May 8, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Biden faces internal blowback over Israel weapons pauses

Rep. Ritchie Torres, wearing a gray suit, white shirt and red tie, speaking into a microphone at an event.

Rep. Ritchie Torres. Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Jacob Helberg.

President Biden is facing unusually harsh criticism from some pro-Israel lawmakers in his party for pausing shipments of weapons to Israel.

Why it matters: The internal party dissent adds to the furious broadsides Republican lawmakers have levied at the president.

  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) sent Biden a letter on Wednesday demanding details about the decision by the end of the week.

Between the lines: The pauses come as Israel has begun moving into Rafah despite a months-long effort by Biden and Democrats to prevent such an assault.

  • The administration has blocked shipments of ammunition, 500-pound bombs and 2000-pound bombs, Axios' Barak Ravid reported.
  • Biden said Wednesday that if Israel invades the Southern Gazan city, he will stop all shipments of offensive weaponry — such as artillery shells and bombs for fighter jets

What they're saying: Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), who said on X the move "makes a mockery of our credibility as an ally," had even more strident criticism for the president in a brief Capitol Hill interview on Wednesday.

  • "I suspect it's pandering to the far left," the staunchly pro-Israel lawmaker told Axios. "It looks like election year politics was driving it. That's my impression," he added.
  • "I'd like the president to do right by Israel and recognize that the far left is not representative of the rest of the country."

Zoom out: Torres wasn't the only Democrat to speak out against the pauses.

  • Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) told Axios: "I strenuously disagree ... We have to stand with our key ally throughout all of this."
  • Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) told Axios that Israel is "surrounded by danger, they need the tools to defend themselves" and the U.S. "should fulfill our obligation" by sending the weapons.
  • Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) said the move is clearly geared towards sending Israel a "message" about their use of force, but "Hamas is also getting the message ... and that means the war is going to go on."

Yes, but: Other Democrats voiced support for the pauses and argued that the move was representative of where Democrats increasingly fall on the issue.

  • "I think it's what we've heard from ... all the wings of the caucus, that with Netanyahu continuing threaten an invasion of Rafah, we feel like a message needs to be sent," said Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.).
  • Rep. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) called the decision "wise," telling Axios: "Weapons that are likely to lead to more civilian casualties are something it's time to pause."

Between the lines: Some pro-Israel Democratic lawmakers declined to take positions on the pauses in interviews with Axios, saying they want more information from the administration on their reasoning.

  • "We're asking for a clarification," said Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.).
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