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. costofhealthcare

    Why were so many congressman in Israel? I wish they had mentioned why they were there.

    August 20, 2012 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  2. Kile

    Meanwhile, the fiddle music can still be heard as Rome continues to burn.

    August 20, 2012 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  3. costofhealthcare

    I want to know why they were in Israel.

    August 20, 2012 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  4. Valerie from Raleigh

    Oh yes, Republican family values at work!

    August 20, 2012 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  5. toydrum

    So basically, Yoder showed himself to be lacking in class and unprofessional.

    If you or I had done that while on a business trip representing our employer, PAID FOR by our employer, we would be fired for bringing disrespect to the company name. I guess the rules don't apply if you are only representing a whole nation instead of a corporate brand.

    August 20, 2012 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  6. Jacob

    Why is this an issue, why is this news. What is wrong with going skinny dipping for a minute? Is this really something people care about?

    August 20, 2012 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  7. Luke Brown

    These are the stupidest excuses imaginable. They had a party where there was a lot of drinking ... and jumped in the Sea of Galilee in the middle of the night for religious reasons??? Good Lord, how stupid do they think we are? Now, they are blaming the waiters at their hotel?

    Why would Cantor have scolded all 30 of them if this was so innocent?

    These people represent our country where ever they go, including on boondoggle junkets when special interest groups pay their way. It's a sacred place for many people around the world. I'd have a lot more respect for them if they would just admit things got out hand and they are sorry.

    PS ... Mrs. Quayle, I don't think I'd put that water on any of my children. Think about what is in it, after a party by a bunch of drunk, naked guys.

    August 20, 2012 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  8. dc

    It's very OLD news, but it's still worse than all the news we've heard the last couple of years about Democrats under investigation for embezelment, or Pres. Obama getting school aid as a foreign student and then becoming president, etc., etc., etc............ Right???? CNN, IS THIS THE BEST YOU GOT?

    August 20, 2012 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  9. Dave

    if half of the 30 congressmen jumped, that is 15 that were either naked or in their underware as reports indicated. Hope they weren't tighty whities. These were freshmen congressmen up for reelection in November. Good time to post their photos.

    August 20, 2012 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  10. dc

    Probably spent a lot less than one of Michelle's trips.....

    August 20, 2012 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  11. reality check

    Excuse me, but what's the problem?

    August 20, 2012 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  12. ccw

    I'm wondering...if lots of people do this, isn't there a tour of some kind where you can pay to do this....instead of acting like a bunch of frat boys?

    August 20, 2012 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  13. RainyDay

    It was a year ago. Let it go. If Israel is upset, apologize, although the article did not say anything about it. I'm not sure if you are supposed to swim in a sacred body of water, but if you can, what is the big deal? It was hot. The water looked good. After a long day of work, I'm sure it sounded like a good idea at the time. Give them a break. Everyone has to let off steam now and again – even politicians.

    August 20, 2012 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  14. Independent

    Wow amazing how desperate the Dems are getting LOL! ANYTHING to detract from the real issues in the country!!! Swimming LOL!!

    August 20, 2012 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  15. badcyclist

    You know, I have to say that I don't care about this particular "scandal." Yeah, it was a waste of money and a junket, and of course the Republicans are completely hypocritical about all that stuff.

    But all this noise over a little PG-13 skinny-dip? Come on.

    August 20, 2012 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  16. GIUK

    Gee whize Kevin, what a low-life, trailer park thing to do.

    August 20, 2012 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  17. Big_D

    I not as worried about the skinny dipping as the selling out of the GOP to Israel. How much foreign money is the GOP using this time? Why isn't it illegal for foreign countries to buy our politicians?

    August 20, 2012 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  18. Big_D

    The millions in Israeli money are pouring into our elections is far more disturbing than a skinny dip. This is more like a thirty man GOP corruption dip.

    August 20, 2012 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  19. Ron

    I'm from Oregon. I'm confused? Since when is it wrong to skinnydip.

    August 20, 2012 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  20. Ugh

    Too bad nobody had the presence of mind to take photos...wonder if that restaurant has a CCTV system?

    August 20, 2012 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  21. Lori Hornback

    So what. They did not break any laws or harm anyone. Other than the potential to be used by the Democrates at a convienent time (like now) to show the Republicans can have some good clean fun there wasn't even any need to scold these people.

    August 20, 2012 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  22. dakota2000

    What did I miss. Is there something wrong with the human body?

    What is wrong with public nudity if the intention is to not cause emotional distress in another person?

    This is a weird, stupid story.

    August 20, 2012 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  23. JJC

    I care more that there were congress people who did it for religious reasons than I do about the guy who went naked. I can't believe that there are still people in positions of power and respect that believe the silly stories in that contradictory book.

    August 20, 2012 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  24. Edna

    I am a Christian and view the Sea of Galilee as a holy place that visitors should respect. I look forward to being baptized there next year. It's one thing to go skinny dipping in any old body of water but to do so in a place that they knew was a place of reverence goes beyond belief. I can hear Cantor say to his Republican members..Have some respect. Kiss my ass!" Isn't that how the Republican handle things? That's how Romney's team does it! Hypocrits!

    August 20, 2012 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  25. Jay jay

    I guess Im damned to hell. I would need a calculator to count how many times I've skinny dipped. Amazing the support Clinton got for screwing a gal in the oval office but yet it's the same people who supported that nonsense are the same one crying over going skinny dipping...

    August 20, 2012 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
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