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Joe Biden Faces Backlash From Arab American Voters
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Joe Biden Faces Backlash From Arab American Voters

Plus: The president is in danger of being left off the ballot in two states in November.

Happy Wednesday! Former President Donald Trump has apparently been struggling to stay awake in the courtroom during his Manhattan criminal trial this week. Let us know in the comments if you can make it through today’s newsletter without nodding off.

Up to Speed

  • President Joe Biden will deliver a speech Wednesday to the United Steelworkers union in Pittsburgh to outline what the Washington Post reports is a “series of new protections for the U.S. steel industry.” Biden will tell the union, which endorsed him last month, he will seek to raise tariffs on imported steel and aluminum from China and place pressure on Mexico to prevent Chinese-made steel products from entering the U.S. market. The speech comes as Biden not only tries to shore up support in the key swing state of Pennsylvania, which he won four years ago, but also to undercut his likely Republican opponent, Donald Trump, who has also embraced economic protectionism. Both Biden and Trump have said they oppose the sale of Pennsylvania-based U.S. Steel to Japanese company Nippon Steel.
  • As the House of Representatives is set to vote on the contentious issues of aid to Taiwan, Israel, and, of course, Ukraine on Saturday night, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky became the first Republican to publicly support Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s motion to vacate the chair and remove Speaker Mike Johnson. “I just told Mike Johnson in conference that I’m cosponsoring the Motion to Vacate that was introduced by @RepMTG,” Massie said on X Tuesday. “He should pre-announce his resignation (as Boehner did), so we can pick a new Speaker without ever being without a GOP Speaker.” Johnson said later that day he would not resign, calling the motion to vacate “absurd.”
  • But Johnson may have a lifeline if Greene and Massie bring it to the floor. Multiple Democrats have said this week that they would save Johnson’s job if right-wing members of the GOP conference try to eject him. “My position hasn’t changed,” Rep. Jared Moskowitz of Florida said on X Tuesday. “Massie wants the world to burn, I won’t stand by and watch. I have a bucket of water.” Rep. Tom Suozzi of New York argued in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal Monday that Democrats should defend Johnson if Greene triggers a vote on the motion in response to the passing of a Ukraine aid bill. “Democrats must offer Speaker Johnson our votes to save democracy in Ukraine and here,” he wrote. “We can’t let our partisan instincts get in our way.”
  • The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announced Tuesday a $79 million advertising plan coordinated with individual campaigns to help keep Democratic seats in battleground states and to flip seats in Florida and Texas. One of the committee’s largest investments is in Michigan, where it will spend $11 million to help Rep. Elissa Slotkin succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow. Additionally, the committee has bought $10 million worth of advertising slots in Wisconsin and $8 million in Pennsylvania.
  • The three major candidates for Maryland’s Senate seat—the Republican, former Gov. Larry Hogan, and two Democrats, Rep. David Trone and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks—have brought in significant amounts of campaign cash in the first quarter of 2024, per Monday Federal Election Commission reports. Hogan took in just under $2 million in total, while Alsobrooks raised just over $2 million. On the other hand, while Trone brought in about $207,500 in contributions, he loaned his own campaign $18.5 million. 
  • Trone and Alsobrooks will need their money to defeat Hogan, who has consistently led them both in polling since late last month. Most recently, Hogan is ahead of Trone by 13 points and Alsobrook by 18 points, receiving a majority of the vote against both hypothetical opponents in a Tuesday poll from Fox45, the Baltimore Sun, and the University of Baltimore. Trone led Alsobrooks in the Democratic primary 48 percent to 29 percent.

Can Biden Win Back Arab Americans in Michigan?

Farah Khan holds a sign near a voting site to encourage voters to vote "uncommitted" in Michigan Primary elections in Dearborn, Michigan, on February 27, 2024. (Photo by Mostafa Bassim/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Farah Khan holds a sign near a voting site to encourage voters to vote "uncommitted" in Michigan Primary elections in Dearborn, Michigan, on February 27, 2024. (Photo by Mostafa Bassim/Anadolu via Getty Images)

DEARBORN, Michigan—Too little, too late. That is essentially how one leading member of the Arab American community here is assessing President Joe Biden’s ongoing effort to mend fences with a crucial voting bloc breaking from his coalition because of the incumbent Democrat’s support for Israel amid the war to eliminate Hamas in Gaza.

“People here in the community—they are not happy with Biden. So if they go out to vote, they’re not going to vote for Biden. So they may not go vote for the top of the ticket, they may vote for other things,” Osama Siblani, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Arab American News, told The Dispatch in an interview Thursday, prior to Iran’s attack on Israel. “But some people may go very, very too far, in my opinion, by voting for Donald Trump.” 

Asked if that is the product of a reassessment of Trump’s administration, or simply a desire to punish the president, Siblani didn’t mince words: “They want to f— Biden. Say it. They wanted to tell Biden: ‘What you’ve done, you’ve made us go that far.’” 

In a swing state that could be decided by mere thousands of votes, or less, such defections could matter.

In 2020, Biden defeated Trump in Michigan 50.6 percent to 47.8 percent, winning by a raw vote total of 154,188. The state’s robust population of Arab Americans helped push the president over the top, with just under 70 percent of this cohort backing him over Trump. Biden appears to recognize how critical their votes are in 2024, particularly in Michigan where most recent publicly available surveys show the former president with an edge.

