Dems face new divisions over Israel-Hamas war

Dems face new divisions over Israel-Hamas war

The Israel-Hamas conflict is opening new rifts in the House Democratic caucus, with a second Congressional Progressive Caucus quitting the group over the war and Rep. Rashida Tlaib backing an activist campaign to undermine President Joe Biden in the Michigan Democratic primary.

The new developments underscore that, more than four months in, Israel’s military operations in Gaza are still causing a painful rift within a Democratic Party that’s occasionally struggled to project both security-first and pro-humanitarian messages in the Middle East. It’s far from clear whether the enduring frustration with the Biden administration’s approach to the war — concentrated among progressives — will keep the party’s base sitting on its hands in November. But for the moment, Democrats aren’t done collectively wrestling with their approach.

In the latest sign of existential angst, Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) has quietly left the Progressive Caucus over its treatment of the Israel-Hamas war, according to a person familiar with the situation. He’s no longer listed on the nearly 100-member bloc’s website.

Torres’ vocal support for the conservative Israeli government has put him at odds with other liberal lawmakers who have taken a more critical line. He described his advocacy in a previous POLITICO interview: “There are few people in American politics who have been as visibly and vocally supportive of Israel as I’ve been.”

A spokesperson for the Progressive Caucus declined to comment. Torres did not respond to a request for comment.

Torres isn’t the only Democrat rattling the party lately by speaking out about the Israel-Hamas war. Tlaib, a Michigander and member of the liberal “Squad” who’s the first Palestinian American Democrat elected to Congress, declared over the weekend that she’d be voting “uncommitted” in the Michigan presidential primary later this month.

She did so after repeatedly criticizing the Biden administration’s response to the conflict.

Michigan Democrats privately acknowledged that Tlaib’s push risks legitimately hurting Biden in a swing state where Arab American voters could hold the key to the general election this fall.

But many held out hope that the effort would blow over — that Tlaib and other liberals who have criticized Biden would pivot to supporting the president after registering their protest in the primary.

And others in the Squad aren’t likely to echo Tlaib’s outspoken “uncommitted” calls. Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), for example, is a vocal defender of the president. Unlike several other fellow progressive lawmakers of color, Tlaib also has the breathing room provided by the lack of a competitive primary and a massive campaign war chest.

Torres, for his part, had stridently opposed calling for a ceasefire in the conflict, a goal that other more liberal members have embraced. His departure comes after Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) also left the bloc amid other Israel policy-related disputes.

The Progressive Caucus has faced no shortage of drama within the party as Israel’s war in Gaza escalated. Several members of the progressive Squad are facing primary challenges this year, in part because of their vocal criticism of Israel’s handling of the war.

The Progressive Caucus’ chair, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), has faced criticism herself after making controversial remarks about Israel that she later walked back.

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