Republicans On Defense After Naked Romp In Sea Of Galilee

All Things Considered host Melissa Block talks to Jake Sherman of political news site Politico about the report that last August, during a fact-finding Congressional trip to Israel, freshman Republican lawmakers went for a late-night swim — one of them naked — in the Sea of Galilee. The Federal Bureau of Investigation ended up looking into what happened.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

In the New Testament, the Sea of Galilee is where Jesus walked on water and calmed a mighty storm. Last August, it was where freshman Republican lawmakers went for a late night swim, one of them naked. The revels took place during a fact-finding congressional trip to Israel and the FBI ended up looking into what happened. The story was first reported by Politico and reporter Jake Sherman joins me to talk about it.

Hi, thanks for coming in.

JAKE SHERMAN: Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: This was a year ago, August 18th, 2011. What was it that prompted lawmakers and some senior staff members and family members to jump into the Sea of Galilee late at night?

SHERMAN: Well, what we know is they went to dinner a couple of hours. They were drinking and having a very festive time and they wanted to cool off. Many members jumped right into the water and Kevin Yoder, Republican of Kansas, took his clothes off. Now, when the trip got back, the FBI decided to look into it and was asking people what happened, who was in the water, was there anything inappropriate that was going on.

So that's what we know and that's what many sources, including many on the record have told us.

BLOCK: Here's what I don't get. Why is the FBI involved at all? Why would they look into this?

SHERMAN: Well, what we know is they were asking people what happened, was there anything inappropriate. I think when a member of Congress goes into a body of water in a foreign country naked, that raises some eyebrows and that raises some questions. And that's what their line of questioning centered on.

BLOCK: We should say that this congressman, Republican Kevin Yoder, has apologized for what he calls a spontaneous and very brief dive into the sea.

SHERMAN: That's right. He said he was sorry for embarrassing his constituents, if he had done so. He said his office has not been contacted by the FBI, but told us he does plan to run for reelection. He's not - this is not something that he, at this time, considers a problem for his political career, at least publically, but he has apologized if he's embarrassed anybody in his district.

BLOCK: You did report that the majority leader, Eric Cantor, who was on this trip, rebuked this gathering the next morning. He was not among the people diving into the Sea of Galilee and he dressed them down, as you put it.

SHERMAN: In fact, he was not there at the time, many sources have told us. But the next morning, after this incident happened, Mr. Cantor told the lawmakers that they were straying from the original mission of the trip, which was to meet very high level Israeli officials, very high level Palestinian officials and they thought that this was inappropriate, Mr. Cantor and his staff.

BLOCK: And did any of them say there was some religious component to why they immersed in the Sea of Galilee.

SHERMAN: People's staff did say that to us. They made that point, that this is a religiously significant place. People wanted to cool off. Someone said they wanted to get water for a baptism. So I mean, this is - not everybody appeared to be in the same position as Mr. Yoder.

BLOCK: And beyond the wacky factor of, hey, a member of Congress going skinny dipping in the Sea of Galilee, why should we care? There was a comment posted on your website from an associate professor of public policy at George Mason, Jeremy Mayer, who says this, "This is the biggest nothing burger I've seen Washington lunching on in quite a while."

SHERMAN: Well, we appreciate his feedback, but I think the many people who have read the story have been off put by it. I think when members of Congress go overseas and are representing the country, folks in Washington and across the country don't expect that they would dive into water nude. So that raises eyebrows. And I think that's what people are interested in. And this is important to remember, that this came on the heels of the very bruising debt ceiling debate where Republicans in Congress forced the nation to cut spending in order to hike the nation's borrowing limit.

And when this was going on, after that incident, markets tumbled, the nation's credit rating was slashed and you had a member of Congress jumping into the water with no clothes on and people going...

BLOCK: One member.

SHERMAN: Right. One member and lawmakers going out late at night after a dinner and jumping into water, not a planned activity. This is not something that was on the trip's itinerary. So it's kind of what Republicans have said to us privately, it looked tone deaf. And that's what they were concerned of.

BLOCK: Jake Sherman with Politico, thanks for coming in.

SHERMAN: Thank you for having me.

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