A record number of Jews in Washington?

With a Democratic surge expected nationwide, Congress may see more Jewish reps than ever.

November 4, 2008 00:29
2 minute read.
A record number of Jews in Washington?

US Congress 248.88. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Forget Mr. Smith - this year, Mr. Stein is going to Washington. With an expected nationwide surge in Democratic turnout for Tuesday's US presidential elections, the number of Jews elected to Congress may reach record-levels. With Jewish candidates positioning to match the 2006 record of 30 House members and 13 senators, Democrats are hoping to capture at least four new House districts - including Alaska's lone House seat, contested by would-be freshman Ethan Berkowitz, and another from the Phoenix area. On the Republican side, Rep. Eric Cantor, a four-term congressman from Virginia who is currently the GOP's chief deputy whip, is rumored to be in the running for minority leader in the expected post-election changeover. The Senate total of Jewish leaders is expected to remain unchanged. After a presidential campaign shrill with rhetoric on all sides about whether Democrat Barack Obama was "good for the Jews," analysts on both sides of the partisan divide agreed that the sheer number of Jewish legislators would guarantee attention for Israel and for Jewish issues no matter which party wins the White House. A Democratic Congress would be as pro-Israel as a Republican one, reiterated Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. He pointed to consistent support for Israel under the current Democratic leadership. "I think Democratic majorities will mean, for American Jewry, a more favorable environment for health care and social service spending," he added. According to The New York Times, 27 seats are tossups overall, and another 38 are contested, with Democrats counting on wins in 238 districts and Republicans holding on to 170 seats out of 435. Pro-Israel lobbyist Morris Amitay said he was concerned about the prospect of losing some Republican seats, including Coleman's, in the Senate, and Illinois Rep. Mark Kirk's in the House, yet he sounded an uncharacteristically sanguine note for this election season. "It basically would be much better if they win than if they lose, but Congress will still remain supportive of Israel even if they all lose," said Amitay, a former head of AIPAC. He added that Congress had the ability to rein in the executive branch on foreign policy, recalling that the Senate sent a letter to President Gerald Ford telling him to "cool it" when pushing for negotiations on Israel in 1975. "If McCain pulls off a win it's less of a problem, but I don't think that if Obama is elected president and moves ahead with something that Israel considers inimicable to its interests that they wouldn't say something," said Amitay. "I don't think he'll be able to use Congress as a doormat, especially where it has to do with Israel," he added. Jewish Democrats in Congress will also have a powerful emissary to an Obama White House in Rep. Rahm Emanuel, a fellow Illinois Democrat whose father was born in Jerusalem. Emanuel, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, has been mentioned as a possible chief of staff for Obama. Congressional Democrats may nonetheless have a hard time telling a popular fellow Democrat what to do for the first few months, said Republican pollster Stuart Rothenberg. "There will be a tendency on the part of the Hill to defer to him for a fair amount of time - I don't think they're going to want to take him on," Rothenberg said. "So US policy towards the Middle East, Israel, Iran, it really is going to depend on Obama, when he wins this election."

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