger, a Democrat, hit it off and befriended their trip leader, Joel Cohen. Cohen, who now works for Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), was finishing up a stint as president of CJSA, and he thought Kaye and Goldberger were the right people to take over leadership of the group. “Our Birthright leader actually passed it on to Charlotte and myself,” said Goldberger. 

In a recent interview with Jewish Insider at a Capitol Hill cafe, Kaye and Goldberger suggested that the vicious partisanship of the past year has amplified the need for CJSA’s cross-party relationship-building. The Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Kaye said, made it “easier” for the organization to bring people together. “It was a traumatizing experience,” she explained. “I think we were all looking for some sort of healing and peace — not peace fully, but some sort of understanding of how to move forward.”

Among members of Congress, across-the-aisle collaboration can be hard to come by these days, particularly after Jan. 6. Democrats and Republicans have been sparring this week about funding for Capitol Police in the wake of the Jan. 6 events. But the policy experts, schedulers, speechwriters and chiefs of staff who handle the day-to-day business of Congress see friendships with aides of the opposing party as a good thing. CJSA, which was founded in 1998 and adopted its current name roughly a decade ago, seeks to create opportunities for those relationships. 

“I remember being intimidated coming to D.C. when I was 22, a staff assistant on the Hill, desperately trying to find some sort of group to fit in with,” said Kaye, a staff member on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC). She discovered the group two years ago at a lunchtime Passover Seder the organization hosted at the Capitol. “Finding out the CJSA existed and you could start to recognize faces and know people was comforting,” said Kaye. 

Some of CJSA’s bipartisanship is strategic. It’s Washington, after all; young staffers know they need allies to make it in the cutthroat world of Capitol Hill. 

There are no exact numbers on how many Jewish staffers work on the Hill, but CJSA’s email listserv has more than 500 members. “The advice I always give entry-level staffers is to build your network, because you never know who will be your first foot in the door,” said Goldberger, senior policy advisor for Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA). “I have friends who are Republicans on the House side, and it’s a lot easier to find sponsors for a bill if you have a relationship with them prior.”

But groups like CJSA also help young people find community at a workplace that pays little and requires long hours. “My best friends still are people that were in entry-level jobs answering phones when we first came to D.C. and bonding over that,” said Kaye.

CJSA has existed for more than 10 years, but Kaye and Goldberger took over with the hopes of formalizing some of its programs and increasing its offerings. 

“We started realizing that other staff associations were a lot more legitimate,” said Kaye, referring to groups like the Congressional Women’s Staff Association and the Congressional Black Associates. (In years past, a Staff Association Fair — the grown-up, Washington version of a college extracurricular fair — has been held to introduce Hill employees to different membership groups.) “We wanted to bring that organization to CJSA, because there’s such a big Jewish community and it’s kind of a loss if we don’t take advantage of that,” Kaye explained. 

“I think making [the group] more formal hopefully will cover everyone and be a little more inclusive,” said Goldberger. He wants CJSA to be an organization that actively brings in new people, so that if a new staffer shows up to an event for the first time, they won’t feel awkward lingering on the outside of a circle of older staffers who all know each other. “I wish there had been, when I was a young staffer, someone who would actively reach out and be like, ‘Hey, we’re having a Pride Shabbat, you should show up.’ Or, ‘Hey, we have a mentor-mentee program, we’d love for you to sign up.’”

The big changes Kaye and Goldberger hoped to make when they took over as co-presidents last year included hosting more regular programming and events with members of Congress, creating a mentorship program and instituting dues. But then the COVID-19 pandemic began, and CJSA had to pivot to virtual programming. 

“It was tough,” Goldberger said. But CJSA managed to keep members engaged throughout the pandemic. A number of Zoom cooking classes with popular Jewish food institutions in the District included a bagel-making class hosted by Bethesda Bagels and a kugel-making class with Schmaltz Brothers, a kosher food truck. CJSA hosted mindfulness and meditation workshops in the wake of Jan. 6 and joint events with other groups such as the LGBT Staff Association. Some CJSA members convened regularly for a “Booze With Jews” virtual happy hour, and at times members of Congress — including Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) — joined in. 

“Something too that was really cool to see was we had a lot of district staffers and state staffers join us for the virtual events,” said Kaye. “That was nice, for them to be able to connect with the D.C. staff and other Jewish staffers from back home in the district.” 

Although most visitors are still barred from Capitol Hill because of COVID restrictions, many staffers have begun to return to the Capitol and surrounding offices. At the end of this month, CJSA will hold its first in-person happy hour in a year and a half. “We’re excited to get off the screen,” Goldberger noted. “We saw a drop off of attendance in our virtual events. People just don’t want to do it anymore,” Kaye added. 

Also in the works is a mentorship program, where senior Jewish staffers will be paired with a younger aide to mentor. CJSA also hopes to restart “staff dels,” or staff delegations, where staff members visit a particular part of the U.S. to learn about a topic (such as national parks) or another country, similar to the “codels” — congressional delegations — that regularly take legislators to particular areas. Kaye said CJSA hosted staff trips to Israel and Japan several years ago. 

