A top official at an influential coalition of Jewish Republicans on Monday defended President Donald Trump's response to the mass killing at a Pittsburgh synagogue, arguing those who say Trump's harsh rhetoric has stoked national divisions are trying to "score partisan political attacks."
"There are too many people who are using this tragedy for partisan gain," Matt Brooks, who runs the Republican Jewish Coalition, told CNN.
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He called Trump's condemnation of anti-Semitism in the wake of Saturday's shooting "very powerful and very strong" and said he has encouraged White House officials to stay the course in the days ahead.
Former Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, who chairs the group's board, also praised the White House's actions to date. He told CNN he would convene board members this week to see if there's a way to "transcend" the partisan battles that have followed the tragedy.
Brooks and Coleman publicly released a letter to Trump on Monday, thanking him for his response and his decision to send two senior aides, Jason Greenblatt and Avi Berkowitz, to Pittsburgh.
The coalition, affiliated with casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, is a powerful force in Republican politics. Adelson, a staunch defender of Israel, is one of the GOP's largest benefactors. He and his wife provided financial support to pro-Trump forces once the real estate developer clinched the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. In this cycle alone, the Adelsons have donated more than $100 million to influence federal elections, largely to groups seeking to retain Republican control of Congress.
Pittsburgh leaders of a Jewish organization called Bend the Arc issued an open letter to Trump over the weekend, saying the President is not welcome in the city until he denounces "white nationalism" and stops "targeting and endangering all minorities." But leaders of the Tree of Life synagogue, where 11 worshippers were gunned down Saturday, were split Monday on whether Trump should visit.
The President and first lady Melania Trump plan to travel to Pittsburgh on Tuesday to meet with victims' families, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced Monday afternoon.
Brooks, of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said Bend the Arc's leaders "clearly have a political agenda."
He said the criticism of the President is "misplaced."
"There have been mass shootings at Jewish institutions before January 2017," when Trump took office, Brooks said. "To somehow say this is a new manifestation or a new symptom of the Trump presidency ignores history. ... We need to talk about the disease of anti-Semitism."