Sen. Patrick Leahy Comes Out Against David Friedman for U.S. Envoy to Israel

Joining more than ten Democrats who oppose Trump's pick for Israel ambassador, the longest-serving member of Senate says there are 'qualified Americans who could capably support that role, Mr. Friedman is not among them.'

David Friedman, ambassador to Israel nominee for U.S. President Donald Trump, during a Senate panel hearing in Washington, D.C., February 16, 2017.
David Friedman, ambassador to Israel nominee for U.S. President Donald Trump, during a Senate panel hearing in Washington, D.C., February 16, 2017. Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

The U.S. Senate's longest-serving member announced that he will vote against the appointment of David Friedman as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, a leading voice within the Democratic Party on foreign affairs, joins a growing number of Democrats who oppose President Donald Trump's nominee.

David Friedman's nomination was confirmed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday, but it has yet been submitted to the Senate floor for a vote.

Addressing the Senate on Monday, the Vermont senator said he cannot "see how anyone could conclude that Mr. Friedman possesses the requisite temperament" for the job, adding that he was not convinced Friedman "appreciates the critical distinction between the interests of the United States, and the parochial interests of an extreme constituency in Israel that he has fiercely advocated for over the course of his long career." Leahy's speech was later uploaded to his website.

Leahy noted that while he seeks "what is best for the American people," and while he shares the desire for a viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, "Neither goal can be achieved by pursuing policies that further inflame tensions in the region and erode the role of the United States as an honest broker for peace."

"There are any number of qualified Americans who could capably support that role," he added. "Mr. Friedman is not among them." 

In his speech, Leahy repeated reasons stated by other Democratic lawmakers for opposing Friedman, including his past remarks on the two-state solution, the civil rights of Israeli Arab citizens and the settlements. He also mentioned that Friedman had accused former President Barack Obama and his top diplomat John Kerry of anti-Semitism.

Leahy's opposition to Friedman does not come as a surprise. The veteran senator has been for years taking positions to the left of the Democratic Party's traditional line on Israel. Only a year ago, Leahy enraged Israel and its supporters in the United States by sending a letter to then-Secretary of State Kerry, asking him to investigate whether Israel and Egypt were engaged in extrajudicial killings. Leahy tied this investigation to the large American aid being given to the two Middle Eastern countries.

Leahy's letter, which was also signed by ten members of the House of Representatives, was seen as a sign of the growing distance between Israel and large parts of the Democratic Party. 

In his opposition to Friedman, Leahy joins the growning number of Democratic senators on the Foreign Relations Committee who voted against his nomination last Thursday. Only one Democrat on the panel, Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, voted in favor of Friedman, marking an unprecedented low in bipartisan support for a nominee to the post of ambassador to Israel. 

A Senate vote for Friedman's confirmation hasn't been set yet. Friedman is expected to be confirmed as Israel ambassador due to the four-vote Republicans majority, with a number of Democrats possibly voting in favor of the nomination.

A Democratic senator whose vote could determine the level of bipartisan support for Friedman's nomination is Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, who, so far hasn't declared his intention.

Like Menendez, Schumer was one of only four Democrats who opposed the Iran deal in 2015. The other two Democrats who voted against the agreement with Iran were Ben Cardin of Maryland, who voted against Friedman in the committee last week, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Manchin faces a tough reelection battle in 2018 in a state that overwhelmingly supported Trump in the last elections. Unlike other Democrats, Manchin has been so far more open to accept Trump's policies and nominations, but has yet to comment on Friedman's nomination.

Pro-Israel groups that wish to maintain bipartisan support of Israel hope that Friedman would manage to receive more Democratic support on the Senate floor than he did in the committee. Leahy's announcement, as well as other declaration expected in the coming days, could make that goal harder to reach.