“We have the opportunity to start traditions that we didn’t have before,” said Goldberger. “I know personally I would love a Hanukkah CJSA party… similar to the White House [that] has a Hanukkah or Christmas party — like that, but more for staff.” 

And one goal that they know is a long shot: getting Jewish members of Congress to host parties or Shabbat dinners for Jewish staffers. Before Kaye or Goldberger were on the Hill, members occasionally attended CJSA-affiliated Shabbat gatherings. 

“I heard that [Senate Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer used to have these epic Jewish happy hours to set up Jewish singles on the Hill,” said Kaye. “He’s notorious for setting up a bunch of Jewish singles,” added Goldberger. (This is true — a 2012 report in The New York Times found that 12 couples who met in Schumer’s office had gotten married. He signed a ketubah, a Jewish wedding contract, for one couple, and another named their dog after him. “Forget Master of the Senate. This is the Yenta of the Senate,” The Times wrote.)

“We want to have that tradition and camaraderie,” said Kaye, “more so than we’ve ever been able to do in the past.”

Luria: Jan. 6 committee ‘much more important than whether I get elected again’

Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA), one of the eight lawmakers appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to the House’s select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, told Jewish Insider she is prioritizing the probe over her reelection prospects in 2022.

Luria, who hails from Virginia’s 2nd District, a swing district, is among the most electorally vulnerable members of the panel. She’s almost certain to face attacks in the 2022 election based on her role on the committee, the creation of which was opposed by most congressional Republicans.

“I think that this work is important and necessary and much more important than whether I get elected again or not in the next election,” Luria told JI late last week. “I’m honored to be part of this committee. I think the work is incredibly important.”

The Virginia congresswoman and 20-year Navy veteran added that the panel has “a very, very big task ahead.” 

Luria said the committee’s work must include probing the disinformation that spurred the events of Jan. 6, the logistics of how the riot was organized and how information was disseminated, the potential financing of the incident, what warning signs law enforcement and intelligence officials missed ahead of the attack, failures in the responses by the Capitol Police and other law enforcement and the delay in the deployment of the National Guard.

She added that the committee must also “try to understand why there is this rising tide of instances of antisemitism, and the close examination of all the factors that went into what happened on Jan. 6 could potentially lead to ways to prevent or stem that in the future.”

Luria said that her membership in the House Homeland Security and House Armed Services committees was a primary factor in Pelosi’s decision to select her for the committee.

“In my comments to her, I spoke about my concerns about the number of veterans and active-duty service members who are disproportionately represented so far in the number of people who’ve been charged for their actions at the Capitol,” Luria continued. “I also spoke about the rise of antisemitism, the antisemitic symbols that were on display.”

Luria added that there are a number of geographic connections to her home state on display at the Capitol — including a rioter from Virginia who was photographed wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” shirt. The congresswoman further argued that there is a “clear arc” from the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., to the Jan. 6 riot.

Asked whether she thinks the committee will need to subpoena testimony from former President Donald Trump or House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Luria said it is “too early to tell,” but added, “nothing has been ruled out at this point.”

“We will follow the information where it leads us, and time will tell what witnesses are important to the work of the committee,” she said.

It also remains to be seen who, if anyone, McCarthy will recommend for the five remaining committee spots, and whether those appointees will participate in the committee’s investigative work or seek to obstruct it. Pelosi also appointed Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-MS). Liz Cheney (R-WY), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Pete Aguilar (D-CA), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) to the committee. 

“I hope it will be people who want to do an investigation that’s grounded in facts, who are pragmatic and who are not going to try to turn this into a sort of partisan spectacle,” Luria said.

House Democrats, with the support of some Republicans, initially sought to create a nonpartisan independent commission to investigate the insurrection, rather than a select committee, but Republican leadership in the House and Senate opposed the idea, ultimately blocking it.

Luria said she “very much would have liked to see the independent commission” and was “disappointed [it] was not established.”

“But you know now I think that this work is so important that we need to continue forward in the way that we can,” she added.

Meeks details plans for committee’s Israel trip

An upcoming congressional delegation to Israel will be an opportunity for legislators to “be focused on support for Israel and its security and at the same time focused on the humanitarian concerns of the Palestinians,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-NY), who is leading the delegation, told Jewish Insider on Wednesday.

The trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories will be Meeks’s first as chairman.

Meeks, who took over the committee in January, replacing pro-Israel stalwart former Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), cited last month’s war in Gaza, the Abraham Accords and the new Israeli government as having shaped his decision to prioritize traveling to Israel.

“To have an opportunity to sit down with this new government in Israel and bring together a bipartisan delegation from the United States Congress, where we can be focused on support for Israel and its security and at the same time focused on the humanitarian concerns of the Palestinians, it seems to me to be the right time and the right message to get that done,” Meeks said. “I just think that it’s really important to do.”

