Capitol Hill Bureau Chief
Robert Wexler, a seven-term congressman representing Florida's 19th district, announced today that he will resign his seat
in the House of Representatives to head a think tank focused on finding Middle East peace.
Wexler said today he will step down in January to become the executive director of the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation, a Washington-based non-profit that describes itself as advocating for "the peace that Israelis and Arabs seek."
"My one regret is that I will be unable to complete my current term in office," he said. "But I truly believe there is no time to waste. We are at a unique and critically tense moment in the history of the Middle East, with both significant opportunities to succeed in the Arab-Israeli conflict as well as major challenges involving Iran, Hamas and al-Qaida."
The think tank that Wexler will head was founded in 1989 by the chairman of Slim-Fast, Daniel Abraham, and Utah Democratic Congressman Wayne Owens, former chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee (who died in 2002), to help find a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Much of its efforts focus on taking high-level government officials to Israel and Arab countries for meetings with Middle East officials. Its low profile on Capitol Hill will likely change with Wexler as its leader.
In Congress, Wexler is a senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and has been one of the most forceful advocates for Israel in the House. He has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, and his official Web site says that during his time in Congress, "Wexler has been an outspoken advocate for the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel and a leading proponent of Israel's right to self-defense."
During his most recent re-election campaign, Wexler's Republican opponent challenged his Florida residency. Although the congressman's family lives in suburban Washington and his children attend school there, he had listed his mother-in-law's house in a Florida retirement community as his residence on his voter registration form. As a result of the challenge, Wexler rented an apartment in his district and went on to win his 2008 reelection with a healthy 66 percent of the vote.
When Wexler steps down in January, Gov. Charlie Crist will schedule a special election to fill the seat. Wexler's Palm Beach and Broward County district should be a safe one for Democrats to hold, as they outnumber registered Republicans by a margin of more than 2 to 1.
In his statement today, Wexler explained: "In the coming months, Israeli and Arab leaders will be faced with monumental decisions that will dramatically affect the region and the entire world for decades to come. I am convinced that now is the time for me to engage on these issues on a full-time basis."