President Joe Biden held a last-minute press-conference last night. The objective was to respond to the special prosecutor’s report released earlier in the day on his mishandling of classified material. But the special prosecutor wasn’t the only target of the president’s ire. Biden took the opportunity to criticize Israel’s military operations in Gaza. In doing so, he highlighted the dilemma he faces.
Biden remarks were blunt and mirrored what he reportedly has been telling advisers privately for weeks. He said that “the conduct of the response in Gaza, in the Gaza Strip, has been over the top.” He highlighted his efforts to get humanitarian assistance to Gaza, where the death toll has topped 27,000, while noting that “there are a lot of innocent people who are starving. There are a lot of innocent people who are in trouble and dying. And it’s got to stop.” Biden said nothing about what he could, or would, do to make that happen.
Biden’s comments come as a new AP-NORC poll shows that only 31 percent of Americans approve of how he has handled the conflict. Just as important, half of U.S. adults think that “the military response from Israel in the Gaza Strip has gone too far.” Disapproval of Israel’s military response is highest among Democrats, with 63 percent believing Israel has gone too far.
Democratic opposition to Biden’s Gaza policy is showing up on the campaign trail. Last month, his speech at the Charleston, South Carolina, church where a white supremacist killed nine people in 2015 was interrupted by protesters shouting “cease-fire now!” Chants of “Genocide Joe” have become common at Biden campaign events. And this week, a group called Listen to Michigan launched a campaign urging Democrats to vote for “Uncommitted” rather than Biden in Michigan’s presidential primary on February 27 to protest “Biden’s funding war and genocide in Gaza.” The group noted that Biden won Michigan in 2020 by just 10,000 votes, and that voting “Uncommitted” will “demonstrate that we hold his margin of victory for re-election.”
Biden has tried privately to persuade Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to limit civilian casualties in Gaza. But those appeals have fallen on deaf ears. Israel now looks set to launch a major military operation against the southern Gazan city of Rafah, where as many as 1.4 million Palestinians have taken refuge, even though Biden’s spokesperson said yesterday that the United States “would not support it.” Netanyahu has also publicly dismissed Biden’s endorsement of a two-state solution, saying “I will not compromise on full Israeli security control over the entire area west of [the river] Jordan—and this is irreconcilable with a Palestinian state.”
The question, then, is whether Biden will try to make Israel “stop.” His main leverage is to withhold U.S. military support. He shows no signs, however, of wanting to take that step. To the contrary, he wants Congress to supply Israel with nearly $18 billion in aid. If he moved to limit U.S. aid, he would invite attacks from Republicans, as well as pro-Israel Democrats, for failing to stand by Israel in its hour of need. And nothing in Netanyahu’s behavior suggests that he would be moved by threats to limit U.S. aid, or that he would bend to Biden’s demands if it happened.
But if Biden can’t find a way to change how Israel is prosecuting its war against Hamas, his political problems within the Democratic Party are likely to grow. His critics won’t be satisfied that he, too, believes Israel has gone too far. They want him to force an end to the fighting.
How well Biden navigates the dilemma he faces could well decide his reelection bid.
As expected, Trump won Nevada’s caucuses last night and will likely come away with all of the state’s twenty-six convention delegates. Nikki Haley came in second place to “none of these candidates” in Nevada’s Republican primary on Tuesday night. That primary was a beauty pageant that did not award any delegates.
Joe Biden won big in South Carolina’s primary last Saturday, the first official Democratic nomination event. The president received 96 percent of the vote, with the remainder split between Marianne Williamson (2.1 percent) and Dean Phillips (1.7 percent). Turnout was low, which wasn’t surprising given that Biden was expected to win running away. With his big win, Biden came away with all fifty-five of South Carolina’s delegates.
A federal appeals court on Tuesday dismissed Trump’s lawsuit claiming that he could not be tried for trying to overturn the 2020 election results. In its unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel rejected Trump’s sweeping claims of presidential immunity against criminal charges. (Two of the judges were nominated by Joe Biden, the third by George H.W. Bush.) The panel wrote: “Any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as President no longer protects him against this prosecution.” The panel added that, if accepted, Trump’s immunity claims “would collapse our system of separated powers by placing the President beyond the reach of all three Branches.” Trump has until Monday to file an appeal with the Supreme Court.
