The White House on Monday defended President Trump’s assertion that the Democratic Party has become “anti-Israel” and “anti-Jewish,” with press secretary Sarah Sanders sparring with reporters who challenged the president’s claim.
“The president has been an unwavering and committed ally to Israel and the Jewish people,” Sanders said at a press briefing, her first in more than a month. “And frankly the remarks that have been made by a number of Democrats and failed to be called out by Democrat leadership is frankly abhorrent and it’s sad and it’s something that should be called by name. It shouldn’t be put in a watered down resolution.”
Last week, the House overwhelmingly passed a broad resolution condemning hate, an expanded version of an earlier draft that focused on anti-Semitic implications in remarks by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. The wording was changed to meet demands from the Congressional Black Caucus and other progressive groups that it cover all forms of bigotry.
“The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party. They’ve become an anti-Jewish party,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn Friday. “And I thought that vote was a disgrace.” Axios, quoting attendees at a Republican dinner at Mar-a-Lago, said Trump later summarized his view as: “The Democrats hate Jewish people.”
All nine of the Jews in the United States Senate are Democrats, and all but two of the 36 members of Congress. Jews overwhelmingly supported Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016.
Sanders drew a contrast between the Democratic response to Omar and how the Republican caucus treated Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, last year. “It should be done the way Republicans did it when Steve King made terrible remarks,” Sanders said. “We called him out by name. We stripped him of his committee memberships. And we’d like to see Democrats follow suit.”
In January, King was banned from committee assignments for the next two years after lamenting in an interview that white supremacy and white nationalism have become offensive terms. Trump himself did not condemn the remarks, as ABC’s Jon Karl pointed out to Sanders.
“The president, correct me if I’m wrong, has not condemned Steve King,” Karl said.
Sanders maintained that Trump has renounced King’s views, but in private. “I speak on behalf of the president on a number of topics, and I’ve talked about that a number of times,” she said.
Later in the briefing, Sanders was asked by MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson whether Trump believes “Democrats hate Jews.”
Sanders refused to answer directly.
“The president has had and laid out clearly his position on this,” she said. “That’s a question frankly I think you should ask Democrats.”
“You’re not answering the question — is there a reason?” Jackson asked. “You didn’t say yes or no. Does he really believe Democrats hate Jews?”
“I think that’s a question you ought to ask the Democrats,” Sanders replied.
On Thursday night, the resolution condemning hate passed with the support of 234 Democrats and 173 Republicans. Twenty-three Republicans voted no. King voted present.
CNN’s Jim Acosta asked Sanders whether imputing hatred of an entire religion to political opponents is “beneath” the office of the presidency — and whether the American people should expect to hear more of it as Trump ramps up his reelection campaign.
Sanders refused to reply directly, but as she has done in the past when facing a question she doesn’t want to answer, attacked Democrats on an unrelated issue, in this case abortion.
“I think the real shame in all of this is that Democrats are perfectly capable of coming together and agreeing on the fact they are comfortable ripping babies straight from a mother’s womb or killing a baby after birth,” Sanders said. “But they have a hard time condemning the type of comments from congresswoman Omar.”
Acosta pushed back.
“Democrats don’t hate Jewish people. That’s just silly,” he said. “It’s not true.”
“I think they should call out their members by name,” Sanders replied.
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