LAS VEGAS -- Vice President Mike Pence assured the Republican Jewish Coalition that he and President Donald Trump will work tirelessly on foreign and domestic issues important to the group, such as enacting business-friendly policies at home and supporting Israel abroad.
“If the world knows nothing else, the world will know this: America stands with Israel,” Pence told the group Friday night. The Republican administration is “assessing” whether to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, he said, and has put Iran “on notice.”
Pence’s words served as evidence of the fruits of years of the politically active group’s labors. Its annual conference at billionaire donor Sheldon Adelson’s casino resort on the Las Vegas Strip has become a de facto campaign stop for Republican presidential candidates over the past few years. The RJC also drew the entire GOP presidential field to its December 2015 forum in Washington.
Now, with the first Republican White House in eight years, the group of Republican donors and Jewish leaders was among the first to hear from the new vice president. Former Vice President Dick Cheney introduced Pence. The roughly 500 attendees also are expected to hear from Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina this weekend.
Pence told the RJC that America’s bonds with Israel had already grown stronger under the young administration. President Barack Obama did not have a close relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and many Republican Jews saw the Obama administration as insufficiently supportive of Israel.
Pence also ticked through Trump’s domestic agenda, saying the president had already brought back American jobs. “This White House is in the promise-keeping business,” he said.
The vice president shared stories from his trip to Germany last weekend - his first abroad as vice president. He’d paid a visit to the former Dachau concentration camp, where thousands of Austrian and German Jews were among those imprisoned and killed. He was joined on the tour by a survivor of the Holocaust who was at Dachau when it was liberated by American soldiers at the end of World War II.
Pence also talked about how this week he had made a surprise visit to a Jewish cemetery in Missouri where more than 150 gravestones had been toppled and vandalized. Speaking through a bullhorn at the site, he said there was “no place in America for hatred or acts of prejudice or violence or anti-Semitism” and then picked up a rake and helped clean up the cemetery.
In Las Vegas, the vice president effusively praised the Adelsons from the stage, saying that they “in so many ways have given America a second chance” through their political work in the U.S. and Israel. Adelson and his wife, Miriam, gave more than $20 million to a pro-Trump super PAC, making them among Trump’s most generous benefactors, campaign records show.
“Rest assured we’re going to keep our end of the bargain, too,” Pence said, thanking the Adelsons and RJC for “steadfast support” throughout the campaign.
Yet, like so many staples of party politics - including the conservative activist conference taking place this week near Washington - the RJC has fit uneasily with Trump.
Adelson, who helps finance the RJC, didn’t openly support Trump until the final weeks of the presidential campaign. The wariness was mutual. Trump had called his GOP rivals “puppets” of Adelson and prompted major heartburn among Republican Jews with his freewheeling comments at the 2015 RJC forum.
Trump has been appreciative. At one of his final campaign stops, in Las Vegas, he called the couple “really incredible people” who have been “so supportive” The Adelsons also were front and center for Trump’s swearing-in last month, and Sheldon Adelson was one of Trump’s first dinner guests at the White House.
And Trump picked the leader of the super PAC that landed Adelson’s money, Chicago businessman Todd Ricketts, as deputy commerce secretary.