The group is also planning to meet with Palestinian leadership. Meeks, who represents parts of Queens and Brooklyn, said multiple committee members had already joined the trip, which is set to depart sometime in July, but did not name any of the legislators who had already signed onto the delegation, deferring to the members themselves.

“We have a lot of members who want to go, so that’s not an issue,” he added.

No committee members contacted by JI have confirmed participation so far.

Meeks said he hopes to hear how the U.S. can help keep Israel safe and address Palestinians’ humanitarian concerns.

“We’ve got to try to figure out how to move forward with a two-state solution,” Meeks said, adding that he sees the Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and several Arab states, as “a window of strong opportunity to have change.”

Two prominent critics of Israel’s policies during the recent conflict — Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Joaquín Castro (D-TX) — are members of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Meeks said he hopes that representatives who oppose some of Israel’s positions will join the delegation. 

“Hopefully we’re going to have a cross-section of members from all different viewpoints. I think that’s what’s good about our committee,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to be looking to travel with so that everybody can get information and ask questions.”

House Dems respond to GOP ads accusing them of opposing security funding to Israel

House Democrats pushed back on Wednesday against Republican attack ads accusing them of not supporting Israeli security after their votes on a GOP procedural motion last week.

The controversy centers around a failed motion to recommit introduced by Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-TX) last Thursday which would have blocked passage of a supplemental funding bill for Capitol security — which House Republicans opposed — by returning it back to the Appropriations Committee, potentially killing it entirely. 

Gonzales also proposed an amendment to the bill for Appropriations Committee consideration that would have entirely replaced the Capitol security funding with additional funds for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. The House vote, however, was only on sending the security supplement bill back to the committee, not on the Iron Dome amendment.

The motion failed largely along party lines, with all Democrats present voting against it, as well as one Republican, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY). Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME) did not vote on the measure.

House Republican leadership has sought to use the vote to paint House Democrats as unsupportive of Israel. Meanwhile, the conservative group American Action Network launched a five-figure ad buy, according to Fox News, claiming four Democrats — Reps. Elaine Luria (D-VA), Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-GA) and Susan Wild (D-PA) — abandoned Israel while it was under attack by voting against Gonzales’s motion.

Luria called the attacks “disgraceful” and “a flat-out lie.”

“The Republicans have taken this as a vehicle to just create a narrative that’s false and say that based on this procedural vote we — being every Democrat — were somehow voting against Israel and against supporting the Iron Dome,” Luria told Jewish Insider. “It’s absurd, it’s harmful, to try to make an issue that’s important to the security of Israel, to our strongest ally in the Middle East, and to try to use it as a political tool, especially when it’s just a straight-out lie.”

Bourdeaux similarly characterized the attacks as scurrilous.

“I voted to provide critical funding for law enforcement at the Capitol after 140 officers were injured in the January 6th attack,” Bourdeaux explained to JI. “Republicans opposed funding for the Capitol Police and our National Guard, and in a bizarre procedural gimmick, tried to make this about funding for Iron Dome. This kind of nonsense is why Republicans lost in Georgia.”

The motion to recommit was one of multiple attempts by Republicans last week to put Democrats in a bind on matters relating to Israel. Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) unsuccessfully attempted to use a procedural maneuver to scuttle planned votes on opioid addiction treatments and condemning anti-Asian hate crimes and instead hold a vote on sanctioning Hamas — legislation that passed the House in 2019. 

Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), who was leading House Democrats on the floor at the time, called Mast’s move a “red herring” which “would hand control of the House over to [Republicans].”

“Let’s not distract from the bills that we’re here to move forward today,” Scanlon added. House Democrats voted unanimously — with the exception of Golden, who again did not vote — to proceed with business as planned.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) attempted to capitalize on the Gonzales procedural vote, alleging that “Instead of standing with Israel, Democrats continue to stand aside.” And on the Mast legislation, he told The Washington Free Beacon: “Today every member in the House will have a choice between siding with our ally or siding with a status quo that will only perpetuate the unrest… the House should make it clear to the world that we stand united in support of Israel.”

Luria criticized the attacks as a transparent campaign tactic.

“This is to go after Democrats [in] seats they think they can and want to win back so that they can hand the gavel to McCarthy,” Luria said. “It’s purely a political maneuver. I think this is an issue that shouldn’t be politicized. I can understand policy differences, but strong bipartisan support of Israel in the U.S. Congress is not something that should be politicized because I think it sends the wrong message to the rest of the world.”

“The fact that anyone wants to send a message that our Congress is somehow divided on [Iron Dome] is really damaging,” she continued.

Luria emphasized that she has introduced and supported a range of measures intended to bolster Israel’s security and combat regional threats and supports the $3.8 billion in military aid the U.S. sends to Israel annually. All four members targeted in the attack ads also signed onto a bipartisan letter earlier this year expressing support for continuing unconditioned U.S. aid to Israel.

