With the Republican Party taking control of the House of Representatives, much will be written of what this means for health care, taxes, women in Congress, and Barack Obama’s agenda. But what does it mean for Jews in Congress?
Assuming the current Minority Leader, Representative John Boehner of Ohio, moves up to the post of Speaker of the House (replacing Nancy Pelosi), this could mean that the Number 2 Republican in the House – Virginia Representative Eric Cantor, the current Republican whip and the only Jewish Republican in Congress (since Arlen Specter switched parties) – could become the next Majority Leader (and the second most powerful person in the House).
Cantor, who keeps a kosher household, is known for being very vocal on foreign policy – and especially on those issues that concern Israel or Iran.
If he becomes Majority Leader – an unprecedentedly powerful position for a Jew in Congress, in a role usually populated with McCormacks and O’Neills – Cantor could hold a tremendous amount of legislative power, as the role normally includes the power to set the House floor agenda, and determine which bills are brought to the House floor, when, and in what form. I would be hard-pressed to think of another way for a single person to wield more power over the actions taken by a legislative body.
While foreign policy is generally controlled directly by the President and Secretary of State, a powerful Congressional leader with an interest in foreign policy could certainly have an impact on the direction of such policy, should he choose to exercise his power in that direction.
So what would a Cantor leadership role look like, as far as Israel and Iran are concerned?
Last March, I posted some excerpts from Cantor’s speech at the AIPAC Policy Conference Capitol Club Reception. I am reposting the main highlights from his speech below. I guess we’ll just have to wait to see what a Cantor term in House majority leadership will mean in practice. But for all those interested in foreign policy, and especially for pro-Israel Americans, and all those worried about a nuclear Iran, this seems to be a hopeful moment. I’m sure Cantor’s bubbe is kvelling, too.
Without any further ado – Eric Cantor on Israel and Iran
(Excerpts from Cantor’s speech to the AIPAC Capitol Club, 2010 AIPAC Policy Conference)
Now is the time when the United States must stand with Israel in the global struggle against the threats posed by radical Islam.
…we must do all we can to ensure the survival of the State of Israel. At a time like this, it is crucial to stress the message that a strong Israel is in the best interest of American national security.
Should any of us waver in our resolve, we must let the lessons of history propel us to action. If you deal with Iran, you are not welcome to deal with the United States. Our willingness to use force is on the table.
We know well who our one true and reliable friend in the Middle East is. We know who stands with us in our fight against terrorism. Who wept at candlelight vigils when America was attacked on 9/11. And who sends teams of doctors to save lives in Haiti. In the same way, we also know who teaches their children to emulate suicide bombers. Who danced and tossed candy around on 9/11. And who names their schools and public squares after terrorists.
This is more than a Jewish cause or an Israeli issue. These are challenges to America. Israel’s security is synonymous with our own. People who point guns at Israel with murder in their eyes will next turn on us. Israel is a critically important strategic ally, who brings stability to a volatile region.