He has a theological degree. Here’s how Rep. Landsman sees faith in Congress

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In a Congress full of memories and heated speeches, Rep. Greg Landsman stood out in contrast. The New Democrat from Ohio speaks tactfully, almost every word after a stage of thought — befitting someone with a master’s in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School.

But that doesn’t mean everything he says is politically cautious or boring. For example, Taylor Swift has given great consideration to her relationship with her father. And when he fired Mike Johnson, it was because he believed the new House speaker didn’t have enough enthusiasm or compassion for the job.

“I use my faith to connect with people and find common humanity and do good work,” Landesman says. “From what I’ve seen so far, that’s not how he uses his faith.”

Landsman sat down with Roll Call earlier this month to talk about his Jewish faith, the “incredibly raw” emotions on Capitol Hill surrounding the Israel-Hamas war, and how he responds to anti-Semitism.

This interview has been edited and completed.

Q: Looking over the walls of your office, I see that you have some pictures of Muhammad Ali.

A: Yes. I took up boxing 10 years ago and became an amateur. I try to box almost every day, at least bag work. I became somewhat obsessed with the sport, and it helped me tremendously as a way to reduce stress and focus.

It’s hard to get into boxing without falling in love with Muhammad Ali. He was a first-rate thinker and a deep gentleman.

There are very few people – if you look to them and seek real guidance on how to live an impactful life – who won’t let you. Muhammad Ali is one of those people.

Q: You are on NRCC target list. What is your biggest worry heading into 2024?

Answer: My biggest worry has nothing to do with me or my race. My biggest concern is where we are in terms of our politics.

What makes Mike Johnson a speaker this season? Has this made Kevin McCarthy, for many of us – who are 100 percent ready to let his extremism stand aside and rule – say, “No, I’ll get over that”?

With the economy broken for decades, there is real frustration that you have the super rich who continue to consolidate their power and wealth at the expense of the rest of us.

Instead of solving the problem, many national and regional politicians are divided and scared, causing the people to fear each other. Solving the problem requires restructuring the economy and overhauling the tax code, which they don’t want to do.

I am committed to staying here as long as the voters let me, to fix this economy and tax code and how power and wealth are shared in this country, so that people can pay their bills and enjoy their lives.

Q: You mentioned Mike Johnson. He says his deep Christian faith led him to seek office. You said the same thing about your Jewish faith. Is there a consensus there?

A: Well, I always take the common sense. I am a person of great faith, and I think about God all day long. It’s just in my DNA. How am I built?

There are many differences between me and Mike Johnson. I have a Masters in Theology. I’ve studied the Bible and know it well, and based on what he did and said, I’m not sure he did that.

I studied the Torah and the Qur’an and how people of different faiths approach God. I use my faith to connect with people and find common humanity and do good work. He uses his beliefs to separate people – to force people into very dangerous categories of good and evil.

What did he do with the voice? [on the Israel aid package] It was snarky and political, and disgusting and incredibly scary. It was his first chance as leader to bring us together, but he chose to do the exact opposite – to prevent the people, Jewish or otherwise, from paying the billionaires all their taxes. I know the Bible, that’s not in the Bible.

Q: You’re talking about supplements. Combine billions in military aid IRS Deductions for Israel. But you’re one of 12 Democrats who joined Republicans on Nov. 2 to help them pass the House.

Answer: Yes, I voted because of my commitment to Israel and because I will not let him change that about me. Ending this war as soon as possible is to save lives and improve our national security, and I will not allow myself to be pushed like that.

What if we don’t have a Senate to fix this? I’ve only been here 10 months, but that was one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot of bills come to the floor.

Q: You called out your Democratic colleagues over the summer, back at Rep. Pramila Jayapal, for calling Israel a “racist state.” Hey you They responded by saying Condemning “anti-Zionist voices promoting anti-Semitism.” What do you make of the current rhetoric from the progressive wing of the party during the war between Israel and Hamas?

Answer: Many Jews and Muslims are afraid of this place. We are in a lot of pain. We are under stress. We are incredibly anxious, and the emotion is incredibly raw.

I wish everyone was a little more curious and thoughtful and interested in learning more about what happened. You know, I don’t expect people to go back to ancient Mesopotamia. But I want all of us to spend a lot of time on history here – what the Jews have been through, what the Palestinians have been through, what the Muslims have been through.

In conversations I’ve had with people who’ve said things that crossed the line, I’ve asked them to reach out to me if they don’t mind because they don’t have to tweet everything they think. Take a minute and pick up the phone. Because it’s complicated and people can get hurt, there’s a way to say how you feel without yelling “fire” in a movie theater.

It is important to remember that anti-Semitism is not just hatred of Jews. It is often described. [to them] The things we hate most about society. This was the case in Nazi Germany in the 30’s. I’m seeing the same thing now and it’s being supported by people who I don’t believe are anti-Semitic, but it’s still happening, they’re still part of it. [They’re saying] The Jews are now invaders and colonizers, they are racists, they are fascists, and they are genocidal. Don’t do that.

One of the things I advocated well before October 7th was for people to appreciate the weakness of the Jewish state of Israel. Hamas in Gaza, Islamic Jihad and others in the West Bank, Hezbollah – Israel is a very small country, and it’s all around. [groups] They are absolutely determined to destroy Israel. That’s what they want.

And unlike criticizing the New York Mets or a TV show you don’t like, there’s a fragility to consider here. The success of American democracy is not inevitable. But we will lose our democracy within decades, if not decades. Israel can be destroyed in a minute.

Quick shots

Last book you read? “Boys and Boys” by Richard Reeves, about the current state of boys and men in the United States. It is a very touching book. I am not a big reader for fun.

In politics, can the ends justify the means? Yes.

Your least favorite comment? I love Taylor Swift, but I have some very unpopular opinions about the role her father plays in her life and how influential he is.

So you’re a Swiftie? Believe it or not, it’s hard to talk to people who are Swifty, because some people interpret her as being completely out of control. She’s very much her own person and I think her talent is 100 percent hers, but I think some of the corporate aspects of Taylor Swift’s world are her.

Is there one thing your friends know about you that your body doesn’t? My nickname in college was Craig, because someone thought it was my name, and other people thought it was really funny. My college friends still call me Craig.

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