August 20th, 2012
04:09 PM ET
6 years ago

GOP lawmakers reprimanded after swim in Sea of Galilee

(CNN) – It was the end of a long, hot day in Israel when it happened: Republican lawmakers, along with a smattering of aides and family members, dived into the Sea of Galilee, a holy site for Christians where the Bible says Jesus walked on water.

Several GOP sources familiar with the events on August 4, 2011 said one of those Republicans, Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas, wasn't wearing any clothes. Others say they dived in for religious reasons.

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The incident happened a year ago, but the repercussions are just now being felt in Washington after a report in Politico detailed the trip and an ensuing FBI investigation. A law enforcement official said the FBI looked at the incident in Israel, saying the late-night swimming was probed to determine if U.S. officials were putting themselves at risk, or if any information the lawmakers possessed could have been exposed by a night of drinking and partying. This official did not believe there was any damage.

A source said the group was prodded to jump into the water by waiters at the restaurant where they were eating, who told the crowd of lawmakers, aides and family members that patrons regularly jumped into the water on hot days. The waiters themselves jumped into the water first as a demonstration to the Americans.

"There's no question there was a sense of lightheartedness and there were those who were drinking alcohol," said Rep. David Schweikert of Arizona, who was at the dinner but did not swim.

After prodding from the waiters, some of the Americans dived in. Of the 30 members of Congress on the trip, a little more than half went swimming in the Sea of Galilee.

Yoder, who's serving his first term in Congress, was among the last to jump in, and was the only one who was completely nude. As he dived into the water naked, someone screamed that he was not wearing any clothes, according to the GOP sources.

Soon after that the swim came to an end.

As the trip began last August, several of the Republican members participating told GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy that they wanted to swim in the Sea of Galilee for religious reasons, and at least two congressmen on the trip say they swam, fully clothed, because of the spiritual significance of the body of water.

Rep. Steve Southerland of Florida jumped in holding his 21-year-old daughter's hand. She is now headed to be a missionary.

Rep. Tom Reed of New York swam with his wife Jean. Reed's spokesman Tim Kolpien said the pair "swam together with a large group – appropriately clothed. There was no impropriety and he is unaware of any investigation."

Sources said when McCarthy and Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor found out about the group swim, the two GOP leaders were furious. They called a members-only meeting the next morning to reprimand the group – both those who swam and those who abstained.

"Twelve months ago, [Cantor] dealt with this immediately and effectively to ensure such activities would not take place in the future," Cantor spokesman Doug Heye wrote in a statement Sunday after reports of the incident emerged.

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, wrote that" [Cantor] handled the situation swiftly and appropriately."

Rep. David Schweikert of Arizona, who was on the Israel trip but did not go swimming, described a "high level of annoyance" from Cantor and McCarthy, and characterized the meeting as a "scolding."

McCarthy and Cantor were afraid that news of the swim would leak, anticipating how bad it would look for members of Congress to be seen drinking and swimming late at night. They were mostly worried, however, because Yoder took off his clothes and jumped into the water in front of the whole group – including at least two female staffers.

Senior House Republicans were also concerned about the timing of the incident, which came right after a bitter fight over raising the federal debt limit and as the stock market was tumbling.

Rep. Schweikert framed the late night swim as an example of a lack of judgment, pointing particularly to Rep. Ben Quayle, who he will face in a GOP primary to represent Arizona's 8th Congressional district in a little more than a week.

Anna Haberlein, a spokeswoman for Ben Quayle's campaign, said their rivals were "opportunistically promoting the story," writing "They lie for convenience. They aren't real leaders and they will do and say anything to stay in office."

Quayle, himself, also weighed in with a statement: "The real question here is why is Dave Schweikert spreading these malicious falsehoods, a week before our primary, if he has known about inappropriate behavior for over a year? The mask is off and Dave Schweikert has revealed himself as exactly the low and dishonest career politician the public has come to loathe."

Quayle's wife – who was more than eight months pregnant during the trip to Israel - wrote in a statement to CNN that neither she nor her husband had any knowledge of the skinny dipping incident.

"Ben and I and our daughter Evie were there together that evening in the Holy Land, although I was eight and a half months pregnant with her," Tiffany Quayle wrote. "We were neither party nor witness to any of the inappropriate behavior described in the article, nor were we a part of, or aware of any inquiry. We did return to Arizona with some water from the Sea of Galilee to baptize Evie after she was born."

Quayle's office said Monday that the Arizona Republican "proudly [swam] for religious reasons," but was not a part of the larger group.

Another Republican on the trip, Rep. Renee Ellmers, left the restaurant before the swimming incident and learned about it the next day, according to a senior GOP aide.

A spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is charged with electing Democrats to the lower chamber, wrote in a statement Monday the Israel antics looked "more like a scene out of Animal House than a delegation of Members of Congress representing America in Israel – one of our most important security partners."

"Republican leaders knew that these House Republicans' behavior was inappropriate and wrong, but kept the FBI investigation under wraps for more than a year," DCCC communications director Jesse Ferguson wrote. "What other inappropriate, embarrassing behavior have Republican Members of Congress been engaged in that Republican Leaders are keeping under wraps? It's getting harder and harder to keep track of this House of Scandal given how many House Republicans face FBI investigations."

A GOP aide, however, maintained that the story would mostly play in Washington, rather than in the Republican lawmakers' districts. Yoder is running unopposed by a Democrat in his race for re-election.

The congressman apologized in a statement, writing "regrettably I jumped into the water without a swimsuit."

"It is my greatest honor to represent the people of Kansas in Congress and [for] any embarrassment I have caused for my colleagues and constituents, I apologize," Yoder added.

