US Speaker of the House Paul Ryan .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Since Donald J. Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination earlier this month, his party’s most powerful member in Congress, House Speaker Paul Ryan, has been calling for “genuine unity” with the real estate mogul on policy issues woven into the fabric of the party itself.
Top among those issues is support for Israel, aides close to Republican congressional leadership say. And, on that front, perhaps more than any other, significant distance and distrust remains over where the new GOP figurehead actually stands.
Over breakfast with foreign- policy reporters last month, Ryan told the group he fears for the future of discretionary -spending programs such as foreign aid to Egypt and Israel if the next president fails to get the country’s fiscal house in order – a tall task that Trump has not addressed in sufficient detail, according to leadership aides.
“We’re not even close to that level of genuine unity [on Israel],” one senior Republican aide told The Jerusalem Post. “When leadership talks, and they’re discussing whether or not to endorse, one of the first things they go back to is: ‘I’m not neutral when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians.’”
Repeatedly throughout the primary season, Trump said his experience as a dealmaker and his desire to successfully broker Israeli-Palestinian peace requires a level of neutrality entering future negotiations as president.
That point drew ire from Hill Republicans, as well as from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who dismissed Trump’s notion of neutrality in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March.
“America can’t ever be neutral when it comes to Israel’s security or survival,” Clinton told the lobby. “We can’t be neutral when rockets rain down on residential neighborhoods, when civilians are stabbed in the street, when suicide bombers target the innocent. Some things aren’t negotiable.
“We need steady hands, not a president who says he’s neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday and who knows what on Wednesday, because everything’s negotiable,” she added.
Following Clinton, Trump offered an address to the group that was one of his first major policy speeches, read off of a teleprompter and carefully scripted around the official party line. But Congressional GOP leadership worries that Trump’s AIPAC moment speaks less to his affection for Israel and more to his development as a candidate for office.
Since then, Trump has avoided use of the term neutral.
Israel is a “force for justice and peace,” he told the Center for National Interest last month in his second major foreign policy address – America’s “great friend, and the one true democracy in the Middle East.” He made no mention of the Palestinians.
Yet, that second speech irked pro-Israel Republicans for different reasons. Those on the Hill holding out their endorsements of Trump found themselves concerned with the historical implications of an “America First” presidential slogan, given the 1940s America First Committee’s opposition to US intervention in World War II and its opposition to Zionism.
“It invokes uncomfortable historical parallels,” said one aide, “that any pro-Israel Republican isn’t going to like.”
Some members also express concern over the candidate’s rhetoric surrounding the nuclear deal brokered with Iran last year. After Trump incorporated into his stump speech this winter that the deal should have required Iran to buy American-made Boeing plane parts, as opposed to French Airbus pieces, Hill Republicans contacted his campaign in protest: Pro-Israel Republicans were busy drafting a bill that would constrict Iran’s ability to buy any plane parts at all for the benefit of Mahan Air, an Iranian airline already sanctioned by the United States for its servicing of the country’s Revolutionary Guards.
“Lobbying against Airbus doing business with Iran for Boeing’s sake may make business sense, but it represents a total misunderstanding of how to deal with hostile regimes,” another senior aide said.
Ryan has been meeting with Trump and scheduling phone calls with the candidate, working toward unity on a host of issues.
“It’s very important that we don’t fake unifying, we don’t pretend unification, that we truly and actually unify so that we are full strength in the fall – I don’t want us to have a fake unification process here,” Ryan told reporters earlier this month.
“I want to make sure that we really, truly understand each other and that we are committed to the conservative principles that make the Republican Party.”