From ‘highly offensive’ to ‘he’s not wrong,’ GOP senators respond to Trump’s remarks about

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Senate Republicans offered a variety of responses Tuesday to their party’s presumptive presidential nominee’s saying this week that Jewish voters who back Democrats hate Israel.

A handful of senators criticized former President Donald Trump‘s comments, some appeared to agree with him, and at least two insisted they hadn’t seen the remarks, which invoked a trope that American Jews have divided loyalties between the U.S. and Israel.

Other senators responded with what became a common refrain while Trump was in office — saying it was a poor choice of words without directly condemning him.

“I wouldn’t say any of that,” Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said of Trump’s comments.

“It’s not what I would say,” said Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., similarly suggested that Trump could use “more artful language” but contended that he is “not wrong about, I think, Democratic leaders’ failing the Israeli state and, and second-guessing them.”

Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said he hadn’t closely followed Trump’s remarks but added that he “speaks his mind.”

Asked whether Trump should back off the kind of rhetoric he used this week, Thune said he’d “prefer to keep people’s religious faith out of these discussions.”

The firestorm started when Trump said in an interview with Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump administration official, that “any Jewish person that votes for Democrats hates their religion.”

“They hate everything about Israel, and they should be ashamed of themselves, because Israel will be destroyed,” Trump continued, before he discussed Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, a frequent Trump critic, offered some of the most pointed criticism of Trump’s remarks.

“That’s highly offensive,” he said. “We do not in this country attack people based upon their religious beliefs or their political views.”

“Conflating religion to politics is an enormous error and violates some of the founding principles of our, of our government and our American history. It’s a terrible mistake on his part, for which he really ought to apologize but won’t,” Romney added.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., meanwhile, appeared to echo Trump’s position that Jewish voters are wrong to back Democrats.

“I don’t know why any Jewish person would support Democrats,” he said. “The Biden administration is not holding Hamas accountable.”

Pew Research Center poll conducted last month found that 62% of Jewish Americans held a favorable view of President Joe Biden, while 21% of Jewish Americans rated Trump favorably.

Biden’s re-election campaign has condemned the comments, with a campaign spokesperson saying Monday that “Donald Trump openly demeans Jewish Americans.”

Visiting Omaha, Nebraska, on Tuesday, second gentleman Doug Emhoff, who is Jewish, blasted Trump’s remarks as “a disgusting, toxic, antisemitic thing to say by anyone, let alone a former president.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who is also Jewish and recently called for new elections in Israel, condemned the remarks, calling them “utterly disgusting and a textbook example of the kind of antisemitism facing Jews, pushing the dangerous antisemitism trope of dual loyalty.”

Trump accused “liberal Jews” in a social media post last year of voting to “destroy” the U.S. and Israel.

On Tuesday, Trump appeared to double down on his recent remarks as he left a polling location in Palm Beach, Florida. Asked about his comments in the Gorka interview, he said, “Democrats have been very, very opposed to Jewish people.”

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