AIPAC spokesperson Marshall Wittmann told JI the organization “[does] not take a position on these types of procedural motions. We are confident that there will be overwhelming bipartisan support when Congress votes on funding for Iron Dome.”

Haaland confirmation sets off mad scramble to claim her seat in Congress

Rep. Deb Haaland’s (D-NM) historic confirmation on Monday as the country’s first Native American Cabinet secretary set off a mad scramble to claim her seat in the House of Representatives. The race, already in motion, is a crowded one, with eight Democratic candidates now jockeying to succeed Haaland, a one-term congresswoman and former state party chair, in New Mexico’s 1st congressional district, which covers most of Albuquerque. Because the district is reliably blue, whoever earns the nomination is all but assured safe passage in the general election.

But overcoming the state’s somewhat unusual candidate selection system presents its own set of challenges in a special election with no primaries. Instead, candidates from each party will be chosen, as New Mexico law mandates, by a group of elected state central committee members — a process upending the traditional campaign dynamic because it requires that candidates earn favor with party insiders rather than appealing to voters and soliciting donations in order to get on the ballot.

The selection process has earned critics on the left and right who allege it is undemocratic, and a bipartisan bill that would establish a primary system to fill congressional vacancies is currently making its way through New Mexico’s state legislature. But state representative Daymon Ely, a co-sponsor of the legislation, believes it has little chance of passing with just four days remaining until the state’s two-month legislative session comes to an end. “I’m not hopeful,” he said in a recent interview with Jewish Insider.

“If the legislation doesn’t pass then it will be a popularity contest among the Democratic Party insiders on the central committee,” said Fred Nathan, executive director of Think New Mexico, a nonpartisan public policy think tank in Santa Fe.

Lonna Atkeson, a professor of political science at the University of New Mexico, echoed that view. “You’ve got a really inside election,” she told JI. “They’re going to want one of their insiders.”

So which candidate has the edge? Political strategists in New Mexico who spoke with JI divide the eight Democrats currently vying for the seat, most of whom are women, into separate tiers, with a trio of formidable candidates viewed as most likely to prevail: Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, a 63-year-old state senator and former law professor who ran against Haaland in the 2018 primary, pulling in more than $1 million in donations; Melanie Stansbury, a 42-year-old rising star in local politics who serves as a state legislator and previously worked on Capitol Hill; and Randi McGinn, 65, a prominent trial lawyer and confidante of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Melanie Stansbury

“They’re the most well-known and have the most momentum in the party right now,” said Matt Gloudemans, a Democratic campaign consultant in New Mexico who is not working for any of the candidates.

The wild-card candidate is Georgene Louis, 43, a state representative whose compelling personal story will no doubt appeal to central committee members who are looking for continuity now that Haaland, one of the first Native American women in Congress, is moving on. Louis, a Native American who currently practices tribal law, was born and raised on the Acoma Pueblo reservation, about 70 miles west of Albuquerque. 

“My view is that a progressive native woman’s seat probably should be replaced, ideally, by another progressive native woman,” said Julian Brave NoiseCat, vice president of policy and strategy at Data for Progress, who lobbied for Haaland’s confirmation.

The four remaining candidates, all of whom are regarded as relative underdogs despite their unique credentials, include Selinda Guerrero, Patricia Roybal Caballero, Victor Reyes and Francisco Fernández. Guerrero, a 44-year-old community organizer who identifies as Chicana, Black and indigenous, argues that she is running to represent a “new wave” of the working class, while Roybal Caballero, a 70-year-old state representative, has deep connections with progressive activists in the state. “She has consistently been a grassroots campaigner,” said Dede Feldman, a political consultant and former New Mexico state senator.

Reyes, 28, is a former legislative director for New Mexico’s Democratic governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, and has been endorsed by Reps. Ritchie Torres (D-NY), Chris Pappas (D-NH), Marc Veasey (D-TX) and David Cicilline (D-RI). If elected, Reyes boasts that he would be the youngest Democrat in the House as well as the first openly gay congressman to represent New Mexico. So would Fernández, a 39-year-old former TV and film industry worker who is HIV-positive and vows to provide a voice “for those who are most marginalized,” including people with preexisting conditions. 

Randi McGinn

“I am very much a political outsider,” Fernández told JI in a recent phone conversation, adding that he is a “lifelong social justice advocate.”

In interviews with JI, the candidates were eager to highlight their progressive policy agendas on issues like universal healthcare, climate change and the $15 minimum wage hike in a race where it is politically expedient to lean left, given the partisan makeup of the district.

But their views on foreign policy, particularly around Israel, are less predictable — and illustrate a growing tension between progressives who are supportive of the Jewish state and those who are more critical of the longstanding U.S.-Israel relationship.

