From Enthusiastic Support to Stinging Criticism, Democrats Divided Over Jerusalem Move

By Patrick Goodenough | December 7, 2017 | 4:21 AM EST

President Trump on Wednesday announced that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital and instructed the State Department to begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy to the city from Tel Aviv. (Photo: CNSNews.com)

(CNSNews.com) – Senior Democratic lawmakers took varied stands on President Trump’s Jerusalem policy shift Wednesday, ranging from unequivocal support to sharp criticism and warnings of harm to U.S. interests.

“Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish people,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), ranking member of House Appropriations subcommittee on state and foreign operations.

“I was proud to vote for the [1995] Jerusalem Embassy Act, which demonstrated Congress’ unified position that Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of Israel, and today’s announcement is consistent with existing U.S. law,” she said.

“I support the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel and to move the U.S. embassy there,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), ranking member of House Foreign Affairs Committee. “This decision is long overdue and helps correct a decades-long indignity.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Trump’s announcement “implements what Congress affirmed in 1995 with the passage of the Jerusalem Embassy Act: Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel and the location of the U.S. Embassy should reflect this fact.”

“Going forward, it is critical that all religious and ethnic groups continue to have access to Jerusalem,” he added. 

“The president’s decision today is a recognition of existing U.S. law that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and that the U.S. embassy should ultimately be located in the capital,” Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), ranking member of House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, said in a joint statement with the subcommittee’s chair, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.)

“There is no debate that the Jewish people have a deep-rooted religious, cultural and historic tie to Jerusalem, and today’s decision reaffirms that connection,” they said.

“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and I’ve strongly supported acknowledging that simple fact,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.).

“My hope is that the president’s announcement of his recognition of Jerusalem will be followed by meaningful steps to advance the peace process, including secure borders for Israel and a two-state solution.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) did not issue a statement Wednesday but as recently as October called for Trump to move the embassy to Jerusalem – and to do so now, as Israel marks the 50th anniversary of the city’s reunification.

A cautious response came from Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who affirmed that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital but voiced concern that Trump’s “announcement today – absent support from regional partners and allies, and outside the confines of a plan – undermines the prospect for negotiations and risks destabilizing an already volatile region.”

‘Another diplomatic blunder and unforced error’

Outright opposition to Trump’s move came from a number of Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who said that “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish homeland” but that “in the absence of a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem now may needlessly spark mass protests, fuel tensions, and make it more difficult to reach a durable peace.” 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called Trump’s decision “a major setback to a two-state solution,” and one that “rejects decades of bipartisan policy and undermines our standing with the Palestinians and our partners in the region.”

Implicitly responding to criticism of her opposition despite her support – both in 1995 and again just six months ago – for moving the embassy to Jerusalem, Feinstein said that the vote in 1995 was to move the embassy “in the context of the Oslo peace process.”

“Today, there are no direct negotiations, and by taking this action there’s a real potential to further inflame the Middle East,” she said.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of Senate Armed Services Committee, called the move “another diplomatic blunder and unforced error by President Trump.”

“The timing of this announcement and the way it was unveiled could trigger a backlash against Israel and American interests and personnel overseas.”

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said he was “very concerned that President Trump’s announcement will further s‎et back efforts to achieve a two-state solution. I support ‎the longstanding U.S. policy that Jerusalem’s permanent status needs to be decided by the parties in final peace negotiations.”

Kaine also expressed concern about negative reaction around the world and the potential impact the move could have on the safety of U.S. personnel abroad.

“Campaign promises to score political points, without careful consideration of U.S. national interests, rarely make good policy, and I fear this is a particularly dangerous example of that,” opined Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)

“I firmly support Israel’s security and believe this announcement is harmful to both U.S. and Israeli interests,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.)

“It is unfortunate that the president chose to ignore warnings from many U.S. allies and partners around the world about his decision’s negative impact on the peace process and the heightened tensions it will cause.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, in a statement ahead of Trump’s announcement, said, “What the U.S. should be doing now is bringing adversaries in the Middle East together to seek common solutions, not exacerbating tensions in this highly volatile region.”

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow