Nov 14, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Bipartisan Jewish Caucus begins to take shape

Rep. Max Miller. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images.

The newly formed congressional Jewish Caucus is set to have both Democratic and Republican members, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The group's formation comes as the Israel-Hamas war and rising antisemitism in the U.S. have created a highly charged dynamic for Congress' Jewish members.

  • "Certainly in my lifetime I can't think of a more important time for us to be together and advocating," said Rep. Greg Landsman (D-Ohio).
  • The group is poised to include some of Congress' most progressive lawmakers, setting the stage for an unusually diverse grouping.

Driving the news: Rep. Max Miller (R-Ohio) told Axios he plans to join the group after speaking with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who filed to create the caucus earlier this month.

  • "She asked me last week and I told her yes ... I'm joining the caucus," said Miller, one of two Jewish Republicans in Congress along with Rep. David Kustoff (R-Tenn.) – compared to nearly two dozen Jewish Democrats.
  • Miller said the fact the group will be overwhelmingly comprised of Democrats is "is why it's so important to have a conservative's perspective" predicting it will "actually ... work out in a very harmonious way."
  • Kustoff will not be a member because he doesn't join caucuses, his spokesperson told Axios.

Between the lines: Congressional affinity groups like the Jewish Caucus with members in both parties are exceedingly rare.

  • The Congressional Black Caucus has had GOP members in the past but does not currently include any of the four Black Republicans in the House. The Asian Pacific American Caucus also has no Republicans.
  • The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is explicitly a Democratic caucus – Republicans have their own Congressional Hispanic Conference.

The latest: The group has been formally approved by the House Administration Committee, according to Schultz and a spokesperson for the panel.

  • "We'll be getting moving on organizing," said Schultz, adding that her custodial role in filing the paperwork to start the caucus makes her merely an "interim organizer."
  • Several lawmakers said they expect there to be an election to decide the group's leadership.

Zoom in: The group's moderate, pro-Israel organizers are confident they can get the bulk of their Jewish Democratic colleagues to join, including some progressives who are more skeptical of the idea of a formal caucus.

  • Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) said it's "important to me ... that we welcome everybody," adding, "I suspect most if not all of them will join."
  • Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) told Axios he wasn't sold on creating a formal group "in the past" but that he and other progressives who shared his apprehensions have been communicating and warming to the idea.
  • "I think at this time, with a massive increase in antisemitism and horrific occurrences ... in Israel, it's important that the Jewish members meet together and have a voice," said Cohen.

Yes, but: Not everybody is on board. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who as the most senior Jewish member of Congress is seen as the leader of the informal Jewish members group, told Axios he won't join.

  • "We've always had a Jewish grouping, we've never felt it necessary to have a caucus," said Nadler, predicting Schultz won't "have anything close to the majority" of Jewish members in the group.
  • A senior aide to another Jewish member told Axios that the lawmaker thinks the "chaos" of the Israel-Hamas war makes it a bad time to start the caucus and wants broader discussion with the Jewish members about the idea.

What we're watching: A primary goal of the group is to give Jewish members a seat at the Democratic leadership table – specifically the weekly "crescendo" meetings House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) holds with the leaders of various factions within the Democratic Caucus.

  • Sources said representation in the meetings is at Jeffries' discretion. A spokesperson for the Democratic leader did not respond to a request for comment.
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