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Congressman Ro Khanna Says Michigan Primary Results are ‘Wake-up Call’ to Biden to Change Israel-Gaza Policy

Congressman Ro Khanna Says Michigan Primary Results are ‘Wake-up Call’ to Biden to Change Israel-Gaza Policy

  • His warning comes after his visit to the state where about 13 percent of Michiganders, mostly Arab Americans and young people, voted “uncommitted” amid a protest campaign centered on the president's handling of the war in Gaza.

The results of yesterday’s Democratic primary in Michigan are “a wake-up call” for Democrats to “break from the status quo on Gaza policy,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) has said. Speaking to Semafor, the Indian American lawmaker said the Biden administration needs “to push for permanent ceasefire talks.”  The four-term California congressman visited the crucial swing state before the Feb. 27 primary to meet with the large Arab American population. World Population Review estimates that Michigan has the highest number and percentage of Arab Americans at 211,405 and 2.1 percent, respectively.

Even though President Biden easily won the Democratic primary with over 80 percent of the vote, the protest campaigns put a damper on the win. More than 100,000 Michigan voters — about 13 percent  Michiganders — voted “uncommitted” amid a protest campaign centered on Biden’s handling of the war in Gaza, according to Politico Playbook. The uncommitted vote earned one delegate in Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s district, which includes much of the state’s Arab American population, Semafor said. Most of the “uncommitted” votes included the Arab Americans and young voters, who were “key to Biden winning Michigan in 2020,” according to Axios. 

Yesterdays “uncommitted” vote is  “roughly five times the protest vote that former president Barack Omaha  saw in the state in 2012, when 10 percent of Democrats opted against choosing a candidate,” Playbook noted.

Cities like Dearborn voted overwhelmingly for “uncommitted.” Mayor Abdullah Hammoud told Semafor in a statement that “every person who voted ‘uncommitted’ today was personally compelled to use their voice to speak out against President Biden’s support of Benjamin Netanyahu’s ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people. 

In a Feb. 20 op-ed in The Times, he wrote that his community feels “a visceral sense of betrayal.” He noted that “the Arab American voters in Michigan have become a crucial and dependable voting bloc for the Democratic Party in the past three years, and we were part of the wave that delivered for Joe Biden four years ago,” But he lamented the “this fact seems long forgotten by our candidate as he calls for our votes once more while at the same time selling the very bombs that Benjamin Netanyahu’s military is dropping on our family and friends.”

The results come amid Khanna’s warning after his Michigan visit.“We cannot win Michigan with status quo policy,” Khanna, an early support of  permanent mutual cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, told The New York Times last week, adding that a shift should come in “a matter of weeks, not months.” He admitted that Democrats “needed to better acknowledge the party’s shifting base” and the “concerns about the conflict.”

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During his visit, Khanna fielded questions about the war from students at the University of Michigan. He attended a rally on getting corporate money out of politics alongside Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, the sole member of Michigan’s congressional delegation backing the “uncommitted” efforts. And he met with elected and community leaders withholding their support for Biden.

His engagements in the state included a private meeting with Abdul El-Sayed, a 2018 gubernatorial candidate whom Khanna supported, and Dearborn Mayor Hammoud, and Michigan state representatives, Ranjeev Puri and Abraham Aiyash, both of whom have advocated for a mutual cease-fire.

While Khanna often serves as a surrogate for the Biden campaign, The Times notedthat his “attendance at last week’s meetings in Michigan was in his personal capacity and not as a Biden surrogate, although the visit was approved by the Biden campaign.”

Meanwhile, the Biden campaign is optimistic that the “uncommitted” voters in Michigan will eventually vote for the president come November, a campaign insider told media outlets like Semafor and Axios. “We also know that nearly all of the folks voting uncommitted do not support the extremism, the xenophobia, and incompetence of Donald Trump,” a campaign insider said. “They want a president who listens and delivers. That’s Joe Biden. We will earn their votes between now and November.

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