Sedillo Lopez is perhaps the most interesting test case. In 2018, she earned an endorsement from Justice Democrats, the influential progressive political action committee which previously characterized Israel as a “human rights violator,” and was recently backed by the People for Bernie Sanders. But speaking with JI, she emphasized that she is a staunch supporter of the Jewish state. “Israel is crucial, spiritually as well as politically,” said Sedillo Lopez, who traveled to Israel three years ago on a Latino leadership tour with the AIPAC-affiliated American Israel Education Foundation.

“It was transformative to me in so many ways,” she recalled. “I learned so much, and I know that sounds lame, but the biggest thing was how close everything is together. I live in New Mexico, and it’s a day’s drive to get out of the state. So it was amazing to me to see why security is so crucial.”

Since then, Sedillo Lopez has learned through a genealogy research initiative conducted by the Jewish Federation in New Mexico that she descends from Sephardic Jews who fled the Inquisition in Spain. “I’m very proud of that, although I have to say, like most Latinos, I have Indian blood, but I don’t have any culture,” she said, noting that while she appreciates her Jewish heritage, she doesn’t claim it.

Despite her affiliation with Justice Democrats — a spokesman for which did not respond to requests for comment about whether it would be making an endorsement in the race — Sedillo Lopez believes that Israel has a strong progressive record. “A lot of the things that I advocate for are in place there,” she said, referring to the state’s universal healthcare system along with its relatively enlightened approach to LGBTQ rights. “I was impressed,” she said. “I was like, ‘Hey, it works, this can work.’ You know, these ideas are progressive ideas.” 

Sedillo Lopez rejects the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as continued aid to Israel. 

Stansbury, by comparison, was less well-versed on such matters. Though she spent some time backpacking through Israel in her early 20s, she was unfamiliar with the BDS movement and declined to comment on the 10-year memorandum of understanding guaranteeing military assistance to Israel. “I haven’t dove into this issue,” she said. 

More broadly, she expressed a desire to “lead with diplomacy” in the Middle East, “restore the Iran deal” and recognize the “special relationship” with Israel. “But I also am a major proponent of the basic self-determination and human rights of Palestinians and their ability to establish a sovereign state,” Stansbury added. “So to the extent that, as a congressperson, I weigh in on these issues both in terms of legislation and the budget and the way in which the U.S. supports both Israel and aid to Palestine, that’s the kind of lens that I look through all this.”

Georgene Louis (Courtesy)

Stansbury, a scientist who is deeply invested in water resource management in New Mexico, sees parallels between her state and Israel — and hopes to learn more about the connection if she is elected. “There’s a lot we can learn from the innovation that’s been happening in Israel,” she said. “How do we modernize our infrastructure? How do we help farmers make the transition to more water-efficient agriculture? The work that’s been done at universities like Ben-Gurion and folks in the Negev is world-class,” she added. “That is the beacon.”

Because of her experience on such matters, John Feldman, a rabbi in Albuquerque, believes Stansbury is strongly positioned to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Her expertise in water as a scientist and her concern for human rights and her support for Israel all dovetail in such a way that, I think, she could really be a constructive mediator in terms of our U.S.-Israel relationship,” he said, adding that water and science “could well be a bridge for peace.”

McGinn, who supports continued aid to Israel and opposes BDS, said she has had conversations with J Street in her time as a candidate. “Israel will always be our biggest ally and our friend,” she said, but added her concern that the Trump administration had destabilized the region. “This has been a problem for thousands of years, and I think this last administration has actually harmed the peace process,” she said. “They keep saying they’re doing great. But in fact, I think they’ve gone backwards, and we’re stoking the fires and making things more difficult.”

She endorsed a two-state solution as the “only way forward to peace,” but said it would be difficult to get there given the charged geopolitical dynamic. “I’m just afraid that we are farther away from that than we were four years ago,” McGinn, who has never been to Israel, told JI. “That’s my concern about the region.”

Patricia Roybal Caballero

Perhaps because Israel is unlikely to be a major subject of debate in a race that is expected to be centered on domestic policy matters, the other candidates displayed varying levels of familiarity with issues of concern to Jewish community members as well as pro-Israel advocates — though all made clear their desire to take an active role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Roybal Caballero expressed a strong kinship with Jewish community members in the Southwest, noting that she was a founder of the Mexican American Jewish Relations Coalition in El Paso. “We met for the express reason of trying to improve relationships in our communities,” she recalled, “because we found out that we didn’t know enough.”

Though she has no position on BDS, she said she was eager to visit Israel, describing a trip there as a “dream.” Roybal Caballero, who favors a two-state solution, added that she would support President Joe Biden’s approach to the conflict as he hones his Middle East foreign policy agenda during his first term. “I think a two-state solution is probably the best hope, and as the settlements continue, it’s going to force a solution, and we’ve got to be attentive to that,” she said. “We’ve got to continue to create an approach or relationships from mutual respect.”

Francisco Fernández (Courtesy)

“History is important,” she added. “Israel’s role in that history, and Palestine’s role in that history, just as our tribal nations’ role in that history, and our Western role, has all been a fight for survival, but not at the exclusion of each other.”