Chris Christie on Tuesday opened the door to a run for president under the No Labels banner. Asked about the possibility on Good Morning America, the former New Jersey governor said: Oh, I don’t know. There’d be a long conversation between me and [my wife] Mary Pat, I can guarantee you that.” Christie dismissed the idea of running on the No Labels ticket when he was seeking the Republican presidential nomination.
The Candidates in Their Own Words
Trump attacked the Senate’s bipartisan border security bill on Monday, calling it a “great gift to the Democrats, and a Death Wish for The Republican Party.” He added: “Only a fool, or a Radical Left Democrat, would vote for this horrendous Border Bill, which only gives Shutdown Authority after 5000 Encounters a day, when we already have the right to CLOSE THE BORDER NOW, which must be done.” Trump’s criticism had its intended effect. Just four senators supported the bill when it came to the Senate floor on Wednesday for a vote.
Trump denied on Sunday that he would start a trade war with China if he returned to the White House. However, when asked about reports he planned to impose 60 percent tariffs on imports from China, he responded: “No, I would say maybe it’s gonna be more than that.” Trump added: “I want China to do great, I do. And I like President Xi a lot, he was a very good friend of mine during my term.”
When asked if he would come to Taiwan’s defense in the face of a Chinese attack, Trump declined to answer “because that would really jeopardize my negotiating ability with China. So I don’t talk about those things. It’s very hard to say. I would or I wouldn’t—they know what I do, and they know where I stand. And we won’t have a problem.”
Nikki Haley said on Wednesday that India isn’t willing to partner with the United States because it perceives the United States as weak. "The problem is, India doesn't trust us to win. They don't trust us to lead. They see right now that we're weak. India has always played it smart. They have played it smart, and they have stayed close with Russia, because that's where they get a lot of their military equipment.”
Cornel West participated in a town hall with Chicago’s Muslim Civic Coalition last Sunday. He said he was “running to be head of the [U.S.] empire to dismantle the empire, and to take those investments in military and put it into high quality school, universal basic income...free education...free Medicare.” West also appeared on Travis Smiley’s podcast, where he argued that “Biden supports genocide, ethnic cleansing, apartheid-like conditions in the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli occupation.”
What the Pundits Are Saying
Politico’s Jonathan Martin argued that the main third-party threat to Biden’s re-election bid doesn’t come from the centrist No Labels effort but from candidates on the left. Indeed, “If [Robert] Kennedy claims the Libertarian Party line, which he’s warming to, Jill Stein is the Green Party nominee and Cornel West gets on any battleground state ballots, they would combine to drain far more votes from Biden than from Trump. You wouldn’t think Democrats need much reminding of this scenario, given how many in their professional ranks lived through two campaigns, 2000 and 2016, in which they lost the electoral vote in part because of leftist spoilers.”
Agathe Demarais, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, argued that China wants Trump to win the U.S. presidential election. Her reasoning? “Beijing knows that there is no hope for an improvement in its ties with Washington, whether under Trump, Biden, or any other U.S. president. From the perspective of Beijing’s long game vis-à-vis the West, Trump’s return to the White House may well turn out to be in China’s favor, at least in the economic field.”
Ronald Brownstein wrote in The Atlantic that “Trump has promised that, if elected in November, he will pursue ‘the Largest Domestic Deportation Operation in History.’” To make that happen, “Trump intends to requisition National Guard troops from sympathetic Republican-controlled states and then deploy them into Democratic-run states whose governors refuse to cooperate with their deportation drive.” Trump vowed to organize similarly large deportations when he ran for president in 2016, but didn’t follow through on the pledge during his presidency. “Over Trump’s four years, in fact, his administration deported only about a third as many people from the nation’s interior as Barack Obama’s administration had over the previous four years.”
The Campaign Schedule
The South Carolina Republican primary is fifteen days away (February 24, 2024).
The State of the Union address is twenty-seven days away (March 7, 2024).
The start of the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee is 157 days away (July 15, 2024).
The start of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago is 192 days away (August 19, 2024).
Election Day is 270 days away.
Inauguration Day is 346 days away.
Sinet Adous assisted in the preparation of this post.