Biden faces bipartisan backlash on Capitol Hill over Israel ultimatum

May 12, 2024, 7:23 PM

President Joe Biden speaks with CNN’s Erin Burnett during an exclusive interview Wednesday, May 8...

President Joe Biden speaks with CNN’s Erin Burnett during an exclusive interview Wednesday, May 8, in Racine, Wisconsin.

(CNN) — President Joe Biden is facing backlash from lawmakers in both parties over his ultimatum that a major Israeli offensive in the city of Rafah would result in a shut-off of some US weapons.

Biden’s decision to go public with the ultimatum in an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett last week was greeted with pointed criticism across the GOP spectrum on Sunday, and vocal concern among Democrats.

“On the one hand, they’re saying too many Palestinian civilians have been killed. With the other hand, they’re depriving us of the precision guided weapons that actually cut down on civilian casualties,” Republican Sen. JD Vance of Ohio told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union,” though Biden specifically mentioned withholding bombs and artillery shells deemed by the administration as indiscriminate and imprecise.

“So if you’re worried about Palestinian casualties, the stated policy here actually doesn’t make a ton of sense,” Vance said.

A turning point

The president’s announcement amounted to a turning point in US-Israeli ties since the seven-month conflict between Israel and Hamas began in October. Still, the president’s aides said the message shouldn’t have been a surprise to their intended recipients in Israel given repeated warnings to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Earlier this month, Biden signed off on a pause of 3,500 bombs to Israel that administration officials feared would be dropped on Rafah — where Israel has issued evacuation orders for some of the estimated 1.4 million civilians sheltering there as it appears poised to continue its advancement on the southern Gaza city.

And last week, Biden told Burnett that if Israel goes into Rafah, “I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities – that deal with that problem.”

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called the ultimatum “the worst decision in the history of the US-Israel relationship.” A frequent White House critic, Graham called on the Biden administration to “keep the weapons flowing” and sit down with Israel.

GOP Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, meanwhile, told Fox News on Sunday that Biden’s decision sends “a horrible message for Israel” and claimed that the president is “unfortunately, now part of the pro-Hamas wing of his party.”


But the backlash hasn’t just fallen along party lines.

On Friday, a group of 26 House Democrats sent a letter to Biden saying they are “deeply concerned about the message the Administration is sending to Hamas and other Iranian-backed terrorist proxies by withholding weapons shipments to Israel.”

The group of House Democrats, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, also requested a briefing from the White House to get more information on Biden’s decision, as well as how and when aid appropriated by Congress for Israel will be delivered.

Democratic Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, however, highlighted the kinds of weapons being withheld. “The president was not as clear on this in the Erin Burnett interview as he should have been,” he said Sunday on Fox News, adding: “All that has been held back to date are dumb, 2,000-pound bombs because the president feels – and I think rightly – they should not be used in Rafah.”

Other Democrats have offered more forceful defenses of Biden, who arrived at his ultimatum decision after multiple rounds of phone calls with Netanyahu, starting in mid-February.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut told Bash in a separate interview on “State of the Union” that Biden was “learning the mistakes of US military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“What we learned in both of those efforts was that you cannot defeat terrorist ideology. You cannot defeat a terrorist movement,” he said.

The president, Murphy said, “is telling Israelis we will be partners but you have to understand the pace of civilian casualties, the amount of disaster is, in the long run, going to make Hamas stronger, is going to make it more likely that Israel will be attacked again, and is going to make other terrorist organizations that have designs to attack the United States stronger.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that the US believes Israel has killed more civilians than Hamas terrorists as part of its war in Gaza, and that Israel needs to do more to mitigate civilian deaths.

“While Israel has processes, procedures, rules, regulations to try to minimize civilian harm, given the impact that this operation, this war in Gaza has had on the civilian population, those have not been applied consistently and effectively,” Blinken said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

The Ministry of Health in Gaza reported Sunday that the number of people killed in the enclave as a result of Israeli military operations has risen above 35,000.

State Department report on Israel use of US weapons

Last week, the State Department released a report saying it is “reasonable to assess” that US weapons have been used by Israeli forces in Gaza in ways that are “inconsistent” with international humanitarian law but stopped short of officially saying Israel violated the law.

Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland told CBS’ Margaret Brennan on “Face the Nation” that “I think there’s enough on the books to be able to point to specific cases and make specific determinations. And on that score, the administration did duck the hard questions.”

Pressed if he fears the report helped give political cover to Netanyahu to continue deadly strikes in Israel, Van Hollen said he worries the administration did not provide “an unvarnished accounting of the facts and the law.”

The report did not find that Israel has withheld humanitarian aid to Gaza in violation of international law, despite conflicting reports.

“By not calling that out flatly and saying that there have been arbitrary restrictions put on it [humanitarian aid], I fear that we have set a very, very low bar, a very low standard for what’s acceptable,” Van Hollen said. “And I think that will come back to haunt us.”

Murphy said the report “could have gone further” but added it does “accurately explain the complexity of this. And let’s just also be clear about that. Yes, I believe that there have been some very disastrous decisions on proportionality created by Israeli military.”

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, defending Biden from Van Hollen’s criticisms over the State Department report, said. “I think President Biden has taken forceful action – so much so there’s been a lot of blowback for his recent public statement.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Politics & Elections

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall shares the 2024-25 recommended budget at a Salt Lake City Coun...

Mary Culbertson

SLC Mayor Mendenhall proposes her salary increase by 26% amid turbulent budget meetings

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall proposed a 26% salary increase for herself in the city's budget proposal meetings. Her office argues it's a deserved and overdue increase, while constituents question the amount.

18 hours ago

Utah Capitol where lawmakers passed a deal to possible raise a tax and quickly spend the money on d...

Lindsay Aerts

Lawmakers defend Sept. 1 contract deadline on downtown plans

The deal to raise Salt Lake City's sales tax to help house the new NHL team and revitalize downtown is moving fast and lawmakers are defending the deadline.

22 hours ago

AI could offer ‘enhanced opportunities’ to interfere in 2024 election, DHS warns as a voter cas...

Sean Lyngaas, CNN

AI could offer ‘enhanced opportunities’ to interfere in 2024 election, DHS warns

Artificial intelligence tools for creating fake video, audio and other content will likely give foreign operatives and domestic extremists “enhanced opportunities for interference” as the 2024 US election cycle progresses, the Department of Homeland Security said in a recent bulletin distributed to state and local officials and obtained by CNN.

2 days ago

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may face internation...

Nadeen Ebrahim, CNN

Hamas and Israeli leaders may face international arrest warrants. Here’s what that means

The International Criminal Court prosecutor is seeking international arrest warrants for top Hamas officials and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on allegations of war crimes.

3 days ago

Abravanel Hall is pictured in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 8, 2024. Smith Entertainment Group, ...

Lindsay Aerts

Plan for updating Abravanel Hall estimated to cost hundreds of millions

Estimates for updating Abravanel Hall, home of the Utah Symphony, are estimated to cost over $200 million.

3 days ago

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 20: Former U.S. President Donald Trump with attorney Todd Blanche (L) retu...

Michael R. Sisak, Jennifer Peltz, Jake Offenhartz and Alanna Durkin Richer

Michael Cohen says he stole from Trump’s company as defense presses key hush money trial witness

Former Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen admitted to jurors in the Republican’s hush money trial that he stole tens of thousands of dollars from Trump’s company.

3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 Internet Safety Tips for Kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Biden faces bipartisan backlash on Capitol Hill over Israel ultimatum