Fernández, who has never visited Israel, was less familiar with a number of the issues, including the memorandum of understanding, during the interview. “I can tell you that I don’t believe in withdrawing aid,” he said. Fernández later emailed his thoughts on the BDS movement after speaking with JI. “While my knowledge regarding the BDS movement is limited, I’d like to make it clear: I would not support it or anything like it,” he said. “Boycotts, divestments and sanctions are not the best means to productively foster peace between Israel and Palestine.”

Louis was also unacquainted with BDS but said she was learning more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as she pursues higher officer. “I’m not the expert, but I have been reading up,” she said. “I have been also talking to members of my community about it. But it’s my understanding that the U.S. and Israel just share an unbreakable bond. We have built on a commitment to our common history, values and interests, where Israel is our most important ally in the region, and one of our most important in the world.”

“I will support the U.S.-Israel relationship, and I think, from what I understand, the two-state solution is the one that seems to be most beneficial,” Louis added. “I just think the United States has a responsibility to work with Israelis and Palestinians, as well as regional and international partners, to reach a peaceful end to the hostilities that are going on right now.”

Reyes and Guerrero were more critical of Israel. Reyes, who supports a two-state solution, told JI that he had not yet made up his mind as to whether he would back the BDS movement as a member of Congress and suggested that he would support conditioning aid.

Victor Reyes (Courtesy)

“Following the Oslo agreement, Israel made a commitment to the U.S. that it would not build new settlements or expand existing ones,” he said. “There are current violations of this treaty. The United States must lead with a human rights-centered approach when evaluating appropriations. Our budget should reflect our commitment to human rights and conditions should be set, as they are in trade agreements and other international commitments, that require an adherence to these values.”

Guerrero went a step further, calling directly for the U.S. to condition aid to Israel. “I am not in support of U.S. tax dollars being used to oppress and harm,” she declared. “We have seen the oppression of Palestinian people for far too long,” Guerrero said, “and we know that Palestinians across the region are suffering greatly.” 

The community activist also supports BDS. “Divestment is a primary thing that I would be advocating for as a U.S. congressperson,” she said, “because we have to be able to support diplomacy and not violence.” Guerrero added that it was not for her to decide whether the Israelis and Palestinians pursue a two-state solution. “I feel like my role is to support equality for all of the people, for all of its citizens,” she said. “This has been a long fight, and so it’s time for us now to stop the violence. We must support them, whether it’s a one state, two state, a confederation, some other form.”

Selinda Guerrero

“The reason I support the boycott and the divestment is because, in particular, we want to put enough pressure so that the violence and the harm can stop,” Guerrero, who said she is actively involved with Jewish Voice for Peace, told JI. “I think it’s important. And so my position is to advocate and support Palestinians and Israelis to make determinations for their own selves with the full rights and support to be able to do so.”

Despite her support for the boycott, Guerrero said she was open to visiting Israel. “I would be honored,” she said. I’ve been invited by many of the people that I do work with in the region.”

Pro-Israel groups, including Democratic Majority for Israel and the Jewish Democratic Council of America, have yet to make endorsements in the race. But Jeff Mendelsohn, executive director of Pro-Israel America, told JI that he was watching with interest. “Pro-Israel America is paying close attention to the upcoming special elections, including the expected race in NM-1 to replace Rep. Deb Haaland,” he said. “While we don’t get involved in every race, we will continue to support candidates who understand and value the U.S.-Israel relationship, particularly when running against candidates who would weaken our strategic alliance.”

Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico’s secretary of state, said on Monday that the special election will be announced within 10 days, after which it will take place in a few months or so. 

The Democratic Party of New Mexico is now electing new central committee members who will pick the next candidate, with Bernalillo County concluding its ballot counting process on Monday and Santa Fe County on Tuesday, according to Miranda van Dijk, a state Democratic Party spokeswoman, who said a member list was not immediately available. The process for all counties in the district will conclude on April 3.

Brian Colón, New Mexico’s Democratic state auditor, said he was energized by the number of candidates who have entered the race, but discouraged by the process through which the winner will be chosen. “As a former state party chair and statewide elected official, I’m inspired by the abundance of riches we have in terms of the field of candidates,” he told JI. “It is striking, however, that in this situation so few people will get to determine the next representative.”

Jewish nonprofits push for additional changes to COVID bill

The House Budget Committee released a draft of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill on Friday that House Democrats are hoping to push through the lower chamber by the end of the week. But some Jewish groups are hoping to see further changes in the legislation.

The current 591-page draft of the bill includes, among other provisions, $1,400 checks for Americans, an extension of federal unemployment benefits and additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses — including nonprofits, funding for schools and vaccination efforts and an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour — which seems unlikely to survive the Senate.

This week, the House will further revise the bill before moving it on to the Senate, where it is likely to undergo a range of additional changes. 

