- According to a new biography of Mitt Romney, the Utah senator once questioned US aid to Israel.
- He argued that the US was borrowing billions of dollars for a country that didn’t need it.
- But he told Business Insider that he’s changed his mind on the issue, in part due to the war.
In recent years, it’s mostly been Democrats who have questioned the utility of US aid to Israel.
In 2021, several progressive House Democrats voted against sending $1 billion in funding for the country’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system, and calls have grown in recent weeks to place conditions on that aid.
But in 2019, one Republican senator quietly questioned the necessity of that aid: Mitt Romney.
In his recently published biography of the Utah senator and 2012 GOP presidential nominee, author McKay Coppins writes that Romney studied a bill to authorize $33 billion in funding for Israel’s military “with all the idealistic naivete of a freshman political science student” when he first arrived in the Senate.
While Romney had long been a supporter of Israel, in 2019 he questioned the necessity of sending the Jewish state billions of dollars, even as the US national debt — of which China has historically held a significant portion — continues to grow.
“It’s a challenge to justify borrowing 33 billion from China so we can give it to Israel, particularly when I am under the impression that Israel is sufficiently well financed to provide the funds itself,” Romney wrote in an email to a top aide at the time, according to the book.
The aide ultimately won Romney over, according to the book, by explaining the pros and cons in further detail while warning that attempting to change the policy “would probably be interpreted as ‘anti-Israel’ because it would be a step away from precedent.”
And on Tuesday, Romney expanded on that exchange in a brief interview with Business Insider at the Capitol — saying that he believes Israel aid actually saves the US money.
“We spoke about the reality that in many respects, Israel is doing for us what we would have to do for ourselves if they were not there,” said Romney. “We are saving ourselves funding in part by virtue of the strength of their own military and economic might.”
Despite ongoing concerns about the expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank and other human rights issues, leaders in both parties have long held that Israel is of great strategic importance to the US.
“The truth of the matter is, if there weren’t an Israel, we’d have to invent one,” President Joe Biden said last month.
Israel is by far the top recipient of foreign aid from the United States, totaling $158 billion to date and $3.8 billion annually since 2019.
As the country wages a war against Hamas, the Biden administration has requested that Congress authorize an additional $14.3 billion in aid to Israel, which some Democrats would like to see restricted.
“I think we’re now in a very unusual circumstance, given that Israel is at war,” said Romney. “So how they’re able to finance that war, and whether we’re able to support them, is a different character than it was under normal, peacetime conditions.”