(CNN) – President Donald Trump on Thursday endorsed a Republican Senate candidate in Minnesota who once said members of the Republican Party had “dual loyalties” to Israel and the “Jewish lobby” controlled the party.
Those 2013 comments from Jason Lewis, a former one-term US congressman, drew criticism from several Jewish groups after CNN’s KFile first reported on them in September. The Anti-Defamation League said in a tweeted statement that Lewis had “a disturbing history of making charges of dual loyalty, an #antiSemitic trope that’s been used to ostracize Jews for centuries,” and called on him to apologize immediately.
At a campaign rally in Minnesota, Trump announced his endorsement of Lewis, calling him “tough and smart.” The endorsement comes as Trump and his allies have repeatedly attacked Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar for comments she made on Israel and Jewish Americans earlier this year that drew widespread condemnation.
The freshman Democrat had tweeted that politicians’ support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins,” and said at an event, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is O.K. for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” Omar apologized for some of those comments.
Trump at the Thursday rally denounced Omar for what he called her “virulent, anti-Semitic screeds.”
Spokespeople for the White House did not return multiple requests for comment.
Lewis, who was a talk radio host in 2013 at the time he made the comments, also said many in the Republican Party viewed Israel as the “51st state,” and falsely claimed that policymakers in the administration of George W. Bush — including then-UN Ambassador John Bolton — were dual citizens of Israel. He added that Republican senators knew they would lose money from “AIPAC or Jewish Americans or Sheldon Adelson” if they supported the nomination of former Nebraska GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel for defense secretary when he was nominated by President Barack Obama.
Lewis defended himself in a statement to CNN last month, saying his voting record in Congress, “clearly demonstrates, these are not my views about American support for Israel, period.” He called scrutiny of his past comments “pathetic” and a “worn-out playbook of attacking my 25-year career as a political commentator — which naturally meant asking rhetorical questions, challenging audiences, playing devil’s advocate and seeing both sides of every issue.”
The Jewish civil rights organizations the ADL and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the head of the Republican Jewish Coalition — who also praised Lewis’ voting record — and Democratic Majority for Israel, all issued statements condemning Lewis’ remarks last month.
Lewis is running in the Republican primary to be decided in August. The nominee will compete against Democratic Sen. Tina Smith, who is running for a full six-year term in 2020 after winning a special election in 2018 to fill the remainder of former Sen. Al Franken’s term.
Lewis lost his bid for re-election to Congress in 2018 after serving one term. CNN’s KFile reported last year that Lewis had a history of making degrading comments about women and people receiving government assistance on his radio program, “The Jason Lewis Show,” which aired from 2009 until 2014. Lewis defended some of those comments by saying he was paid to be provocative on his program.
Vice President Mike Pence also appeared at an event with Lewis during an official stop at a local Minnesota company with Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia.
Katie Waldman, a spokeswoman for Pence, did not comment on any of Lewis’ views, and instead criticized a CNN reporter on Thursday for tweeting about the event with Lewis.
“I can tell that you’re very interested in fair and balanced journalism,” Waldman said.