Vice President Mike Pence told an influential group of Jewish Republicans gathered in Las Vegas that the U.S. is “assessing” whether to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as he sought to assure a key constituency and political fundraising powerhouse of the administration’s commitment to their causes.
“The president I know will be an unabashed advocate for a stronger Israel-American relationship,” Pence said Friday evening at the annual meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “We are also reviewing additional steps to demonstrate America’s support, including assessing whether the American embassy in Israel should be relocated.”
President Donald Trump on the campaign trail last year had pledged to move the embassy, although he’s softened his stance since taking office in January.
America, like most other nations, has traditionally kept its embassy in Tel Aviv due to the conflicting claims to east Jerusalem. Israel claims the entire city as its capital, but the Palestinians seek the eastern sector, captured by Israel in 1967, as their future capital and have warned that moving the embassy would be explosive.
A Q&A explainer on why moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem is so fraught
“If the world knows nothing else, the world will know this: America stands with Israel,” Pence said. “Her cause is our cause, her values are our values.”
The visit from Pence showcased the RJC’s new-found political clout following eight years of a Democratic presidency. Amid a victorious mood at the convention, the vice president paid particular homage to billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson, a board member and major benefactor of the group.
“Your leadership of this organization, and in this country, and your efforts on behalf of the people of Israel, in so many ways, have given America a second chance,” Pence said.
Adelson, who had a private dinner with Trump at the White House earlier this month, was among those seated for the vice president’s speech. Pence’s remarks were delivered before a Shabbat dinner in a dimly lit ballroom at Adelson’s Venetian hotel and convention complex.
Pence was introduced by former Vice President Dick Cheney. In his introduction, Cheney joked that nobody in the room would be able to name all past vice presidents, even as he argued the office had grown in stature and importance in recent years.
Pence’s activities ahead of his speech, which included a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a tour of the Dachau concentration camp in Germany and a visit to a suburban St. Louis Jewish cemetery damaged by vandals, further boosted his standing with the RJC.
The three-day gathering, expected to attract about 600 people, marks the start of the RJC’s planning for a 2018 midterm election that will serve as Trump’s first electoral test as president.
Some of the others speakers include Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, Senator Cory Gardner, of Colorado, Senator Joni Ernst, of Iowa, and Ronna Romney McDaniel, the new Republican National Committee leader. Boris Epshteyn, who is Jewish and leads the White House’s surrogate operation, is also attending.
With Jews deeply divided about Trump -- he was criticized for being slow to condemn recent threats against Jewish community centers that have raised antisemitism concerns -- the RJC provides the White House at least one steadfastly supportive national Jewish group.
“We’re thrilled,” said former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, who was elected the new RJC chairman Friday afternoon.
“It was certainly a different feeling seeing Trump and Netanyahu together than seeing Obama and Netanyahu,” Coleman said. “So, for those of us who care about the U.S.-Israel relationship, certainly, we’re heartened, we’re uplifted and we feel very, very positive.”
Coleman declined to cite any specific Jewish issue that the group wants to see accomplished with friends in the White House and a Republican-controlled Congress.
“Israel is part of our concern, but it goes way beyond that,” he said. “We want to see a replacement and repeal of Obamacare. We want to see tax reform.”
The RJC provides an elite network of fundraisers who help Republicans up and down the ballot -- especially in states with larger Jewish populations -- while also lobbying Republican lawmakers and administration officials for pro-Israel policies.
Coleman also decline to cite any specific financial goals for the 2018 election, while boasting about the group’s money-raising prowess. “If you go to folks who are in the Senate and the House, you go to House leadership, and you say where are your best events, your best events are RJC member events in various states throughout the country,” he said.
Adelson and his wife, Miriam, contributed at least $82.5 million to conservative causes during the 2016 election cycle, ranking first among Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Four years earlier, they gave at least $93 million.
The casino mogul is listed by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index as the 15th richest U.S. resident with an estimated fortune of $27.6 billion.
Adelson and Steve Wynn, another casino-owner billionaire who Trump recently picked to be the RNC’s top fundraiser, started the weekend gathering by headlining a private dinner Thursday for some RJC members.
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