(February 26, 2019 / JNS) Pennsylvania Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, 35, was one of a few Republicans to flip a Democratic House seat in the 2018 midterm elections, defeating Democratic nominee Bibiana Boerio with 58 percent of the vote in the state’s 14th Congressional District.
Before being elected to the House, he was a member of the Pennsylvania state Senate for a little more than three years, preceded by serving as a district judge.
JNS talked with Reschenthaler in person. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: What’s your overall stance on the U.S.-Israel relationship?
A: I think that we have to have a really good relationship with Israel. It’s in both our best interests. We’re both Western powers, we’re both democracies, we both have free markets. We have a lot of interests in Israel being strong and being a beacon of democracy in the Middle East.
Q: Having served abroad in the military, did you see Israel’s enemies firsthand?
A: Yes. I was a prosecutor in the Central Criminal Court of Iraq, prosecuting Al-Qaeda and also JAM, which is the Shi’a version of Al-Qaeda funded by Iran. So I understand firsthand what terrorist organizations can do—why it’s so important for us to fight them and make sure they don’t get a foothold.
Q: As a special prosecutor in Iraq, did you know Elan Carr, who was recently appointed as the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, and served as a judge advocate in the American military’s judicial system, prosecuting enemy combatants before Iraqi judges at the Central Criminal Court?
A: Yes. I met him the day after the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh and then I saw him the night of my swearing-in.
Q: What is your reaction to the president announcing that U.S. troops will withdraw from Syria?
A: I think the United States needs to be forward-leaning in the Middle East and around the world. My fear is that if we pull back from Syria, we’ll leave a power vacuum, which, if history tells us anything, is filled by foes. In Syria, this would strengthen [President Bashar] Assad. It would also invite Iran and Russia to have more influence in the region, which would not be good for the United States, Israel or our allies. So I would like us to still have a presence in Syria and make sure that we’re crippling ISIS.
Q: Does the United States need to combat Iranian forces?
A: Of course. One of the reasons we need to be involved in Syria is to make sure that we’re curbing the influence of Iran. If there were a [positive] regime change with Assad, that would be good because it would keep Iran from exerting more influence and becoming the hegemonic power in the Middle East. That also means that we have to have some kind of continued presence in Iraq. We have to make sure that we’re defeating ISIS and other alliances, and try to stabilize the Middle East.
Q: Does the United States need a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force to combat Iranian forces?
A: I’d have to look into that. I’d have to look at the details of any proposed. However, I can tell you that I think that we as the United States have an obligation to make sure that we’re fighting terrorists in the Middle East and keeping a forward-leaning position in the Middle East.
Q: What’s your reaction to the anti-BDS component of the passed Senate bill that would also strength the U.S. relationship with Israel and Jordan, in addition to enacting fresh sanctions against Syria? Some Senate Democrats voted against it, citing concerns from the ACLU that it would violate Freedom of Speech.
A: It’s incredibly disturbing. BDS is targeted at Israel; there are anti-Semitic overtones to it as well. I would be willing to sponsor legislation that would actually prevent the U.S. from contracting with any businesses engaging in the BDS movement.
Q: What’s your reaction to some of the anti-Israel verbiage coming from Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib?
A: There seems to be a strong anti-Israel bent to certain members of the new Democratic Party, and I find it disturbing. We’ve got to realize that we in the United States have got to protect and promote democracy. We got to be a strong ally of Israel and democracies around the world.
Q: Do you think Minnesota Congresswoman Omar should be removed from her committee assignments?
A: I think that there’s no room for hatred, bigotry, anti-Semitism in Congress—not in the United States, and certainly not in the Republican Party.
Q: What’s your stance on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal?
A: I think it was one of the biggest blunders in modern American diplomacy. All it does is give Iran more time to develop nuclear weapons. Pulling out of that deal was one of the best moves the Trump administration did. We have got to remember that if Iran goes nuclear, it’s a threat to not only Israel, but our other allies in the Middle East.
Q: Has the Trump administration done enough to combat Iran?
A: I believe so. But I believe that as long as we have a forward-leaning presence in the Middle East and we’re there working with our allies like Israel, we’ll be able to counteract Iran and make sure they do not become the hegemonic power in the region.
Q: Do those allies also include the Kurds?
A: Yes, they do. We have a lot of allies other than Israel.
Q: What is your take on U.S. funding for Israel’s military, especially in the aftermath of the latest Israeli conflicts against Hamas and Hezbollah?
A: I’m for funding Israel. We have got to stand with our allies. In the Middle East, Israel is our No. 1 ally.
Q: What’s your stance on U.S. taxpayer funding for the Palestinian Authority?
A: I’m against it, especially as the Palestinian Authority uses money to fund terrorist activities. If we can use that money to actually go towards humanitarian efforts such as building schools, hospitals, other things that are going to help the public, then fine. But if that money is going to pay the pensions of suicide bombers, that’s a problem.
Q: Are you for humanitarian exemptions or U.S. taxpayer funds going towards security assistance for the P.A. and Israel?
A: I’m for funding Israel, not the Palestinian Authority until the Palestinian Authority can show me that money is not going to fund terrorist activities.
Q: What was your reaction to America officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in addition to relocating the embassy to Jerusalem?
A: I think the move should be applauded. So many presidents have made the promise to move the embassy to Jerusalem, and no president until Trump did it. I think that by moving the embassy, we recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Q: What’s your reaction to the upcoming Mideast peace plan?
A: I think that we’ve got to go in hopeful that there can be some resolution, but we also have to make sure that the Palestinians are negotiating in good faith, and that we have to make sure that we are promoting democracy.
Q: What’s your reaction to the rise in anti-Semitism nationally and abroad, especially in the aftermath of the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Synagogue shooting in your home state?
A: I’m from Pittsburgh. I was there the day after the shooting. It’s disturbing what’s going on, and there’s a growing move, I fear, from the left towards anti-Semitism. We’ve got to make sure that we will not tolerate anti-Semitism, and that we’re there to support not only Israel, but the Jewish people.
Q: Is there also a problem with anti-Semitism on the right?
A: Look, wherever it’s a problem, it should not be tolerated. There‘s no room for bigotry, hatred and anti-Semitism in America, and certainly not in the Republican Party.
Q: Speaking of being at Tree of Life the day after the shooting, what was that like? Did you interact with the families of the victims?
A: I did not; however, many elected officials, community leaders went to the vigil to show support. It was literally the day after the shooting. And we were there just to show that we were committed to standing behind the Jewish population in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh and also show that we will not tolerate anti-Semitism and acts of violence.
Q: Now that you’ve been sworn in, do you have any specific plans relating to the U.S.-Israel relationship, including future legislation?
A: Yes. I would sponsor legislation to make sure the U.S. government cannot contract with any business or organization that supports BDS. I’m a co-sponsor of Rep. Lee Zeldin’s resolution to denounce anti-Semitism, and I’m looking forward to my trip to Israel in August.
Q: Have you ever been to Israel?
A: No, never been. I’ve been to the Middle East, of course, but I’ve never had the opportunity to go to Israel.
Q: The trip is being sponsored by AIPAC?
Q: Is there anything else our readers should know about you?
A: I just think that we have to recognize that the world is a dangerous place, and the more friends we have, the better. And the more that we promote democracy and free markets and strengthen our allies, the safer the American people are going to be.