Vulnerable Democratic Senators Mum on Biden's Israel Weapons Pause

Five Democrats will help decide the Senate majority. None of them have weighed in on Biden weapons pause.

Sens. Sherrod Brown and Tammy Baldwin (Getty Images)
May 9, 2024

After President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that he would suspend the delivery of high payload munitions to Israel if the Jewish state proceeded with its offensive in Rafah, most Democratic senators stayed silent on the decision, especially those running for reelection in swing states.

Biden’s decision to pause shipments of weapons to Israel over its assault on Rafah—the last major Hamas stronghold in Gaza—has come with harsh criticism from some pro-Israel lawmakers in his party. But of the Democratic senators running for reelection, most are staying mum, including those running in swing states. They include, at the time of publishing, Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin, Montana’s Jon Tester, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, and Nevada’s Jacky Rosen. Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin—who is running to replace the state's outgoing senator, Debbie Stabenow—has also remained silent, as have her fellow House colleagues running for Senate seats, Rubén Gallego of Arizona and David Trone of Maryland.

None responded to requests for comment from the Washington Free Beacon on whether they support Biden’s move.

The collective silence suggests that Democrats could be wary both of provoking the party’s progressive flank, which has been harshly critical of President Biden’s support for Israel, and of alienating the pro-Israel voters who make up a majority of the country.

Of the 20 Senate seats up for reelection held by Democrats and the three held by independents who caucus with Democrats, only five have spoken about Biden’s announcement. Four of those five senators—Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Tim Kaine of Virginia—praised the president's remark. But Pennsylvania's Bob Casey expressed a "difference of opinion" on the issue.

"I respectfully disagree," Casey said of Biden during a Thursday morning radio interview. "[Israel] can't just move on and hope that Hamas will somehow disintegrate. They have to continue to prosecute the war. I don't think it's the time right now to constrain their ability to do that. So I have a difference of opinion."

After publication of this piece, Rosen issued a similar statement, telling Jewish Insider that the Biden administration "should not do anything that undermines Israel’s ability to defeat Hamas and address mounting threats across the region." Brown declined to take a position. "We need to know more about the president’s proposal and exactly how it will work," he told the outlet.

While Warren, Murphy, and Sanders are longstanding Israel critics, Kaine has referred to himself as a "strongly pro-Israel Democrat." With a November reelection bid looming, however, Kaine has urged Biden to get tougher on the Jewish state.

Kaine, who sits on both the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, called the decision "wise" and said he was pleased with the halt in weapons delivery, urging the Biden administration to be cautious about further transfers that "could be be used in offensive military actions that result in significant civilian casualties."

"For months, I have strongly urged the Biden Administration to prioritize Israel’s defensive needs, including restocking the Iron Dome and David’s Sling air defense systems—which are especially critical after the Iranian attack on Israel on April 14—rather than offensive weapons that could cause enormous suffering in Gaza and further escalate tensions across the region," Kaine said. "I was pleased to see that certain offensive arms deliveries have since been paused, and encourage the administration to continue to be wary of transferring weapons that could be used in offensive military actions that result in significant civilian casualties."

Warren had more fulsome praise for Biden, calling it an "important step in the right direction," while simultaneously calling on Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to "stop bombing Gaza" and to "stop the invasion of Rafah."

Meanwhile, Murphy, who leads the Senate Foreign Relations Middle East subcommittee, criticized Israel’s movement into Rafah as not being in compliance with humanitarian law.

"The national security memorandum says clearly you cannot transfer aid or weapons if Israel is not in compliance with the rules of war, humanitarian law. This potential invasion of Rafah would clearly not be in compliance with U.S. and humanitarian law."

Sanders echoed Murphy’s rhetoric and called on the United States to go even further in trying to strong-arm Israel.

"Given the unprecedented humanitarian disaster that Netanyahu’s war has created in Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of children face starvation, President Biden is absolutely right to halt bomb delivery to this extreme, right-wing Israeli government. But this must be a first step," Sanders said. "The U.S. must now use ALL its leverage to demand an immediate ceasefire, the end of the attacks on Rafah, and the immediate delivery of massive amounts of humanitarian aid to people living in desperation. Our leverage is clear. Over the years, the United States has provided tens of billions of dollars in military aid to Israel. We can no longer be complicit in Netanyahu’s horrific war against the Palestinian people."

One swing-state Senate Democrat who’s not up for reelection has been noticeably outspoken about his support for the Jewish state. Pennsylvania’s John Fetterman disagreed with Biden’s weapons pause to Israel and called the move "deeply disappointing."

Update 10:35 a.m.: This piece has been updated with additional information.