Former State Dept. Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus Discusses Congressional Bid, Foreign Policy

March 2, 2022
Morgan Ortagus, Partner, Rubicon Founders speaks onstage during the 2021 Concordia Annual Summit – Day 2 at Sheraton New York on September 21, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)

Morgan Ortagus, the former spokeswoman for the State Department under then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, discussed in a phone interview her run for Congress as well as various issues of interest to the Jewish community.

Ortagus, who was listed as one of The Jerusalem Post’s 50 most influential Jews in 2020, began her conversion to Judaism while working in Baghdad as a Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID) in 2007 and officially completed her mikveh in 2011, when she returned from Saudi Arabia. “The first Hanukkah I ever celebrated was in Saddam [Hussein]’s palace in 2007,” Ortagus said, adding that she was taking classes over Skype with her rabbi. “We would celebrate and observe Passover and Shabbat and everything else in Saudi Arabia. And so it’s certainly an untraditional way to convert, but I think in the arc of Jewish history, the experience was probably a lot more similar to how Jews are practicing their faith.”

The former State Department spokeswoman is currently running for Congress in Tennessee’s fifth Congressional district, located in the heart of the state and consists of its capitol, Nashville. She has been endorsed by both Pompeo and former President Donald Trump. “I never saw myself as someone who was political in the sense of running for office,” Ortagus said. “I was very, very proud to serve in the Trump administration and especially proud of the Abraham Accords and everything we accomplished there … I knew I would disagree with the Biden administration, I didn’t realize how bad it would get and how quickly, both domestic and foreign policy. And the bottom line is, the world is on fire because of the disastrous liberal policies of Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi, and I am here, proudly, as someone who served President Trump to say: we could go back to having a secure border, we could get the jobs and economy rolling again under America First policies and the world would be a lot safer with our team in charge again.”

Ortagus turned her attention to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, which is on everyone’s minds right now. She blamed the Biden administration’s policies for emboldening Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions. “When you look at it from a policy perspective, Trump and Pompeo, our policies were the toughest on Russia since any president since Ronald Reagan dealing with the Soviet Union. We kicked out over 60 [Russian] diplomats and spies. We sent over $1.4 billion in military aid and lethal aid to Ukraine. We had dozens and dozens of sanctions announcements and indictments against the Russians. They were cheating on [the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty] and so we got out of that treaty.” She also touted the fact that the Trump administration garnered bipartisan support in sanctioning “the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to make sure that it couldn’t be completed.” The pipeline, which has currently been put on hold by the Germans, would transfer gas from Russia, through the Baltic Sea, and into Germany. Ortagus added that the Trump administration also refused to renew the New START treaty––a nuclear arms control treaty––with the Russians without negotiations first.

“And what did the Biden administration do? They came in, they re-upped [the] New START treaty … no concessions, no negotiations, just re-upped it,” Ortagus said. “They obviously greenlit the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. And they have taken an approach that, as long as we don’t anger Putin too much … he’s not going to react. Well, that strategy has completely failed. Clearly, by not providing hard-hitting sanctions early on, by not continuing the sanctions against Nord Stream 2, they did the opposite of trying to get Putin not to invade, they emboldened him. They emboldened him to where he is today, to where he feels like he can withstand the pressure from the United States and the [European Union] countries.”

She proceeded to call the Biden administration’s policies enacted during the Russian invasion of Ukraine “half-measures.” “Instead of knocking all banks out of SWIFT, they cherry-picked banks in the Russian Federation that would be kicked out of SWIFT,” Ortagus said, referencing the Belgian-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, a platform for international financial payments and messaging. “Well, when you cherry-pick banks, that just means that smart people are going to find ways around those sanctions. And by the way, we all know they haven’t touched their energy sector yet, but you don’t have to just sanction their energy sector … from what I’ve read, around 30% of the Russian economy is based off metals, minerals, timber, why aren’t we doing sectoral-wide sanctions on those sectors right there to try and stop Putin in his tracks?

“I am heartened that the Europeans have actually decided to lead and are out in front of the Biden administration on this, but it’s never good to have America leading from behind. That was the mantra of the Obama administration, and now the same team that were working for Obama are now working [in the Biden administration] and they continue to run on this leading from behind philosophy, in my opinion.”

As a member of Congress, Ortagus would focus not just on further sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, but also on bringing the United States back to energy independence. “President Trump pursued that strategy, put us on that path, we handed to the Biden administration an economy that was energy independent… there is no new exploration from Team Biden. We need them to grant leases for drilling.” She added that over the weekend, the Biden administration said that this was because President Joe Biden is concerned about climate change. “In the face of all the crises we are facing around the world––not just Russia-Ukraine, even the Iran situation––it’s insane to me that we would greenlight pipelines for the Russians, but not for Americans,” Ortagus said.

Regarding Iran, Ortagus said that it’s “an absolute joke” that the Biden administration continues to work with Russia to get Iran to re-enter the 2015 nuclear deal. “We should be treating Russia as a pariah state right now, not giving them legitimacy at the table for some of the most sensitive negotiations that are taking place on any foreign policy issue in the world,” she argued. Ortagus then posited that the Biden administration would attempt to re-enter the deal while the world is distracted by Russia’s actions in Ukraine. “This administration is going to likely give billions of dollars in sanctions relief to Iran, the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism,” she said. “You should only get sanctions relief for terrorism if you have stopped committing said terrorism. There is not a leader in Iran that would agree that they’re going to stop funding Shia proxies throughout the Middle East.”

Ortagus also discussed Israel, calling the Trump administration “the most pro-Israel administration in modern American history.” She cited policies like recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights in Syria and moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and vowed to continue those policies as a member of Congress. Ortagus also touted how she stood against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement while being the spokesperson for the State Department and expressed concern about comments from “The Squad and others” that are emboldening antisemitism in the United States. “The Left, the leaders of the party need to do more to speak out against it, but more importantly support for Israel should be a bipartisan issue,” Ortagus said, “and you’re seeing in poll after poll, Democrats moving away from supporting the State of Israel and I think that’s very scary.”

Regarding the recent controversy over Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ) speaking at a white nationalist conference over the weekend (Gosar spoke through a pre-record video, Green in person), Ortagus said she “completely” agrees with Pompeo’s tweet on the matter. Pompeo had said, “Associating with anti-Semitic neo-Nazis is not consistent with the conservative values I’ve defended for decades. Representative Taylor-Greene playing footsie with Nick Fuentes and his splinter movement is shameful.”

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.