Schiff Addresses Trump, Anti-Semitism, Israel and 2020

March 20, 2019
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA). Photo by Lorin Granger

Although Rep. Adam Schiff was first elected to represent his Southern California district in Congress in 2000, and has been re-elected nine times, he didn’t become a household name until President Donald Trump took office in 2016.  

The 58-year-old Jewish congressman who represents the 28th Congressional District, was thrust into the national spotlight as the Democrats’ Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, where he struggled against the committee’s GOP leadership to conduct inquiries into Russian interference in the last presidential election. In January, he became the committee chair after Democrats took control of the House following the November midterm elections.

Over the past two years, Schiff has regularly appeared on cable news to talk about the importance of investigating the Russians’ interference and whether the Trump campaign was involved with it. As a result, he has become a target for Trump, who on Twitter has called him a “political hack,” “sleazy” and even “Little Adam Schitt” — a moniker the president later claimed was a misspelling. 

“I would say my typical day over the last two years has been anything but typical of the preceding decade in office,” Schiff said during a recent telephone interview with the Journal, ahead of his March 19 talk at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. “Going from minority to chair hasn’t changed the length of my days, which are already really long, or the nature of my work, except that it allows me to be in the driver’s seat of our investigation, rather than a passenger protesting that the driver isn’t serious about getting to the truth. So we now have the opportunity to bring in witnesses that we didn’t before, we have the ability to compel answers we couldn’t before, but we also have an adversary in the Oval Office determined to attack us and obstruct us in every way.”

Schiff said he is determined to have the committee’s investigation leave no stone unturned.

“The evidence of collusion has been hiding in plain sight for a long time,” he said. “The only way you can avoid seeing it is if you are willfully unwilling to look at the plain evidence.”

Schiff said he draws on his Jewish values in his work.

“My religious and cultural upbringing has instilled in me a respect for our institutions, a respect for fundamental decency and integrity, and appreciation of how much character matters,” he said. “And this is why I am so aghast at not only the occupant of the Oval Office, but how his fundamental lack of decency and morality has affected the whole of government.”

“There have been a lot of stresses and strains on the bipartisan nature of support for Israel. I think this is an enduring challenge we have yet to meet.”

— Rep. Adam Schiff

On Feb. 26, the House Intelligence Committee convened its first open hearing under Schiff’s leadership, during which former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, among others, testified about the rise of authoritarianism.

“There’s a real rise of autocracy around the world,” Schiff said, “and I think that my Jewish background has really made me keenly aware of history, of the dangers of authoritarianism, of the toxic mix of economic disruption and a xenophobic brand of populism, where populist leaders can blame ‘the other’ for any economic distress. Jews have often been the most vulnerable victims of authoritarianism, but it is a danger for any minority.”

It’s also why, Schiff said, bipartisan support for Israel is more important than ever.

“We have to make every effort to ensure the U.S.-Israel relationship is nonpartisan, that it is strong, irrespective of who is in the Oval Office or the prime minister’s office,” he said. “And there have been a lot of stresses and strains on the bipartisan nature of support for Israel. I think this is an enduring challenge we have yet to meet.”

Schiff made these comments to the Journal on March 7, hours before the House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of bigotry.

“I think [the resolution] properly identifies a number of anti-Semitic tropes and helps educate the public about the history of them and why they are pernicious,” he said. “I think it’s an appropriate response to the debate we’ve been having about a number of comments made the past few weeks.”

The House drafted the resolution following anti-Israel statements made by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). The ensuing controversy prompted Trump to remark that Jews and supporters of Israel were leaving the Democratic Party because of such comments. Schiff called Trump’s criticism of Omar cynical and hypocritical.

“I think the president is trying to exploit this situation for partisan purposes, which is singularly unhelpful after his comments equating people on both sides of the Nazi march in Charlottesville,” he said. “I don’t think he is in a position to weigh in on this credibly.”  

Schiff also discussed his concerns regarding the relationship between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, coupled with Netanyahu’s aligning with a far-right, racist party before Israel’s upcoming parliamentary elections.

“I am concerned that the prime minister’s embrace of these far-right parties is only going to further alienate a segment of the American-Jewish community, not to mention progressives outside the Jewish community,” Schiff said. 

While Schiff is now a player on the national stage, he’s still a champion of local issues. 

Earlier this month he introduced the Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act, co-sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris. If passed, the legislation would add more than 191,000 acres of mountain lands bordering the San Fernando, La Crescenta, Santa Clarita, Simi and Conejo valleys to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and increase residents’ access to protected nature and wildlife in Los Angeles County. 

Schiff also recently urged Facebook, Google and Amazon to remove content promoting misinformation about vaccinations from their platforms.

“So, on all these issues, these are very high priorities for my constituents and obviously quite far afield from the Russia investigation,” he said. 

Regarding the upcoming 2020 presidential election, Schiff said the Democrats’ chances of unseating Trump were strong, but he declined to endorse any candidates.

“I think we’re going to have a very talented field running,” he said. “I’ve been very impressed with my home-state senator, Kamala Harris. I think she is doing a phenomenal job. I’m looking to hold off as long as I can to make a judgment.”

He also declined to speculate on whether he would one day seek higher office.

“It’s always flattering to be asked the question, ‘Will you run for president?’ I’ve had a lot of those questions over the last year or two,” he said. “People are urging me to run and people are urging me not to run because they want me to remain focused on my day job. In terms of what is in my future, the honest answer is, I really don’t know.”

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