Mike Huckabee may have whipped up the Republican base with his claims that President Obama “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven” with the Iran deal. But top lawmakers, pro-Israel organizations, and even his fellow GOP presidential candidates are rushing to put some distance between themselves and his comments.
“This president’s foreign policy is the most feckless in American history,” the former Arkansas governor told Breitbart on Saturday. “It is so naive that he would trust the Iranians. By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”
Congress will vote on whether to approve the Iran deal after the 60-day review period is up, and the results of that vote will depend largely on Democrats like Representative Adam Schiff, who is on the fence about the agreement.
Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he found Huckabee’s remarks “sickening.”
“It’s certainly not helpful to the cause of the opposition [to the Iran deal], because I think it denigrates their case. I’m trying to tune out all that external noise,” he told The Daily Beast.
Other undecided Democrats rushed to condemn Huckabee’s remarks.
“Regardless of your position on the nuclear deal with Iran, Mike Huckabee’s remarks were unacceptable. I hope that everyone will refrain from that type of rhetoric,” said House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, who has voiced mild skepticism about the deal.
“Governor Huckabee’s comments were abhorrent and inappropriate,” Senator Chuck Schumer, a third top Democrat who hasn’t made up his mind about the Iran deal, told The Daily Beast.
“Huckabee’s attack is ridiculous, outrageous, and harmful,” said another Democrat who is skeptical of the deal, Representative Brad Sherman. “I may vote against the deal, but this kind of language has no role in our discourse…Some people need to tone down their rhetoric, and Governor Huckabee needs to tone down his.”
Republicans and outside groups opposed to the deal quickly sought to distance themselves from Huckabee’s comments and return the focus to the substance of the agreement.
“If it’s on the merits, it’s on the merits—whatever else Huckabee says is noise,” said a Senate GOP staffer.
Added a senior official at a pro-Israel organization who is closely involved in the congressional battle over the Iran deal: “It’s probably unhelpful, I just don’t know how much it matters…There’s going to be a commercial [targeting lawmakers who vote in support of the Iran deal] that’s going to say that this guy voted ‘yes’ on lifting sanctions on people who have American blood on their hands. That’s what they’re concerned about. They’re not concerned about what Mike Huckabee has to say, they’re not even concerned about what Benjamin Netanyahu has to say at this point.”
Huckabee’s invocation of the Holocaust has provoked criticism from several American Jewish organizations, the president himself, and even a fellow Republican presidential contender.
“The Iran deal is horrific…but I think we need to tone down the rhetoric, for sure,” Jeb Bush said on Monday. “The use of that kind of language, it’s just wrong.” (Meanwhile, the Trump campaign is apparently on board with Huckabee’s comments.)
Jonathan Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, said that while the organization has been critical of the nuclear agreement with Iran, “To hear Mr. Huckabee invoke the Holocaust when America is Israel’s greatest ally and when Israel is a strong nation capable of defending itself is disheartening...There is a serious debate taking place over the next five weeks within Congress over the Iran deal. We have called on all sides, regardless of whether one is liberal or conservative, to conduct that debate responsibly and civilly. That plea should apply to presidential candidates as well.”
Appearing on Fox News’s The Five on Monday, Huckabee refused to apologize or back down from his comments.
“It’s Neville Chamberlain all over again,” he said. “We’re gonna just trust that everyone’s gonna do the right thing. Three times I’ve been to Auschwitz. When I talked about the oven door, I have stood at that oven door. I know exactly what it looks like.”