CNN's Carol Cratty contributed to this report.

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soundoff (116 Responses)
  1. American People

    The GOP plan for the American People: Turn all the Old, Sick, Poor, Non-white, Non-christian, Unemployed, and Gay people into slaves. Then whip them until they are Young, Healthy, Rich, White, Christian, Employed, and Straight. Or until they are dead. Then turn them into Soylent Green to feed the military.

    August 20, 2012 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |

    "House of Scandal." Why are we just now finding out about this now? Who was paid hush hush money? Not only is this the worst Congress in history, they're the country's biggest embarrasment. John Boehner is among the worst Speaker's of the House.

    August 20, 2012 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |

    I'm a huge fan of the movie Purple Rain. If the Congressmen wanted to go skinny dipping, they could have purified themselves in the waters of Lake Minnetunka.

    August 20, 2012 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  4. aubrie

    Oh for Pete's sake!!! Big deal. Get a life.... they obviously have one, and are enjoying it. Good grief. Just leave them alone. Are you that twisted that you think skinny dipping is "wierd"????

    August 20, 2012 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  5. Furious Styles

    GOPers are still unwilling to admit how freaky they are.

    August 20, 2012 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  6. GOP = failure

    The IRONY.. if the GOP were in charge of the environment that surrounds the Sea of Galilee, and the sea itself, the water would be polluted with industrial waste... no one would dare swim in it.. but they might actually be able to walk on it.
    And Moses and nearby bushes would probably be burning .. God would be saying... it's a sin to pollute waterways used by the many.. simply for the profit of the few (i.e. stinking rich GOP puppet masters).

    August 20, 2012 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  7. TomGI

    It's not surprising to me that Eric Cantor "was furious" about it. After all, He IS an unregistered agent for Israel.

    August 20, 2012 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  8. Frank Atkinson

    Get a life, the Sea of Galilee is a tourist area with beaches. This isn't an issue. Maybe an internal issue with the House leadership but not news.. no one was offended.. (I'm a lifelong Democrat)

    August 20, 2012 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  9. Name: rogues rodriquez

    don't see what the big deal is about – all it shows is that he human...oh, wait s minute wouldn't want anything like that from our government official – – – being human ;P

    August 20, 2012 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  10. Same old same old with the GOP

    How much did it cost the tax payers to keep this from getting out to the media? Had it been a Democrat, it would have been all over the media and the GOP would have definitely capitalized on the situation to promote the Republicans in the presidential race!

    August 20, 2012 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  11. craig

    Skinny dipping for God? Wow, I'll have to go read the Bible to find out where that one came from. At first blush I don't recall it being mentioned. Baptism was full-immersion, but done with clothes on as I recall. Darn, more of the "Christian" stuff that Jesus never mentioned.

    August 20, 2012 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |

    Are you that twisted that you think skinny dipping is "wierd"????
    I'm not insuating that, however, for the party of "holier than thou," & "family values," I expect professionalism when our representatives are traveling abroad. Some of these members brought there wives with them. I wonder did the wives have to witness Mr. Yoder skinny dipping as well.

    August 20, 2012 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  13. bb

    If u never skinny dipped with a hottie u havent lived????? good grief this is just ridiculious !!!!!

    August 20, 2012 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  14. Dorkus

    This has got to be the most important issue facing America today. It all hinges on how the GOP spins this event, but if they lose in November, skinny dipping will be the reason. Tsk-tsk and shame on you!

    August 20, 2012 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  15. frank

    I agree, the worst congress in history that has vacation with our tax dollars and if it was you or me we must sure been fired already. Shame on all those who think if they dont get it there way they go on vacation and leave the country hanging to walk away. I say replace all these irresponsible politicians and let some people in who care about our opinion and not the opinion of the people who donate huge money for there principles.

    August 20, 2012 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  16. Bobpit

    GOP had a bad Monday. one guy saying Rape victims have a weird protection against preganancy, another guy skinny dipping, Mitt has not release the taxes, the party of family values is in disarray..

    Oh well we all know they have no rpinciples they are just on paper..

    August 20, 2012 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  17. Same old same old with the GOP

    No one said skinny dipping was 'weird'; however, when you have members of the GOP doing it... in the Sea of Galilee and naked, they are not only embarrassing themselves but they are also embarrassing our country. Where is their common sense and respect!?!

    August 20, 2012 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  18. alientech

    Whatever. Everybody's faking outrage for political reasons.

    August 20, 2012 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  19. NONO

    Is this even news worthy? Give me a break.... I swear the Liberals are always looking for anything to hang on the Republicans.

    August 20, 2012 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  20. beevee

    I would like to know what is the religion that those US legislators who skinny dipped practice. May be their congregationwould swell.

    August 20, 2012 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  21. John B Serious

    Is this really worthy of news coverage? Because at this rate I'm ready to start my own un-biased, un-favored media coverage of ACTUAL NEWS THAT THE PUBLIC HAS THE RIGHT TO KNOW ABOUT. Especially if its about our elected officials.

    August 20, 2012 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  22. John

    Boy These Republican are showing the American People just how smart they Really are, All the American People have to do Is Reminder all this Dumb crap they are doing and saying In NOV. Because they are Proving they shouldn't be elected In NOV.

    August 20, 2012 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  23. Nelson Colorado Springs Co.

    Just having a little fun no big deal. Leave him alone

    August 20, 2012 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  24. frank

    What have this congress done all year but vote on the same thing over and again 30 pluss time

    August 20, 2012 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  25. California Gary

    Just another example that a good number of these so called "family Values" Republicans are really nothing more than a bunch of rich and spoiled "frat" boys that play by their own rules.

    August 20, 2012 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
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