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NY congressman says he would support bill linking Ukraine and Israel aid

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In an interview with “GMA3,” the Democratic congressman from New York also answered questions about antisemitism in the U.S. and the race for a new House speaker.

Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-NY, says he would support packaging aid to Israel and Ukraine in one bill after Hamas launched a surprise incursion from air, land and sea, killing at least 900 people and wounding 2,600 others, according to Israeli officials.

When asked if the U.S. would be able to give aid to both countries, Torres told "GMA3" on Tuesday, "We're the most powerful country on Earth, people look to the United States as the leader of the free world, and we have a moral obligation to protect people from crimes against humanity to the extent that we can."

In response to the Hamas attack on Saturday, the Israeli Defense Forces launched retaliatory airstrikes on Gaza, a 140-square-mile territory where 2 million Palestinians have lived under a blockade imposed by neighboring Israel and Egypt since Hamas seized power in 2007. Palestinian authorities said at least 830 people died and another 4,250 have been wounded in Gaza since Saturday.

The unfolding crisis is also adding a new sense of urgency for House Republicans to move quickly on deciding who will be their next speaker following the historic ouster of Rep. Kevin McCarthy last week.

"Without a speaker, there's no ability to pass legislation," Torres told "GMA3." "There's no precedent for passing legislation. And so, the House is in a state of paralysis."

In his interview with "GMA3," Torres also discussed concerns about rising antisemitism in the United States. The full transcript of his comments are below.

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PHIL LIPOF: Joining us now is New York Congressman Ritchie Torres. Congressman, thanks so much for taking the time out of your day. I think before we get started with any conversation, we just need your reaction to what's been happening. First, what happened in Israel, and now what's going on in Gaza.

REP. RITCHIE TORRES: Look, I'm in a state of shock. October 7th was the deadliest terrorist attack in the History of Israel. It was the largest mass murder of Jews in a single day since the time of the Holocaust. And the psychological effect of October 7th is reminiscent of 9/11. It's reminiscent of the shock that all of us felt as Americans. And so, I feel strongly, you know, Israel stood with the United States during 9/11, and we have an obligation to stand with Israel in its moment of need and its 9/11.

EVA PILGRIM: So what role do you think the United States should play in supporting Israel?

TORRES: Well look, we should provide Israel with whatever funding and equipment it needs to defend itself. You know, Israel is the victim of a deadly terrorist attack. Thousands of Israelis have been murdered and wounded and abducted, raped, and otherwise terrorized, and Israel has a right to defend itself. You know, Israel is doing exactly what we would do if we, as Americans, were under attack.

PHOTO: Rep. Ritchie Torres at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 11, 2023.
Rep. Ritchie Torres at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 11, 2023.
Francis Chung/POLITICO via AP, FILE

LIPOF: Let's talk about the House for a minute, because it does have implications of what's going on right now, aid to Ukraine and aid to Israel and such. But there is no speaker in the House right now. And you have called what happened --you said a Republican coup. So, what's happening with Republicans in the House?

TORRES: Look, never in the 234-year History of Congress has a speaker of the House been removed from power. And without a speaker, there's no ability to pass legislation. There's no precedent for passing legislation. And so, the House is in a state of paralysis. Now, the Republicans control the House. The burden falls on Republicans to select a new speaker, but there's no telling how long that process will play out. And so, until then, everything's at a standstill.But the Republican Party is at war with itself within the House, and it's creating a dysfunctional, ungovernable House where the inmates are running the asylum. You know, we went from the longest speaker vote in more than 150 years to a near-default on the nation's debt, to a near shutdown of the federal government, to the first-ever overthrow of a House speaker. So, there's been nothing but chaos, crisis and confusion.

MORE: Republicans still divided on who will be the next House speaker amid mounting pressure

PILGRIM: Amidst all the chaos, crisis, and confusion, there are a lot of people, specifically here in New York, New York City is home to the largest population of Jewish people outside of Israel. Your congressional district is in the Bronx. They're worried right now about their own safety. How concerned are you about something happening here?

TORRES: Look, I think History tells us that when there is violence unfolding in the Middle East, it often leads to a surge in antisemitic incidents. And antisemitism has been a problem long before the coNFLict in Israel. Even though the Jewish community represents 2% of the population, it accounts for more than half -- it is the target of more than half of all religiously motivated hate crimes. So, antisemitism is a problem that we have to confront at its root cause in the United States.

LIPOF: It's been reported that the Biden administration is considering a bill packaging both aid for Israel and Ukraine. I know that may not be what certain congresspeople want, but it is what may be happening. Could you support it?

TORRES: I mean, I would support it. It would encounter resistance from Republicans, but I would support it because I'm convinced if we allow, you know, if we withdraw aid from Ukraine, there's no doubt in my mind that [Russian President] Vladimir Putin will slaughter Ukrainians. We will see horrifying crimes against humanity, and if Vladimir Putin takes over Ukraine, there's no reason to think he would stop there. He would continue invading more territories that would ultimately draw in the United States.

PILGRIM: Can we as a country do both?

TORRES: We're the most powerful country on Earth. People look to the United States as the leader of the free world, and we have a moral obligation to protect people from crimes against humanity to the extent that we can.

LIPOF: New York Congressman Ritchie Torres, thanks so much for taking the time. We appreciate the insight.

TORRES: Absolutely.

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