Jewish Americans are now the face of Trump resistance
They plan to conduct hearings on his foreign policy, lead oversight into his administration, subpoena his closest aides, investigate his family and run against him in 2020.
In large numbers, American Jews are becoming the face of a Democratic resistance against US President Donald Trump by assuming critical chairmanships in the House of Representatives and preparing campaigns for the White House.
They are voting against him in record numbers. In midterm elections on Tuesday, 79% of Jewish voters chose Democrats, according to exit polls conducted by Pew Research Center and CNN. Only 17% supported Republicans – down nearly 10% in two short, if eventful years.
And they are getting elected. Across the country, 28 Jewish Americans were elected or reelected to the House – only two of which are Republicans – and nine to the Senate, just shy of marking record-high Jewish representation on Capitol Hill. Democrats’ sole pickup seat from Republicans in the Senate, in Nevada, was Jacky Rosen, formerly president of her synagogue.
What, if anything, does their Judaism have to do with their politics? Statistics would suggest quite a bit. A majority of American Jews have voted for progressive candidates and causes in elections since at least 1984, when record-keeping began on Jewish voter patterns, and when roughly seven in 10 community members began reliably voting Democratic – a direct response to a Republican alignment with Evangelical Christians that appeared at the time hostile to Jews and their pluralistic values.
Those same political elements that drove Jewish Americans to become bastions of the Democratic Party throughout the 20th century have resurged with renewed vigor over three decades later. The Jewish constituency amounts to a loose, otherwise diverse coalition squarely opposed to policies hostile to minority protections, social welfare and equal justice.
To American Jews, Trump appears a threat to those values today. A poll released last month by the Jewish Electorate Institute found that 70% of the community disapproves of Trump’s handling of a spike in antisemitism nationwide – and even fewer approve of his foreign policy or his approach to immigration, gun safety, the environment, health care or his Supreme Court nominations. Three out of four rule out voting for him under any circumstances.
But if votes in Florida on Tuesday are any indication, their opposition to the Republican Party in its current construction may not be enough to reverse its gains. The state’s two most important, most expensive races– for governor and a Senate seat – both drew to near ties, but broke for GOP candidates.
And this was in an election that appeared to include high Jewish turnout. In Broward County, for example, one of the most heavily populated Jewish communities in the country, incumbent Democratic congressman Ted Deutsch won by a larger percentage than any of his recent predecessors, breaking into the 60th percentile.
That turnout may have been affected by the mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, just days before the vote – an unprecedented antisemitic attack that highlighted for American Jews the deteriorating state of political discourse and a sharp rise in antisemitic incidents nationwide, tracked with Trump’s political ascent.
TAKING CONTROL of the House, Jewish members will now count among top congressional leadership and serve as the public face of some of the nation’s most closely watched hearings and investigations. It is expected that Jerrold Nadler of New York will head the House Judiciary Committee, Nita Lowey of New York the Appropriations Committee, Eliot Engel of New York the Foreign Relations Committee, and Adam Schiff of California the Intelligence Committee.
Those committees will transform into battlegrounds for the Trump presidency in January, once the new Congress is sworn in. As early as Tuesday night, these four members were previewing their plans to subpoena the president and his aides for his tax returns and for documents on his family business ties overseas. They are likely to investigate the president’s handling of hurricane response in Puerto Rico last year, his policy of separating migrant families at the border
and his relationship with
They may also examine the president’s payments to Stormy Daniels, a porn star and his alleged mistress before entering the White House, as well as his firing of former FBI director James Comey. They could look at ethics compliance of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, at Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s business dealings, at the use of personal email for government business by White House staff, administration-backed voter suppression efforts, and at the politicization of scientific study at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Overall, the future chairmen vow to provide checks on the president following two years of a Republican-controlled House that offered little in terms of oversight.
Immediately after Trump fired his attorney-general, Jeff Sessions, on Wednesday, appointing an interim figure who has vocally criticized a probe into Russian election interference he will now oversee, Nadler promised House action.
“Americans must have answers immediately as to the reasoning behind @realDonaldTrump removing Jeff Sessions from @TheJusticeDept,” wrote Nadler on Twitter. “Why is the President making this change and who has authority over Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation? We will be holding people accountable.”
So, too, did Schiff, who has been an aggressive ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee and is expected to pick up its own Russia investigation where Republicans had left it off.
“President Trump just removed Jeff Sessions. He wants an attorney-general to serve his interest, not the public,” Schiff said. “Mueller’s investigation and the independence of the DOJ [Department of Justice] must be protected. Whitaker and any nominee must commit to doing both. We will protect the rule of law.”
But while probes emanating from their committees are sure to attract attention – and shape future electoral prospects for the Democratic Party – so, too, will an emerging field of Jewish contenders for the presidency, likely to include entrepreneur and former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg; Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz; and Bernie Sanders, among others.
All of these figures enter the spotlight in an environment exceptionally hostile to Jews, where white nationalism and neo-Nazism is measurably on the rise.
“I am concerned that, under Trump, this country has become more divided along racial, ethnic and religious lines, and that’s because of the vitriol that some of his supporters have espoused,” Halie Soifer, the newly appointed executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, told The Jerusalem Post this fall. “I would like to think that the country is ready for a Jewish candidate, but to the extent we aren’t, of course there is concern that there’s a rise in antisemitism. And his past rhetoric raises concern that this may become an issue going forward in 2020.”
Declining to comment on any one potential candidate, Soifer did express worry that Jewish figures serving as the face of Trump resistance could backfire against the party – and the community – at such a politically divisive moment.
“I think it’s still very early – there are lots of names out there,” Soifer said. “But it would be great to have Jewish candidates. I would like to think today that the fact that candidates are Jewish is less important than if they represent Jewish values – a woman’s right to choose, support for Israel, gun control. That’s what is really important.”
“But it’s really about being able to defeat Donald Trump,” Soifer added. •
US PRESIDENT Donald Trump takes a question Wednesday during a news conference at the White House following Tuesday’s midterm congressional elections.