For U.S. Republican Senators Steve Daines and Rick Scott, the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre feels personal.
At this weekend’s Republican Jewish Coalition Leadership Summit in Las Vegas, Scott detailed to JNS a series of meetings he’s held with Israeli families affected by the tragedy.
“We put a big poster of all the hostages’ pictures in my office … two of the families’ kids went over to fight with the IDF and they were captured,” said Scott.
He showed JNS a dog tag on a chain given to him by one of those families. In Hebrew, it read “Our heart is in Gaza,” and in English, “Bring them home now.”
“I feel so sorry for them,” said Scott.
He spoke to JNS of a young woman who came to visit him last week, as a number of hostages’ families were making the rounds at the Capitol to drum up support for their release.
“She invited a bunch of her friends to go to the [Supernova Music] festival [near Kibbutz Re’im that was targeted by Hamas terrorists]. Some of them are dead, some of them are kidnapped,” recounted Scott.
He also spoke to a young man who was able to prevent Hamas terrorists from breaking through to his safe room—but not before they kidnapped his parents.
Scott, who took a tour of Kfar Aza in 2019 during a visit to Israel, met with one of the devastated border-area kibbutz residents at this office, as well. “She’s only alive because she was out of the country. It’s just horrible,” he said.
Scott, a Floridian on the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, blasted Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for failing thus far to bring an Israel aid package to the floor for a vote, as the New York Democrat had promised to do swiftly in the aftermath of the attack.
“Schumer could bring this to the floor right now—just the Israeli aid—and he’s decided not to,” said Scott, alluding to Democratic indecision over whether to float aid to Israel on a standalone basis or couple it with a package of aid to Ukraine and other party priorities.
“I took a bill last week that said no money for Hamas, and Schumer blocked it,” Scott said of a bill to deny funding for Gaza unless the Biden administration could certify it would not go to Hamas. “The House is going to pass it, and I think they’ll pass it independently. But it’ll be up to Schumer whether he brings it forward,” he said.
Montana Sen. Steve Daines was in Israel just prior to the Oct. 7 attack, and was likely the last senator to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the massacre.
He told JNS that, unsurprisingly, the number one topic of discussion was Iran and its terror proxies, including Hamas.
Daines told JNS that his fifth trip to Israel “was the best visit we’ve ever had,” describing a tour of the Israel-Lebanon border and down to the Hezbollah tunnels under the border identified by the Israeli military.
“We got to the bottom of the tunnel, which is all blocked off now. But in that tunnel, painted in Arabic, it says ‘On the way to Jerusalem.’ It’s chilling,” said Daines.
Noting that Hezbollah had been digging that tunnel since 2014, Daines said the attacks on Israel “had been planned for many, many years. There’re 150,000 rockets in Southern Lebanon pointed at Israel. And Hezbollah has embedded these rockets in mosques, in hospitals, in schools.”
He told JNS that Oct. 7 and its aftermath showed “the complete disregard for life, a culture that celebrates death, an ideology that celebrates death, and contrasts that with the Jews in Israel who celebrate life.”
On that note, Daines recently introduced the Fortify Israel Act, which would take the $6 billion in Iranian oil revenue that the Biden administration recently unfroze for the Islamic Republic’s benefit in exchange for the return of American hostages and, instead, redirect that money to Israel for defense purposes.
“These Hamas terrorists were trained in Iran,” Daines told JNS. “Why is it we have an administration that wants to unfreeze $6 billion and transfer it back to Iran? Why did this administration basically stop the freeze and the suspension on oil exports for Iran, which has now amounted to $80 billion of additional revenues that flow to Iran?”
While Daines applauded Biden’s recent solidarity visit to Israel as “an important symbolic gesture,” he stressed the need to act with moral clarity and forcefully call out Iran as the force behind Hamas’s attacks, and those of its other proxies in the region.
“This is no time to talk about a two-state solution,” said Daines, critiquing Biden’s recent Rose Garden comments about a future after Hamas’s demise. “This is a time to make sure we’re standing clearly unequivocally with Israel and allowing Israel to do what it needs to do to defend itself.”
Beyond securing Israel’s borders, Daines is sounding the alarm about the growing potential for an attack on American soil emanating from the southern border.
Daines told JNS that Border Patrol agents informed him during a recent visit to the Texas-Mexico border that they had apprehended Syrians attempting to cross into the United States. Others, from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and North Korea, were caught in the first two weeks of October alone.
Additionally, the Border Patrol office in San Diego put out a bulletin this month warning of Hamas terrorists potentially attempting to cross.
“This is chilling, and I think it worries many of us,” said Daines, who also introduced this month the Guaranteeing Aggressors Zero Admission Act, or the GAZA Act, which prevents the Biden administration from granting visas to holders of Palestinian Authority passports.
“We could have organized terror cells that could be unleashed at any time in our country, as we’ve seen what’s happened in Israel,” said Daines.