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House Republican campaign chief defends anti-Soros ads

Amid threats and acts of violence, both sides of the aisle come under scrutiny for campaign messages.

WASHINGTON — Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers, chairman of the House GOP campaign arm, defended the group's repeated criticism of billionaire liberal donor George Soros in campaign ads on Sunday.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has been running ads in Minnesota's First Congressional District tying the Democratic candidate, Dan Feehan, to Soros. Feehan worked at the Center for New American Security, a think-tank that received funding from Soros.

The first ad, which began running the middle of this month, shows Soros sitting behind a pile of money as the words "connoisseur of chaos" show on the screen.

A more recent ad began running days after authorities found an explosive device sent to Soros's home, one of more than a dozen sent to Democratic officials and other critics of President Donald Trump.

When asked about the ads, Stivers noted that the group's independent expenditure staff, which creates the ads, is walled off from the rest of the committee leadership to comply with campaign finance laws. But he defended the ad as "factual."

"Our independent expenditure arm is independent. But that ad is factual. And it also has nothing to do with calling for violence. That ad is a factual ad," he said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

But the ad contains the kind of criticism that one prominent U.S. Jewish leader said can be evocative of anti-Semitic attacks.

"Political candidates and people in public life now literally repeat the the rhetoric of white supremacists," Anti Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said on "Meet the Press."

"And they think its normal and permissible to talk about Jewish conspiracies manipulating events or Jewish financiers controlling activities."

While not specifically addressing the NRCC ads, Greenblatt said that "the attacks on George Soros are appalling and the continued invocation of classic anti-Semitic themes."

During Stivers's joint interview with his Democratic counterpart, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Ben Ray Luján, a New Mexico congressman, the two agreed that both sides have a role to play in tamping down political rhetoric.

But they both repeatedly criticized each other and their parties for their contributions to the political rhetoric.

Stivers noted that his group pulled its support of a New Jersey congressional candidate who repeatedly criticized diversity and shared racial comments on Twitter, in return accusing Democrats of backing candidates "who have said bigoted and anti-Semitic things."

"We all need to keep our dialogue civil," he said. "We are the only major party committee to cut off a candidate for their behavior."

"We all bear some responsibility. And we need to try to clean up our act and try to bring more civility to our Congress and, frankly, to our dialogue."

In his criticism of the DCCC, Stivers specifically named Virginia Democrat Leslie Cockburn and Pennsylvania Democrat Scott Wallace.

Cockburn has been attacked for a book she wrote decades earlier that the New York Times review referred to as "Israel-bashing for its own sake."

Republicans have seized on that criticism to call Cockburn anti-Semitic, a charge that she denies by arguing she can be critical of Israel but still support it and Palestinians. She's also pointed to her endorsement from J Street, a liberal-leaning Jewish group.

Wallace has been dogged by a donation from his family foundation to a group that supports boycotting Israel to criticize its treatment of Palestinians. The controversy initially cost Wallace the endorsement of a local Jewish group, which later changed course and endorsed him.

Wallace, who has argued he had no direct control over the donation and opposes the boycotts, is also endorsed by J Street.

After Stivers criticized the DCCC for "sleazy and personal" ads against candidates in Colorado and Washington, Luján countered by calling some of the NRCC's attacks "racist."

"Steve, you've also been running racist ads in New York, in Cincinnati, Ohio and out in California. You can do something to pull those down," Luján said.

"I think, on all sides, that everyone should monitor the tone here. Again, no more finger pointing, Steve. Let's make sure that we look within ourselves and we find the greater good there."

The Democrat's New York reference refers to the ads attacking Antonio Delgado, the Democratic candidate in New York's 19th Congressional District, that center on his earlier rap career.