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After Israeli aid vote, Pocan tries to express liberal frustration with Gaza to Biden


At a town hall-style meeting not far from her home in rural southwest Wisconsin, Elizabeth Humphries asked her members of Congress how a 66-year-old woman like her could convey to President Biden The message: She and her colleagues are deeply unhappy with President Biden’s policies. The government’s stance on Israel’s war in Gaza.

Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan, who has held the district’s congressional seat since 2013, assured her he was working to convey those concerns.

“We’re recording this video to share with the White House,” he said, pointing to an iPhone mounted on a nearby tripod, filming the activity of about two dozen voters sitting in a room at Dodgeville City Hall. “It’s probably disgusting for them to hear me say that, but I think it’s very helpful for you all to say it.”

Days after Congress overwhelmingly passed a $95.3 billion aid package that included $26 billion in security aid to Israel, Mr. Pocan — one of 37 who voted “no” on the funding — Humphreys, one of the House Democrats who returned to his district this week to answer questions from constituents like Ms. Humphreys who share his reservations about U.S. involvement in the conflict.

At a time when young people of color on the left, especially on college campuses, are drawing significant attention nationally by loudly protesting and criticizing the Biden administration for supporting Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, Mr. Pocan is determined to make Mr. Biden knows that white rural voters like his own — another key component of the president’s political coalition — are similarly frustrated.

“I’ve never voted for a Republican, but it’s really hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of ​​voting for Biden,” Violet Hill, 76, said after an event with Mr. Pocan in Dodgeville said in an interview. She said she supported Israel and condemned the October 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas, but found the images from Gaza cities, where Israeli forces had destroyed buildings and displaced millions of Palestinians, deeply disturbing.

“I think it’s a big problem that people are looking at Gaza and just being disgusted that we’re paying the price for it,” Ms. Hill said, adding that she strongly disagreed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approach and The hope is that Mr. Biden will take a tougher public stance on his strategy.

This month, Nearly 50,000 Wisconsin voters Trying to get that message across to Biden by not voting for him during the primaries and instead casting an “uninstructed” vote. But that metric doesn’t capture people like 75-year-old Trish Henderson, who said she voted for Biden in the April 15 primary but showed up this week She expressed her frustration at an event in Pocan.

“We often see children suffering and hungry on television,” Ms Henderson said. “We’re liberals. We’re progressives. Our whole idea is to help each other and take care of each other.”

“So we can’t ignore it,” she added. “We just can’t do it.”

Lawmakers took a break from legislative duties in Washington last week to return to their districts, and many held events to hear from constituents. At Wednesday’s rally in Pocan, a wave of questions about Israel and Gaza coincided with rising tensions on college campuses across the country, with pro-Palestinian activists clashing with law enforcement, said Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana. ) appeared at Columbia University to condemn the riots.

Concerns about taxes, worries about possible cuts to Social Security and some complaints about the rising cost of living were among the issues raised by most retirement-age people during the two-hour event. Many applauded as Mr. Pocan touted victories that congressional Democrats helped achieve, including policies to combat climate change and giving Medicare the power to negotiate prescription drug prices directly with drug companies.

But Mr. Pocan said questions about Gaza were the most frequently asked over the past few months. Wednesday’s stops in Dodgeville and Reedsburg were no exception.

Most viewers seemed to agree that the United States should do more to curb Netanyahu’s offensive, which has killed and wounded tens of thousands of people in Gaza, but others expressed concern about the pro-Palestinian protests, some of which said actions on college campuses were considered anti-Semitic.

“They don’t want Israel to exist,” one man said of the protesters, before asking Mr. Pocan if he denounced Hamas as a terrorist organization.

“Of course – and I have many times,” the congressman replied, adding that he believed the rise in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia since the Oct. 7 attacks was reprehensible.

To those who seemed unconvinced, Mr. Pocan described his attitude toward Israel as that of a caring and loyal friend trying to reason with the misguided.

“If you had a friend who had a six-pack on a Friday night, you’d take their car keys away, right? You make sure they’re not driving. In this case, Benjamin Netanyahu probably has A few cases and maybe a bottle of Jack,” Mr. Pocan told the Reedsburg crowd with a wry smile. “And I think because the White House has a lot of latitude on arms sales, that’s where the leverage that we have is in that area.”

In Washington, Mr. Pocan has been one of the leading voices among progressive Democrats calling on the president to support Israel with military funds and weapons to force a change in tactics, including better protection of civilians and aid workers and increased access to humanitarian aid. amount of aid. to the Palestinians.

Earlier this month, he An effort led by dozens of House Democrats Calls for the Biden administration to suspend shipments of offensive weapons to Israel following an attack that killed seven aid workers. The group also urged Biden to set conditions on military aid “to ensure that its use is consistent with U.S. and international law.”

Many people who attended Mr. Pocan’s event agreed with the congressman. They said they were satisfied with Biden’s performance in office and were happy to support his re-election, hoping to repeat his approach. 2020 Victory in the state.They say they understand what’s at stake if Wisconsin votes for former President Donald J. Trump in November because Did it in 2016. But they worry the president is out of step on Israel and growing friction with his supporters could prove costly.

“I’m worried that Joe won’t get elected because of this, which means we’re going to end up working with Trump, which is a million times worse,” Humphreys said in an interview. She said she supports Biden wholeheartedly, but the growing enthusiasm gap among young voters and anger over Gaza on campus worry her.

When Biden campaigned in Madison earlier this month, Pocan said he used the rare meeting time to raise his concerns.

“I didn’t really have the opportunity to have the conversation, but I had the opportunity to speak out,” he told voters.

Judging from interactions with White House officials in recent weeks and brief meetings with Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, Mr. Pocan told supporters the administration’s position was consistent with what voters told him they wanted to see. There is almost no gap between them.

“I do believe the president quietly said a lot of the right things,” Pocan said in an interview.

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