Just a Third of Senate Dems Say They Back Schumer's Call for New Israeli Elections

Virginia's Tim Kaine becomes latest to dissent from Schumer's views, telling the Free Beacon that 'decisions regarding Israel's leadership should be made by the Israeli people'

Tim Kaine, Chuck Schumer (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
March 20, 2024

Nearly a week after Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) called on Israelis to depose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, just a third of Schumer's caucus has lined up behind him. The latest dissenter is Sen. Tim Kaine (D., Va.), who is running for his third term in November and told the Washington Free Beacon that "the Israeli people" should make their own decisions about who leads them.

In all, just 17 of the 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus—not including Schumer—have praised the majority leader's speech, during which Schumer said Netanyahu "has lost his way" and called for a "new election" in Israel. Schumer's supporters consist mostly of progressive lawmakers.

Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren (D.), for example, said Netanyahu "has created a humanitarian crisis in Gaza that is bleeding support for Israel all around the world," while Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said Schumer "has every right" to attempt to influence Israel's elections given that the United States gives $3.5 billion a year to Israel.

But not all Democratic senators praising Schumer's speech come from the party's left flank. Virginia's Mark Warner, who has touted his reputation as the "moderates' dealmaker-in-chief," defended Schumer's call to oust Netanyahu, saying the Israeli prime minister "was never shy about interfering in American politics."

Warner's colleague, Virginia junior senator Tim Kaine (D.), who is up for reelection in November, is distancing himself from Schumer's remarks, however. Kaine, through a spokeswoman, told the Free Beacon that he "has repeatedly said that decisions regarding Israel's leadership should be made by the Israeli people."

Senate Democrats who face tough races this year have stayed mum: Aside from Kaine, only Nevada's Jacky Rosen has addressed Schumer's remark head-on. "Israel is our closest ally in the Middle East, and as a democracy, it is up to the Israeli people to determine their political future," Rosen said.

Other Democrats running for swing Senate seats this year have stayed silent. That includes Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin, Pennsylvania's Bob Casey, Montana's Jon Tester, and Ohio's Sherrod Brown. House Democrats running for promotions to the upper chamber—Michigan's Elissa Slotkin, Arizona's Rubén Gallego, and Maryland's David Trone—have also kept quiet. Those lawmakers did not respond to requests for comment.

In addition to Warren, Sanders, and Warner, Democratic senators Michael Bennet (Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Chris Murphy (Conn.), Peter Welch (Vt.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Brian Schatz (Hawaii), Jack Reed (R.I.), Tina Smith (Minn.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Chris Coons (Del.), Ben Cardin (Md.), and Dick Durbin (Ill.), have praised, defended, or expressed agreement with Schumer. Durbin became the latest to do so in a Tuesday afternoon interview with NBC News.

"I think it was a historic speech, and I'm honored to stand by him," Durbin said of Schumer. "Netanyahu and his conduct of the war and his veto on the idea of a two-state solution has really put Israel in a difficult position."

Just two of the left-wing lawmakers who backed Schumer—Warren and Murphy—are running for reelection in November. Sanders is also up for a fourth term this year, but the 82-year-old has yet to reveal whether he will run. None of the three lawmakers are expected to face difficult reelection challenges.

The collective silence from swing-state Democrats suggests they are wary of angering both anti-Israel progressives and pro-Israel voters.

While a majority of American voters back Israel in its war against Hamas, the Democratic Party's progressive flank has attacked President Joe Biden's support for the Jewish state. In Michigan, more than 100,000 Democrats voted "uncommitted" in the state's presidential primary following a protest vote campaign from anti-Israel activists.

Slotkin, who is running to replace outgoing Michigan senator Debbie Stabenow, said at the time that she backed Biden but also expressed support for "uncommitted" voters.

"I respect people's right to express themselves—people have told me why they are voting that way," Slotkin said. "You can't deny people's emotions about this issue."