Shortly after the draft bill was released, the Jewish Federations of North America sent a letter to government affairs professionals calling on them to join a letter from the National Council of Nonprofits and a JFNA campaign advocating for changes to the COVID bill.

The Orthodox Union, JFNA, Agudath Israel of America, Jewish Community Centers Association of North America, Jewish Art Education Corporation, New York’s Jewish Museum and numerous local Jewish organizations signed the Council of Nonprofits letter in late January.

The letter calls for full unemployment benefit reimbursements for self-insured nonprofits. The current bill includes 75% reimbursements — up from 50% previously — but Nathan Diament, the director of the OU’s Advocacy Center, said the OU is pushing for further increases in the Senate.

Another major request made in the letter — increased charitable-giving incentives — is not included in the bill draft, and is unlikely to be added.

“That’s not in this package, frankly, because it’s expensive,” Diament said. “And even though $1.9 trillion is a lot of money, that would make it even more expensive. So that’s not in the cards.”

JFNA’s campaign focuses on Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — otherwise known as food stamps.

The current bill increases federal contributions to Medicaid home and community-based services by 7.35%. JFNA is calling for a 10% increase. The bill also increases Medicaid and SNAP funding, but to a lesser extent than JFNA requested.

The Jewish organizations backing changes to the legislation are also pushing to increase the funding available for Jewish elementary and secondary schools. The current bill allows non-public schools, including parochial schools, to receive funds designated for addressing learning loss and other academic, social and emotional impacts from the pandemic — including funding for additional instruction sessions like summer school or extra tutoring programs.

Under the bill’s current language, this fund will make up at least 20% of the total $128 billion being provided to the Department of Education.

Diament said the OU is advocating for non-public schools to be given access to a larger slice of the COVID relief funding, not just the learning loss fund. The restrictions introduced in the latest bill were not part of the original CARES Act passed last March.

“Here as currently drafted, it’s only for a very, very small part. So we’re trying to see if in the Senate, we can get that revised, so it follows the CARES Act precedent, and frankly so it’s more fair to Jewish, Catholic and other non-public schools,” Diament told Jewish Insider on Friday.

Despite the concerns, the current version of the bill does include many provisions that Jewish groups and other nonprofits had hoped to see.

Diament applauded Congress for expanding PPP eligibility for nonprofit organizations, another goal laid out in the Council of Nonprofits letter. Larger nonprofits had previously been mostly excluded from the PPP, a restriction which JFNA president Eric Fingerhut also previously bemoaned.

“This is something we and the Jewish Federation and others have been working on for months and months,” Diament said. “We’re thankful that now that’s been mostly corrected in this new legislation.”

According to Diament, the PPP changes are largely thanks to action from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Small Business Committee Chair Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY).

Diament further praised increases to the child tax credit — to $3,600 for children under age 6 and $3,000 to children up to age 17 — as particularly impactful for the Orthodox community.

“The $3,600 tax credit is also going to be of significant help especially to larger families in the Orthodox community that have lots of kids and who are lower and middle income,” he explained.

Senate Democrats are optimistic that Congress can pass the bill — which will, at a minimum, require 50 Democratic votes in the Senate, plus Vice President Kamala Harris —  and send it to President Joe Biden before March 14, when federal unemployment benefits are set to expire.

House Foreign Affairs Committee picks subcommittee leadership

House Democrats and Republicans are picking their leaders on the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s subcommittees. Here’s a rundown of who is in charge of the committee in the 117th Congress:

Full Committee

  • Chair: Rep. Greg Meeks (D-NY) is the new chairman of the committee, and has promised “a leap towards a new way of doing business.”
  • Vice chair: Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), a former assistant secretary of state, told Jewish Insider, “The job of the committee is not to be a cheerleader. Our job is to conduct oversight” on issues like the Iran nuclear deal.
  • Ranking member: Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), who is entering his second term as the committee’s ranking member, had a collaborative relationship with former chairman Eliot Engel.

Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism subcommittee

  • Chair: Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) will serve another term at the top of the subcommittee whose jurisdiction includes Israel and its neighbors.
  • Vice chair: Freshman Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC), the former chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, told JI shortly after her election that getting placed on the House Foreign Affairs Committee would give her the opportunity “to stand up for” the U.S.-Israel relationship.
  • Ranking member: Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) is entering his second term as ranking member on the subcommittee.

Africa, Global Health, and Global Human Rights subcommittee

  • Chair: Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) has been the top Democrat on the subcommittee since she was first elected to Congress in 2011. 
  • Vice chair: Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who previously faced calls for her removal from the committee following 2019 remarks that invoked antisemitic tropes, was appointed vice chair last week, and some repeated their concerns.
  • Ranking member: Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), who has been in Congress for more than 40 years, was the subcommittee’s chairman when the GOP controlled the House.

Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation subcommittee

  • Chair: Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA) was reelected to chair the subcommittee, with plans to focus on China, North Korea and democratic decline in the region.
  • Vice chair: Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI) emphasized his commitment to protecting Tibet and democracy in India when he was appointed as vice chair.
  • Ranking Member: Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) chaired the subcommittee from 2013 to 2014.

Europe, Energy, the Environment, and Cyber subcommittee

  • Chair: Rep. William Keating (D-MA) was reelected to a second term leading the committee.
  • Ranking member: Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) is a former FBI agent in his third term in Congress.

International Development, International Organizations, and Global Corporate Social Impact subcommittee

  • Chair: Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) was one of three members seeking the top spot on the Foreign Affairs Committee. He was the committee’s vice chair in the 116th Congress.
  • Ranking member: Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) told JI she hopes to preserve and advance the Trump administration’s “significant inroads” on economic and national security issues.

Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, Migration, and International Economic Policy subcommittee

  • Chair: Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ), a refugee from Cuba, chaired the subcommittee in the previous Congress.
  • Ranking member: Rep. Mark Green (R-TN) is a U.S. Army combat veteran who participated in the capture and interrogation of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Quotable: “I’m delighted to be chosen to serve as the vice chair of the Middle East, North Africa and Counterterrorism Subcommittee,” Manning told Jewish Insider. “Israel is one of our most important allies and I will advocate for policies that ensure Israel’s long-term safety and security. I am also committed to addressing Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region, including their continuing efforts to become a nuclear power and their fostering of terrorism around the world, including funding of Hezbollah and Hamas. In addition to these priorities, the Subcommittee must also work to root out antisemitism and to advance human rights across the globe.”

This post was updated at 11:35 on 2/18/21.

House staffers expect Pelosi to continue status quo despite shrunken majority

Although Democrats will enter the 117th Congress in January with a significantly narrower House majority than they have enjoyed for the last two years, House staffers say they are not expecting Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to significantly change her strategy in the next term.

Pelosi will likely continue to keep a firm grip on her caucus to manage the ongoing rift between the progressive and moderate wings of the party, three House staffers told JI.

“I think Pelosi and [House Majority Leader Steny] Hoyer continue to be effective notwithstanding their age because they are extraordinary bridge-builders,” one aide said. “They are able to coalesce and bring disparate parts of the caucus together in ways that few people can… I don’t see leadership changing their modus operandi much.”

A second aide agreed, noting that Pelosi “demands loyalty and… perfection.” 

The aide predicted Pelosi will be willing to cut deals with both the progressive members in her party and moderate Republicans — when needed — to pass bills. But they also acknowledged that the Democrats’ smaller majority will create “legislative barriers.”

“I think the goal will be to pass legislation, so however that gets done,” the aide said. “Whether that’s through progressives demanding change or compromise with Republicans, I think she’ll know when to make that judgement.”

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), a conservative Chicago-area Democrat who has served in Congress since 2005 and who lost his primary race earlier this year to a progressive challenger, said Pelosi will have a tough challenge holding her caucus together during the upcoming term.

“The narrow House majority is going to make things incredibly difficult,” Lipinski said. “There will be a lot of interesting politics going on in the House as Speaker Pelosi tries to keep both the left flank and the right flank of the Democratic Party on board for any bipartisan legislation that comes out of the Senate that President Biden really wants to get passed into law.”

He predicted that the Senate will likely be the main engine of legislation in the upcoming term, and that President-elect Joe Biden will likely have a significant role to play both in helping to wrangle House Democrats and in encouraging Democrats in both chambers to moderate their stances.

“The question is going to be how does the House… pass what the Senate passes,” Lipinski said. “President Biden is going to have to step in and really ask the Democratic Caucus in the House to go along with some legislation that probably the progressives are not going to be happy with in the House. And if they don’t, [Democratic leaders will] probably have to reach out to moderate Republicans in the House.”

The House’s approach to Israel going forward will be set in large part by new House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-NY), the second aide told JI, but said prior to Meeks’s election that they “don’t anticipate that much will change on the big issues.”

The first House aide also noted that the Democratic leadership “feel a debt of gratitude towards the frontline vulnerable members who flipped the Republican seats [in 2018] upon whose backs we kept the majority” — several of whom voted against Pelosi’s speaker bid in 2019.

While Pelosi is expected to retain the gavel, her position is dependent on the support of a handful of her previous rivals — as of now, she can only afford to lose four votes in the race for speaker, Lipinski noted.

Three of the Democrats who voted against Pelosi in 2019, Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Jason Crow (D-CO) and Jim Cooper (D-TN), told JI they will vote for Pelosi, while several other members who opposed her last bid lost their seats in last month’s elections.

Two legislators — Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) and Jared Golden (D-ME) — have publicly said they will not vote for Pelosi, but others have yet to publicly commit either way. 

A spokesperson for Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) — who helped lead the insurgency against Pelosi in the 2019 election — did not comment when JI asked if she’d vote for Pelosi in January, and several others have declined to say how they plan to vote.

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