Michael Shapiro was galvanized into pro-Israel work after witnessing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel at Columbia University, where he was studying in a joint program with Jewish Theological Seminary. Lobbying trips to Washington solidified his decision to move to Washington and work on his foreign policy passions through a conservative lens.
Shapiro, 25, sat down with Washington Jewish Week in the Capitol to discuss his newest role as a communications adviser for Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.).
What’s it like working in the speaker’s office?
First and foremost, it’s an honor and a privilege. Look out the office window and you have a view of the national mall and you can see the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. It’s never lost on you that it’s a special opportunity, at the same time, it’s a huge responsibility. We have a big staff compared to other Hill offices. We’re talking about a position that has tremendous influence on our country. I play my small part in helping him do his part in helping provide a strong conservative message to the country.
What were your early days in D.C. like?
I moved out to D.C. and did what a lot of people here do, which is stay with some friends on their couch, look for jobs, go out to happy hours and talk to everyone and anyone I knew. I heard about a position in [Rep.] Peter Roskam’s office, from Illinois [R], not far from where I live, and I was lucky enough that they picked me up to do policy.
Talk about your policy passions.
For me, one of the big issues is [boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel]. For me, it was cool, because it was something I had seen from an academic perspective as an undergrad at Columbia. When I got to the Hill, I had a chance to make a difference legislatively on this issue. We worked for well over a year and a half on a bill to combat state-sanctioned boycotts coming out of the European Union. Over the next year and a half, we were successful, through a lot of work, of getting that enacted into law. For me, that was a big accomplishment.
On the Iran front, our office was singularly able to get the House to change course on how we would go about expressing our disapproval of the deal. The initial plan was to vote on a resolution of disapproval under the Corker-Cardin law. It was our opinion that the Corker-Cardin law was violated by the administration when it failed to turn over side agreements that were specifically required under the law.
As a result, we didn’t want to give the administration the legitimacy and acknowledge that they had followed the process because we didn’t believe the administration had. Through meeting with members of our conference and through meetings of leadership, we were able to get the House to formally reject the agreement — but also to voice disapproval of the process, which we think is important because that sets up the next president to go back and perhaps reconsider or renegotiate the deal. It’s important, also, for history to show where the people’s house was on this issue.
Conservative Jews are in the minority in the United States. Is it difficult for you to be a politically conservative American Jew?
No. I think you have to be confident in what you believe, and you have to be honest in what you believe. I’ve always been in the minority, not just as a Jewish person, but as a young person. I haven’t found it difficult. I love debating with my friends. It’s really about being confident and passionate about what you believe.
What is Paul Ryan like as a boss?
I will say the first time I met Paul Ryan, I felt like he’s one of us. Like me, he’s from the Midwest. He’s a genuine person, a normal guy who took on a big job, and unlike many people in politics, is a guy that was drafted into a job he was not actively pursuing. At the same time, he strikes me as a person who is confident in what he’s doing. He’s been in the national spotlight before. He has a vision. It hasn’t always been the case that House Republicans have had a clear vision of what they want to do, and he’s working on changing that.
He’s a good Wisconsin guy. I guess we disagree on sports. He’s a Packers fan and I’m a Bears fan, but that is the trade-off.