(December 18, 2018 / JNS) Editor’s Note: A number of incoming members of Congress, including those in the upcoming Democratic House majority, will bring new faces to the Jewish and pro-Israel community. JNS will introduce some of these elected legislators as part of its “Meet the Newbie” series.
Republican Bryan Steil, 37, is an attorney who defeated Democratic nominee and union ironworker Randy Bryce in the 2018 midterm elections in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District to replace outgoing Congressman and House Speaker Paul Ryan, whom Steil worked for as an aide.
His paternal grandfather worked at Wrigley’s Chewing Gum, which owned the Chicago Cubs, from 1939 until retiring in 1983. He took a four-year break, serving in the U.S. Army during World War II under Gen. George Patton as part of the first group to invade Axis-controlled North Africa. His employer held his job open and credited him with the time off.
JNS talked with Steil by phone. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: What is your overall stance on the U.S.-Israel relationship?
A: There’s an opportunity to strengthen the U.S. relationship with Israel. Israel is our strong ally in the Middle East, where there are challenging times. We have a real opportunity to look to strengthen the U.S. relationship with Israel.
Q: What do you think the United States and Israel have in common?
A: I think, in particular, both countries are democracies. If you look at Israel, it’s a democracy that has human rights that supports religious freedom. There’s a lot that ties those values to the values of the United States. Supporting a country that supports those values is important.
Q: What’s your reaction to some of the anti-Israel verbiage coming from incoming Democrats Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?
A: I believe we need to strengthen our relationship with Israel first and foremost. I don’t think there’s a need to take a step backward. I think there’s a need to take a step forward to trade and further our security interests, and work alongside Israel.
Q: And you believe those three Democrats want to the relationship between America and Israel to take a step backward?
A: I’ll be honest, I have not read any of their statements or had any conversations with them. I’m not commenting on them as much as I’m commenting that we need to strengthen the relationship.
Q: What is your stance on the Iranian threat?
A: We need to stand strong against Iran’s ambitions in the Middle East. Pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal was a step forward. Ultimately, we can’t allow Iran to obtain and develop nuclear weapons.
Q: Do you think the president is doing enough on Iran? Did you support reimposing sanctions?
A: I think the president is negotiating from a position of strength vis-à-vis Iran. The more we put pressure on Iran, which is a state sponsor of terror, is a positive step in the right direction. The president is moving in the correct direction as it relates to applying pressure on Iran.
Q: Did you support the waivers for the eight countries over importing Iranian oil?
A: That’s an area I look forward to digging into when I arrive in Congress. When you’re not a member, one aspect is we don’t have the benefit of secure briefings. My background is more limited to what is in the press. I look forward to digging into that issue and a number of issues that relate to national security as the 116th Congress begins in January.
Q: What is your take on BDS?
A: It’s the wrong step. I think it’s offensive to the work we need to do with our ally. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker signed an executive order prohibiting the state from working with entities that support BDS. I used to work for the University of Wisconsin system as a regent and see these types of ideas brought up. I don’t support the BDS movement, and I find it offensive.
Q: What are your thoughts on funding for Israel’s military, especially in the aftermath of the latest conflicts against Hamas and Hezbollah?
A: We need to stand with our ally Israel as it relates to the U.S. national defense, so I support our longstanding relationship with Israel.
Q: What’s your reaction to those such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is trying to decrease U.S. assistance to Israel?
A: I believe we need to stand strong with our ally Israel.
Q: What is your take on U.S. funding for the Palestinian Authority?
A: I think we need to have a broader look as to how the U.S. is using foreign aid across the board. What we need to do is stand strong with our allies and push back on actors, in particular Iran and others, that are fighting against democracy.
Q: Are you familiar with the Taylor Force Act?
A: Not in significant detail.
Q: Did you support the U.S. moving its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?
A: I supported moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which is the capital of Israel. It’s been recognized as the capital of Israel for a long period of time. The president was right in moving the embassy to Jerusalem.
Q: Are you concerned that were a Democrat to win the White House in 2020, the embassy would be moved back to Tel Aviv?
A: It was the right move to move it to Jerusalem, and I continue to believe that. We’ll see what the positions are of whichever Democrats step up to run for president.
Q: What is your reaction to national and international anti-Semitism, especially in the United Kingdom with the rise of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn?
A: In particular, when you look at what’s going on in the U.S., in Pittsburgh, it should remind everybody that America needs to be forever vigilant against anti-Semitic violence. That’s an attack, not just on our Jewish friends and neighbors; it’s an attack on all Americans. We need to stand strong against any form of anti-Semitic rhetoric and anti-Semitic violence. Whether or not that’s in the U.S., as it was in Pittsburgh, or around the world.
Q: Are you familiar with students from Baraboo High School doing a Nazi salute for a prom photo in 2017?
A: I have seen the media reports on that. There’s no place in our society for anti-Semitic language, statements or violence.
Q: How can we combat such hatred?
A: There’s always an opportunity for increased dialogue. A lot of the tone and rhetoric we see across the board is rather unproductive, so I think that the more we have a dialogue that’s focused on productive conversations and inclusion, and how we grow together, is always a step in the right direction. I hope to be able to bring that tone—that type of conversation—to Washington when I start in the 116th Congress.
Q: Does that criticism regarding tone apply to the president?
A: It applies across the board. I don’t think it’s unique to any one person. I think there’s always an opportunity to have an inclusive tone because it benefits all of us, as we have serious issues in our society, in particular as we’re discussing anti-Semitic language and anti-Semitic violence, and tone across the board is important. I think you see opportunities for improvement across the board from old politicians, but also from society at large.
Q: Do you mind elaborating on the “society at large” part? Is it just Hollywood and related institutions, or does the need for improvement apply to everyday Americans?
A: It applies across the board. You see instances. You brought up the photo from Baraboo High School to people who are interacting. There’s always an opportunity for greater understanding of the diversity we have in the U.S.
Diversity of thought, diversity of religion in that we can respond to that in a way that’s productive and inclusive rather than exclusive. I think we can see that, in particular, as it relates to some of the anti-Semitic rhetoric, anti-Semitic violence that we see. There’s a real opportunity to have a more inclusive dialogue as we have those conversations.
Q: Does the anti-Semitism seem to occur across the board, or is it one political or ideological side that is responsible?
A: I don’t know if it’s limited to one side or not. I just think there’s an opportunity to make sure there’s no place for that in our society at all, so I don’t know if the blame sits with any one group or person. But we’re all obligated to make sure that it doesn’t exist.
Q: Do you have any specific plans in Congress regarding the U.S.-Israel relationship, such as introducing legislation?
A: I look forward when Congress begins in January to be able to dig into a large number of issues, including the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Q: What else should readers know about you?
A: I’m looking forward to coming in and getting to work. I have a real love of country, love of public policy and look forward to really digging in, trying to work to solve a lot of the problems that are facing us in the U.S.