WASHINGTON— If there’s a trait that unites the 100 members of the U.S. Senate, it is volubility: These folks, who invented the filibuster, know how to talk.
It was remarkable to see them then exiting a screening room on Tuesday in the bowels of the Capitol building, barely able to shape their mouths into a single word.
The unusual silence came after two senators, Jacky Rosen, a Jewish Nevada Democrat, and Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, screened for their fellow senators 43 minutes of harrowing footage of the carnage Hamas terrorists committed on Oct. 7.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, said as she walked away, her eyes filled with tears.
Israel’s government, which produced the film to combat denial about the horrors the unfolded during the attack, has made the video available for private screenings, on strict condition that its images are not shared. It has been shown in statehouses and Hollywood, and New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who leads the Democratic minority in the U.S. House of Representatives, has screened the video for House members.
The latest viewing comes at a pivotal time for support in Washington for Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza. A short ceasefire is now underway as Israel trades Palestinian prisoners for some of the 240 hostages Hamas terrorists abducted on Oct. 7. Israel wants to resume the war soon to maintain its momentum.
But even as President Joe Biden staunchly supports Israel’s aims — to return the hostages and dismantle Hamas — the Biden administration is pressing Israel for assurances that it will protect Gazan civilians when it resumes its campaign. And skepticism of how Israel has waged war in Gaza has increased among Democrats, with 49 members of Congress now supporting some sort of extended ceasefire, a dynamic that Punchbowl News reported has Israelis so concerned that they dispatched a senior military figure to speak to congressional Democrats on Monday.
Two Democrats who back a ceasefire were among the 40 senators from both parties who attended the screening. Massachusetts Dem. Elizabeth Warren blanched and brushed away a reporter as she exited, whispering “No comment.” Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin was the first to leave. A reporter asked him if seeing the violence changed his outlook in any way.
“All I know is that it was horrific and this makes it clear just how horrible it was,” he said before ducking into a senators-only portion of the building.
Most of the senators exiting the room said nothing, despite pleas from reporters. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, held upon her hand and kept walking, her eyes cast down. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat whose mother is a Holocaust survivor, literally ran out of the room. (A spokeswoman said he was “deeply disturbed” by what he saw but was also rushing to preside over the Senate floor.)
Only Rosen and Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, spoke at any length to reporters. Cruz, a skilled orator, spoke slowly and deliberately in low haunted tones, fixating on the joy evident in the terrorists as they carried out their butchery.
“Much of the footage is from Hamas’ own body cams from their own cellphones,” Cruz said. “We saw terrorist celebrating as they murdered children and women as they desecrated the bodies we saw them beheading bodies with knives we heard audio of the terrorists calling their parents celebrating people that murder.”
He paused a long moment. “There is a level of evil and hate and depravity that defies words,” he said.
For Cruz, what he saw made Israel’s case for continuing the war. For Rosen, it was a case she felt he had to make to the Senate; she said in a statement after the screening that she was hoping to convince her colleagues to support $14 billion emergency aid package to Israel that Biden has requested.
“It’s important that we see it now in real time because Hamas has avowed to repeat this day, over and over, over and over,” she said in a low, reverent tone, her face still blanched white. “We need to move forward to find a way to end the cancer that is Hamas terror. And that’s what we need to do. That’s what I’m going to focus on.”
Her aide reminded her she had a meeting. It would have to wait. “I’m going to take a moment for myself after this,” Rosen said.