Updated Mar 19, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Trump sparks GOP groans with "awful" remarks about Jews

Former President Trump, wearing a dark blue suit jacket, white shirt and red tie.

President Trump. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Republican lawmakers are uncomfortably trying to navigate former President Trump's comment that any Jew who votes for Democrats "hates their religion."

Why it matters: It's a dynamic with which Republicans on the Hill will need to re-familiarize themselves as Trump steps back into the political spotlight.

  • "I get it, this is sort of the news of the day you guys have to do," Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) responded when asked about the presumptive GOP nominee's remarks.

Driving the news: Trump on Monday tore into Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) for his criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu and call for new elections in Israel.

  • "Any Jewish person that votes for Democrats hates their religion, they hate everything about Israel, and they should be ashamed of themselves," Trump said on the radio show of his right-wing former aide Seb Gorka.
  • The comment was met with a swift, fierce reaction from Jewish Democratic lawmakers and groups but silence from the Republican Conference in the immediate aftermath.
  • The Trump campaign, unabashed, doubled down. "The Democrat Party has turned into a full-blown anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, pro-terrorist cabal," spokesperson Karoline Leavitt said in a statement.

What we're hearing: The comment found pockets of pushback from GOP lawmakers who were asked about it on Tuesday.

  • "I disagree, everybody has the right to vote for who they want and worship the way they want," said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.).
  • "That is incredibly, incredibly wrong and an awful statement," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a vocal Trump critic, told reporters.
  • Swing-district Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Ore.) told Axios in a statement that Trump "has a First Amendment right to say whatever he wants, but I know many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are passionate supporters of Israel and the Jewish people."
  • "I represent a district with a significant Jewish population. They — like every American — have a right to their opinions, religion and vote," said Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.).

Yes, but: Trump has no shortage of Republican defenders in Congress – including in some unlikely corners of the GOP.

  • "Far too many elected Democrats are willing to throw Israel under the bus in order to appease pro-Hamas leftists, including Senator Schumer," Rep. Anthony D'Esposito (R-N.Y.), one of the most vulnerable GOP incumbents, said in a statement to Axios.
  • Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.), another swing-district Republican, told Axios: "I think a lot of Jewish voters have felt like the Democrat Party has abandoned them on this issue, and I think he's trying to reflect that."

Zoom in: For many other Republicans, it was a familiar refrain – "I missed it … this is literally the first time I'm hearing it," Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-N.Y.) told Axios when asked about Trump's comments.

  • "I don't have any thought on it. I've been too busy trying to get these appropriations bills done," said swing-district Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.).
  • Vulnerable Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), asked about Trump's comment, offered only a dismissive wave of his hand.

Between the lines: Republicans are increasingly tethering themselves to Trump – including those facing difficult reelection prospects in districts President Biden won in 2020.

  • Just on Monday, the ex-president rolled out endorsements from several Biden-district Republicans, including Rep. Brandon Williams (R-N.Y.) – who, like most other Republicans in Biden districts, did not respond to requests for comment.
  • "Donald Trump is running for president … he's going to, I think, choose wording that gains a little bit more attention than we choose in these hallways," said Johnson, the chair of the center-right Main Street Caucus.
  • Asked if he agrees with Trump's assessment about Jewish Democrats, Johnson replied, "I certainly wouldn't say that."

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from Rep. Marc Molinaro. Axios' Stef Kight contributed reporting for this story.

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