Addressing the situation in Israel with a resolution of support in his first act at Speaker of the House made sense to Mike Johnson. What Johnson, a staunch Christian, has a harder time wrapping his mind around is the level of hate for Israel that has bubbled to the surface in the U.S. since the Jewish state was attacked by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7.
He understands it. He gets the indoctrination on college campuses part. He just finds it disappointing to see hate as a message delivered from the U.S. Congress.
"We're seeing it everywhere. I really thought that the large wave of antisemitism was not something that we would see in America. I thought we were kind of beyond that. There's always pockets of that, but wow. It's been shocking, shocking to see how this kind of uprising of antisemitism has just infected the whole country," Johnson said on Washington Watch Thursday.
"A lot of it is centered on the college campuses. They've been indoctrinated by these radical leftist professors and all of that. We know that's a cultural issue – but to have it here in Congress has been so disconcerting," he told show host Tony Perkins.
Not all Democrats oppose Israel, but there is clear opposition – none more vocal than Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), the House's lone Palestinian member, who was censured by the House over her anti-Israel rhetoric.
Rep. Brad Schneider, a Jewish Democrat from Illinois, voted for Tlaib's censure, taking issue with her use of the popular slogan "from the river to the sea" – a metaphor for the elimination of the state of Israel.
"It's nothing else but the call for the destruction of Israel and murder of Jews," Schneider told The Associated Press. "I will always defend the right to free speech. Tlaib has the right to say whatever she wants, but it cannot go unanswered."
Johnson also had a response to Tlaib's comments. To support the Palestinians is to support Hamas, he said.
"That's an elected member of the people in the United States Congress who's speaking out in support of a terrorist group. They're not just pro-Palestinian. It's as if they're supporting the atrocious actions of Hamas. It's devastating," Johnson said.
A bipartisan show of support at the U.S. House
The new House Speaker was part of a bipartisan candlelight vigil on the steps of the U.S. House this week and felt a peaceful spirit by seeing House members from each side of the aisle stand together on this topic. He led the group in prayer.
"I prayed to God that we would have peace in Jerusalem, we'd have peace in Israel. We're admonished in scripture to pray that and to insist upon it. It was a great feeling there to have Republicans and Democrats standing united in this cause. I think we need to send that message around the world," he shared.
For Johnson, the United States standing firm in support of Israel is a natural response. Christians and Jews have different views but many similarities. He argues that beyond the faith aspects, support for Israel is politically necessary for a Constitutional Republic in the West.
"Our faiths are tied together, especially in this country, of course. We speak often about our Judeo-Christian foundations, and we have that in common, and so it's a matter of faith to us, but it's also a matter of common sense and principle.
"It makes sense for us to support our strongest ally in the Middle East. They're the only democracy in that region, and they're surrounded by neighbors who now clearly, we know, want to eradicate them. And it makes good sense from a public policy standpoint, from an investment standpoint. We have to have Israel be sustained and survive and be strong," Johnson said.
He'll soon share that message with the Knesset, the Jewish state's single legislative body, which has invited Johnson to come and speak. Johnson says he's already communicated – to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to leadership in the Knesset – his beliefs that the U.S. should stand in strong support of Israel.
"I'm going to plan to [speak] as soon as possible because I think we need to continue to just reinforce and double-down on this idea that America will always stand with Israel. This is the right side of the conflict," Johnson said.
Moving from symbolic to tangible
Beyond the resolution supporting Israel, Johnson quickly moved to something more tangible – a financial assistance package. The bill gave President Joe Biden all the $14.3 billion he requested for Israel … but not in the manner he requested.
Johnson's bill is stand-alone Israel only legislation which pays for the assistance by cuts in the IRS funding in Biden's Inflation Reduction Act last year. Biden had tied the Israel funding to a request for $61.4 billion for Ukraine in its war against Russia and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine, Israel and the Palestinians. The Senate hasn't voted on Johnson's Israel bill, and Biden has threatened to veto it.
"The Senate's not moving it. You know why? Because we added a pay-for. What a concept," Johnson said. "We're $33.6 trillion in debt. At what point do we say enough is enough? Every hard-working family in America has to make a budget. They have to live within their means. They don't get to spend beyond that, and their government should operate on the same principles. It's not rocket science.
"We're taking $14.5 billion out of a $67 billion fund that was set there to build up the IRS and hire new IRS agents to go and audit small businesses and families. I sent the message to Senator Schumer and the Democrats who run the Senate that I think helping Israel right now is a little bit higher priority than hiring IRS agents.
"I wasn't trying to make a political statement. It just makes sense."