US Israel Palestinians Protest
Pro-Palestinian activists have lobbied the White House hard to push for a cease-fire. Andrew Harnik/AP

Did Biden Give Democrats What They Want to Hear on Gaza?

“I think there’s widespread support for more aggressive action,” one Democratic senator tells NOTUS.

President Joe Biden delivered his State of the Union address amid growing calls from Democrats for his administration to take a more assertive stance on the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Biden arrived at the Capitol with a response: He announced a U.S. military operation to establish a temporary port in Gaza to facilitate the distribution of aid while making a direct statement to Israel that “the only real solution is a two-state solution.”

The announcement comes as Biden faces backlash in early primary states over his Israel-Gaza policies, with Democrats filing protest “uncommitted” votes at the ballot box — a movement that at least one member of Congress, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, has backed.

Tlaib had few reactions to the speech, but as Biden spoke about the conflict, she held up a sign that read “Stop Sending Bombs.”

Prior to the address, Democratic Sen. Peter Welch told NOTUS that he’s seen “widespread support for more aggressive action” among his colleagues and a desire for “more accountability from the Netanyahu administration as well.”

On Thursday, after the speech, Welch said a temporary cease-fire would be the “best thing to really alleviate the humanitarian suffering, so let’s hope [Biden’s] successful in that.”

Vice President Kamala Harris called for an immediate temporary cease-fire and met with Israeli war cabinet official Benny Gantz earlier this week. The administration’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has steadily grown. Over the past week, the U.S. Air Force has conducted airdrops along the Gaza coast, distributing thousands of pounds of food.

According to Biden, the operation in Gaza will be supported by the U.S. military, but promised: “No U.S. boots will be on the ground.”

When asked about the operation, Rep. Mikie Sherrill said, “I think that’s what we have to do at this point.” Sherrill recently returned from a trip to Rafah, in Gaza, and said aid was struggling to get through checkpoints on the ground there.

Progressive groups have been lobbying the White House hard to withdraw support for an aid package to Israel, which remains stuck in Congress, and push Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into a cease-fire agreement.

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In January, the administration temporarily froze some funding for the United Nations’ main humanitarian aid agency operating in Gaza after Israel’s allegations that a dozen of the agency’s employees participated in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks. The United States also vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution for an immediate cease-fire in late February.

“What the progressive voices in the mix have been saying is, ‘You need to end the war in Gaza. Otherwise, this regional war is going to keep boiling over,’” Hassan El-Tayyab, the legislative director for Middle East policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, said.

Biden’s supporters in the House think, “Mr. Biden has done the best that he could. I think that he is demanding. He can’t make Mr. Netanyahu stop the war. We wish we could, but you can’t,” Rep. Frederica Wilson said earlier this week.

When asked about how Biden’s speech went, Sen. Elizabeth Warren was unequivocal. “He talked about what we’re gonna do on our own, and he said, but that is not enough,” she said. “It is important that Israel really open up for more humanitarian aid, and I think that’s exactly the right approach. We do our part, and we need the Israelis to do theirs.”

This story has been updated after Biden delivered his State of the Union address.

John T. Seward is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.