Pro-Palestinian supporters march in cities across America
(CNN)President Joe Biden used his Tuesday visit to the critical battleground state of Michigan to tout his green energy and infrastructure plans, and largely shied away from weighing in on the recent eruption of violence in the Middle East.
Biden tourned and delivered remarks at a Ford plant in Dearborn, Michigan — home to one of the largest Arab American populations in the United States — to highlight the new F-150 electric truck on Tuesday. He made only a passing mention of the unrest in the Middle East between Hamas and Israel, telling a Michigan congresswoman who has family in the West Bank that he would do “everything” he could to keep them safe.
Upon his arrival at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Biden spoke with Michigan Democratic Reps. Debbie Dingell and Rashida Tlaib — the first Palestinian American woman to serve in Congress — for several minutes.
Tlaib has been harshly critical of Biden’s stance on Israel and told MSNBC on Monday that the administration was “finally” engaging with her after four months of outreach on her behalf.
Asked what had been discussed on the tarmac, Dingell said “a lot of things” and added that they don’t negotiate in public.
The President made a passing mention of the ongoing violence in the Middle East toward the top of his remarks at the plant, telling Talib that he will do everything he can do to see that her family in the West Bank remains safe.
“I want to say to you that I admire your intellect, I admire your compassion and I admire your concern for so many other people. And it’s from my heart, I pray that your grandmom and family are well. I promise you I’m going to do everything to see that they are, on the West Bank,” Biden said.
Over the weekend, Dearborn was among a slew of cities across the world where demonstrations in support of Palestinians in Gaza took place. Hundreds of protesters turned out for the event, according to local media reports and across social media, where a direct warning was given to Biden.
“Tuesday, he will be here,” one speaker at the Dearborn demonstration said. “We have heard from him. He will hear from us.”
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Protesters also organized two demonstrations on Tuesday near Biden’s tour, but the President was not expected to catch a glimpse of the protesters on his tour or routes in and out of the area.
Biden visited the Ford River Rouge Complex, where the new F-150 Lightning is being built. This is Ford’s answer to the electric vehicle, aims to turn America’s best-selling pickup truck into an electric option, built by union workers. The President got a sneak peek at the truck, which will be formally unveiled Wednesday from Ford World Headquarters. The truck is scheduled to launch next year.
The Michigan trip comes amid the administration’s push to promote Biden’s economic agenda and garner public support for the President’s multitrillion-dollar infrastructure proposals. The White House has said Biden wants to see real progress by Congress on the infrastructure proposal by Memorial Day, which is less than two weeks away.
During remarks at the plant, Biden pitched his American Jobs Plan and criticized what he saw as the Trump administration’s “shortsighted rollback” of vehicle emissions and efficiency standards.
“They announced infrastructure week, and they announced it and announced it and announced it — every week for four years and didn’t do a damn thing!” Biden said of the Trump White House “Didn’t get the job done. Folks, the rest of the world is moving fast. They’re moving ahead. They’re not waiting for the United States of America. Government, labor and industry working together have to step up and we have a playbook that’ll work.”
The Biden administration faces increased pressure over its response to escalating violence between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, which has led to a growing number of civilian deaths.
Since the outbreak of hostilities eight days ago, about 3,150 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip at Israeli territory, according to the Israel Defense Forces. The Israel Defense Forces said about 460 of those rockets fell inside Gaza itself.
As of Monday, 10 Israelis have been killed as a result of rocket fire from Hamas’ military wing, according to the Israel Defense Forces. In Gaza, the death toll has risen to 212 and includes 61 children, the Hamas-run Palestinian Health Ministry of Gaza said.
A top Biden ally in Michigan told CNN ahead of the trip that no meetings were scheduled between the President and local leaders who are demanding an end to violence against Palestinians and urging Biden to increase pressure on Israel.
“The timing of the trip couldn’t be worse, but this is not why he’s coming,” a top Democrat in Michigan said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the feelings among Palestinian-Americans in Dearborn. “The anger toward President Biden is very real.”
The uptick in civilian casualties is causing worry inside the White House as officials work the phones with partners in the region.
Biden — long a supporter of Israel and one of its vocal defenders during his time in the US Senate — has continued to hold the position that Israel has a right to defend itself against Hamas’ rocket attacks. The White House has also resisted calls from Democratic lawmakers to publicly pressure Israel into a ceasefire, even as Israel has indicated that the violence will continue.
But during a call with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, Biden “expressed his support for a ceasefire and discussed US engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end,” the White House said in a carefully worded statement.
Netanyahu also indicated in a video released earlier Monday that “the directive is to continue to strike at the targets of terrorism.”
The Biden administration is placing enormous stock in efforts by Egypt and Qatar to broker an end to the violence, according to officials.
In recent calls with Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, the White House said Biden raised the issue of civilian casualties. And the White House has signaled increased concern in its public messaging about the conflict.
“We recognize and agree that watching the lives lost of Palestinian children, of these families, the fear you see in the eyes of the Israeli people, it is heartbreaking. It is heartbreaking,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a press briefing on Monday.
Psaki also said the White House is working through “quiet and intensive” diplomacy to bring violence to an end in the Middle East amid calls from Democrats and foreign allies to speak out more forcefully on the matter.
The Dearborn trip was Biden’s second visit to Michigan since taking office. He visited the Pfizer plant in Portage in February. Michigan was among the states across the upper Midwest that Biden turned from red to blue last November, defeating former President Donald Trump by nearly 3 percentage points.
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