August 20th, 2012
04:09 PM ET
2 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. LOL

    LOL I can't even believe this is "news". STOP THE NEFARIOUS SKINNY-DIPPERS!

    August 20, 2012 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  2. PJ

    @aubrie:
    **
    I don't care if they wanted to show their a$$ in more ways than one. They were drunk and stupid.
    However, I do care that after these Republican Congressional Freshmen were instrumental in the sabatoge
    of the debet ceiling debate, which resulted in the downgrade of America's credit, then had the
    audacity, two weeks later, to go on a "fact finding" mission, with their families to Israel at the expense
    of the American people. This shows the absolute lack of judgement and stupidity that surrounds them.
    Did they pay for their families? If not, did they reimburse the taxpayer? If not, why not.
    Now, today, more audacity from Ryan saying the "downgrade" happened on President Obama's watch.
    It happened on your watch Ryan and Cantor's. Disgusting is putting it mildly.

    August 20, 2012 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  3. My Ding A Ling

    From what I hear, this was no big deal–literally!

    August 20, 2012 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  4. fred

    what next after skin dipping? if they can do this in Holly Land, can you imagine what they do DC?

    August 20, 2012 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  5. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    Did the American tax payers pay for this republican frivolity? If this happened on a college campus, the fraternity and sorority would have their charter revoked. No wonder these idiot have a favorability rating below 10%.

    August 20, 2012 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  6. myrab51

    I love how this happened over a year ago, and they wait until election time to bring it up. Why? Because it wasn't newsworthy then, and it is only smearworthy now.

    August 20, 2012 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  7. clarinet

    The price of energy, especially oil is costing me many thousands of dollars a year more for heating oil, gasoline, groceries – anything transported. It makes me sick to see an article waste time on someone taking a swim. What an entirely pathetic media.

    August 20, 2012 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  8. nothing new here

    Personally, I could care less what these idiots do in their personal time, provided they do this on their own dime and time.
    I just find it very, very hypocritical for these religious politicians to demand moral perfection out of the rest of us, while these same people think it is their God-given right to act like reckless fools.
    Partiers I can deal with – hypocrits NOT!!

    August 20, 2012 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  9. Gail

    America's representation behaving badly – what's new ?

    August 20, 2012 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  10. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    The GOP has to vote against helping the poor, seniors and veterans, so there will be enough money to spend on their lewd adventures.

    August 20, 2012 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  11. KL

    Americans are so prudish that they are shocked this man was skinny dipping. Do you people not know that most of Europe has nude beaches. Who cares if it was the Sea of Galilee.

    August 20, 2012 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  12. tom

    yoder can stay home and skinny dip in lake afton if he wants, would save a lot of tax money that they complain is wasted ? how could this be true,? no wonder our foreign policy is a bit off,

    August 20, 2012 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  13. Pete/Ark

    " LOOK LEROY...NEKKID RE-PUBLICANS!!!!!!". " It's OK Bubba...they only showin' th' furrinners they Conservative Values".

    August 20, 2012 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  14. sarah

    Umm... oh no, oh no... this is terrible. I think I may faint.

    August 20, 2012 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  15. OhBoy

    That is a long article about nothing. FBI investigates into House members having a little fun. Doesn't the FBI have more important things to do?

    August 20, 2012 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  16. Joan

    So this guy jumped naked into the holy water to swim in front of the 21-year old daughter of one of the members of the group. How repulsive is that? Also repulsive is the way the Republicans, especially Cantor covered it up. Darryl Issa has been on a mission investigating Democrats for any issue he can conjure up but somehow this was kept secret. Hmmm. Smells fishy. So many of the Republicans are such hypocrites.

    August 20, 2012 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  17. Observer

    Were tax dollars used to fund this multifamily outing and "religious experience" trip? The former would be unethical if not illegal and the latter would be a violation of the separation of church and state.

    August 20, 2012 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  18. Mario

    Rep. Kevin Yoder and the rest of the G.O.P. are invited to sunny El Paso, Texas to try El Pasos world famous Mexican food and our countless chili sauces. Plus they have our full permission to dive into the banks of the Rio Grande with or without clothes.

    August 20, 2012 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  19. kellieB

    I guess he was with the SS and thought he was in Colombia.

    August 20, 2012 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  20. annieL

    I'm fine with the swimming, even the naked swimming, whether for fun or "religious reasons.". It's the drunkeness that concerns me. Having fun, while sober, is a good thing for members of Congress. Lawmakers who can't let their hair down and have wholesome fun tend to make life heck for the people they govern. But it's time we put the same restraints on our public officials' consumption of alcohol as we have their tobacco use. Smoking doesn't cloud one's judgement. Drinking does.

    August 20, 2012 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  21. IMAWALLY

    I'm not getting it. They swam. is that like illegal or something? Skinny dipping by one person is a crowd? I'm assuming they were all adults so no problem there, unless someone can't deal with seeing a human body. Was there recourse with the host nation? All I see here is a bunch of liberal hype to smear the GOP. And I am not a Republican. All I can say is get over yourselves.

    August 20, 2012 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  22. yes!

    Published on Monday, August 20, 2012, by Chicago Tribune

    Illinois Nuke Plants Dumping Millions of Gallons of Near 100-Degree Water into Waterways

    thank you, Rahm the Israhell-firster, for complete disregard for everyone else!

    August 20, 2012 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  23. John

    I wonder what Bush Jr. would have done.......?

    August 20, 2012 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  24. Trinidad

    Rock out with your, umm, jobs bill out.

    August 20, 2012 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  25. pkrbkr

    Once again, the party of "family values" shows it's true colors! Disgusting! Guess they were thinking of their "families" back home when they went skinny dipping! Ha!

    August 20, 2012 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
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