Budd speaks with reporters about recent trip to Middle East

North Carolina Republican US Sen. Ted Budd held a call with reporters Wednesday to talk about a trip he and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-IA, recently took to the Middle East that included first-hand updates on the state of the hostage negotiations involving American citizens, including North Carolina native Keith Siegel, and visiting with US troops. 

US Sen. Ted Budd, R-NC, call with reporters, May 8, 2024. Source: Budd’s YouTube page.

The trip included stops in Israel, Iraq, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates. Budd and Ernst met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while they were in Israel and discussed hostage negotiations, military operations in Gaza, and combating anti-Semitism around the world.

US Sen. Ted Budd, R-NC and US Sen. Joni Ernst, R-IA, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Source: Budd’s office.

The senators also hosted the families of US hostages, including Siegel’s wife, Adrienne “Aviva” Siegel, and their daughter.

Budd said they are doing everything they can to put pressure on Hamas to release Siegel and the other hostages immediately and unconditionally. 

They also met with US forces while they were in Iraq and northeast Syria. They were conducting operations in the region to defeat ISIS and counter Iranian aggression. In addition, they received briefings from US military special operations commanders of the combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Levant and Operation Inherent Resolve.

“The message from these briefings was clear the world needs strong American leadership,” Budd told reporters. “Without a US presence, the world becomes a much more dangerous place.”

He said he was also glad to meet and dine with the US service members who were deployed to the region, many of whom are from North Carolina.

“I made a special note of spending time with 15 pilots from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base who are deployed in UAE,” Budd said. “I always come away from these interactions with a tremendous sense of gratitude, respect, and patriotism. The bravery and valor of these men and women is what makes our nation strong and free.”

When asked where things stand with Siegel and the other hostages, given that there have been unconfirmed reports that say many of them are dead and were killed not long after the attack, Budd said the proof of life video that was released two weeks ago is pure propaganda on the part of Hamas, noting that anything they say cannot be trusted and they just don’t know how many hostages are alive at the moment, but they remain hopeful for Siegel and others return. 

“The only thing that Hamas responds to is military strength, so I would say everything we need to do is about supporting Israel and making sure that Israel has everything they need to prosecute this war,” he said. “They’re doing everything they can to avoid civilian harm, but I’m very concerned about the withholding of munitions from Israel by the (Biden) Administration. So we need to get everything they need, but now is the time to bring Keith home along with the other US hostages and all the hostages from around the world.”

Budd and Ernst sent a letter to the Biden Administration demanding to know why they have withheld critical ammunition to Israel, including precision-guided munitions. 

The senators said the administration had promised that its commitment to Israel was ironclad. 

“Pausing much-needed military support to our closest Middle Eastern ally signals otherwise,” the pair said. “We are deeply concerned that your administration failed to notify Congress about this decision. We must give Israel the arms it needs to fight the Hamas terrorists that continue to hold Americans hostage.”

They called on the administration to immediately restart the weapons shipments to Israel.

Carolina Journal asked Budd if he and Ernst had received a response from the Biden Administration.

“We need the administration to stop talking out of both sides of their mouth,” he told CJ. “I have no response for this yet. I believe that Senator (Lindsey) Graham from South Carolina has sent a letter to them and there have been other senators as well that have asked similar questions of the administration about the precision-guided munitions hold up.” 

Biden said on Wednesday that he will withhold weapons from Israel if they continue with the invasion of Rafah, the last stronghold Hamas has in Gaza. He did say that the US will continue sending defensive weapons to Israel, like supplies for Israel’s Iron Dome.

A reporter said that Siegel’s niece was concerned that it wouldn’t be in Netanyahu’s best political interest to negotiate to get Siegel home and asked Budd if he had any concerns about the prime minister’s handling of getting Siegel and the other hostages home.

“It’s clear to me that Prime Minister Netanyahu is focused on securing the release of the hostages, that is bringing as many home as possible that are still alive, and perhaps it’s so important for those who have passed away or been killed by Hamas that they are brought home too,” he said. “That’s very important. So he was very adamant to me that that is still a top priority of his.” 

Another reporter asked if Budd had any concerns with the way Israel is conducting operations in Gaza, including civilians being injured or killed, being that the Biden Administration has expressed concerns. Budd said it’s quite the opposite.

“I’m seeing the way they’ve done this from the first communications with them, everything that they’re doing from when I met with them (Israel Defense Forces) IDF back in January,” he said, stating that Hamas put its headquarters in hospitals and in schools and they use human shields.

“I’ve placed this squarely on Hamas, and I’m also very concerned about our administration, which is eliminating sending them precision-guided munitions,” he said. “If Israel wants to move forward, they want to be very precise in what they do and eliminate any harm to civilians, and if our administration is holding up precision-guided munitions that is completely in the way of keeping civilians lives from being harmed. So, it’s very concerning what our administration is doing.”

Budd also spoke about the pro-Palestinian protestors that have engulfed college campuses across the country, including North Carolina, saying that was ‘absolutely horrifying to the world.’

“I would say you have to understand your history, and while these people may want to be about protecting innocent lives, they’re actually harming them,” he said. “They need to make sure that they’re not attaching themselves to genocidal statements when they say things like ‘From the River to the Sea.’ That’s encouraging genocide.”

He said most people don’t even understand the geography from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea is wiping out a group of people that have a right to peacefully exist as a nation.

Budd said the protests were not only concerning to him but to leaders around the world.  

“They’re asking us what is going on with the vacuum of US leadership,” he said. “Why is the US allowing this to happen, and these are not just leaders in Israel. These are leaders in the Arab world with Muslim backgrounds that are horrified at the lack of leadership on the US stage, particularly within the US by the Biden Administration .”

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