While saying Biden is “working hard to earn every vote in Michigan,” a Biden campaign spokesperson’s comments in a Monday email focused primarily on his domestic agenda, saying “his investments in infrastructure and green energy have created thousands of union jobs,” and that “he walked the picket line with” United Automobile Workers union employees and “is standing up for reproductive rights.” The statement closed with this note on foreign policy: “And, he is working tirelessly to create a just, lasting peace in the Middle East.”

Siblani, 69, who founded The Arab American News 40 years ago and has been running the newspaper ever since, said in a follow-up telephone interview Tuesday that Biden’s response to Iran’s unprecedented drone and missile strike on Israel could further aggravate his relationship with Michigan’s Arab American community. Why? Because the president aggressively defended Israel, rhetorically and with American military action, even though, Siblani argues, Jerusalem provoked the attack by bombing an Iranian consulate in Syria as part of the targeted assassination of a top Islamic Revolutionary Guard general.

“It’s just the double standard that we apply when it comes to Israel, is the major problem. Israel is allowed to do anything it wants to do,” Siblani said. “This is my issue with the president, this is my issue with the United States. You just cannot blindly support Israel.” (Israel and supporters in the U.S. emphasize that Iran, via financial and military assistance to terrorist proxies, bears responsibility for decades of attacks on Israel, including the October 7 assault by Hamas.)

Siblani, of course, is just one voice, and a controversial one, in a vibrant and diverse Arab American community in Michigan that includes Iraqi and Lebanese Christians and Muslims from the Palestinian territories and other countries in the Middle East. But Siblani has long been a go-to for Democrats and Republicans looking to make inroads with Arab American voters in this Midwestern battleground, many of whom live in Dearborn, just outside of Detroit. (Dearborn also is home to Ford Motor Company.) 

To wit, Siblani told The Dispatch during a lengthy conversation in his Dearborn office that he has met recently with top White House officials and Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez. Siblani said Biden’s camp requested the meetings to hear the concerns Arab Americans in Michigan have with the president’s handling of Israel’s war to root out the Hamas terrorists who invaded Israel from Gaza and killed roughly 1,200 people, mostly civilians, while taking hundreds more hostage. 

Regardless of Republican claims to the contrary, these voters believe Biden’s support for Israel is as steadfast as it has ever been. That’s despite the president urging Israel to show restraint in its response to Saturday’s attack by Iran and his recent calls for a ceasefire in Gaza to reduce the threat to civilians and to allow for the distribution of more humanitarian aid. 

However, Siblani said Arab American voters blame Biden for a war that has likely left more than 30,000 Palestinians dead (although how many were Hamas combatants versus innocent civilians is unclear) and reduced Gaza communities to rubble. Indeed, they view Biden as more supportive of Israel than Trump, despite the former president moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and taking other steps to back the Jewish state.

“In 2020, our vote was against Trump, not for Biden. That’s really important for people to know,” Siblani said. “I personally did not support Biden because I thought Biden would make a better president. I supported Biden because I did not think Trump is a good president.” And this time around? “The wounds are too deep,” he explained. “Usually when the wounds are too deep, it takes time to heal. I don’t know if we have enough time between now and November.”

Ballot Antics for Biden

Does President Joe Biden risk being left off the general election ballot in certain states this November? That unprecedented situation could become a reality after the secretaries of state in Ohio and Alabama sent letters to the Biden campaign warning that the president may not meet ballot-access requirements due to the dates of the Democratic National Convention. 

At issue are the statutory deadlines for parties to certify their nominees with state election officials, which normally happens after a party’s convention. Ohio’s deadline is 90 days before the election, or August 7, while Alabama’s is 82 days before, or August 15, both dates falling before the Democratic National Convention’s conclusion on August 22. Either the states’ Republican-controlled legislatures will need to pass accommodations or Democrats will need to change the date for their convention, the officials said in their letters.

But this is not the first time a national party convention has fallen after the states’ certification deadlines. Both major parties’ conventions in 2012 occurred after Ohio’s 90-day deadline, which the state instituted in 2009. And in 2020, both the Republican and Democratic conventions concluded after Ohio’s and Alabama’s deadlines in 2020.

In both 2012 and 2020, the Ohio legislature passed as part of unrelated bills accommodations that only pertained to those years’ elections. Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office said in its letter this month that lawmakers would need to pass a similar exception by May 9 for Biden to qualify for the ballot in November if Democrats would not hold the DNC sooner.

Ohio state Rep. C. Allison Russo, the Democratic leader in the Ohio House, last week expressed her confidence to reporters that Biden will be on the ballot, adding that there are options apart from a legislative fix.

“This is not unusual,” Russo said in a transcript of the exchange her office provided to The Dispatch. “All this has happened in the past, happened amongst both parties, will happen again in the future, amongst both parties because of the way these conventions work. So, again, you know, so looking at all of the options, I don’t believe this legislative fix is the only option here and have entire confidence that Joe Biden will be on the ballot.”

Russo did not name a specific solution, but she hinted that LaRose may have power to accommodate the Biden campaign. “There’s also a question about, you know, what is the secretary of state’s actual authority? I’ll remind you, the secretary of state often says he doesn’t have the authority to do something,” she said. “This has happened in the past—the ballot boxes, happened during redistricting, with some of our candidates moving—in fact, he does.”

But LaRose’s office appears to be washing its hands of responsibility to get Biden on the ballot.

“Ultimately, both political parties have well paid attorneys who are capable of advising them on the legal requirements for ballot access,” said press secretary Ben Kindel in a statement to The Dispatch. “Each party sets their own bylaws, organizes a national convention, and establishes rules for certifying candidates to the ballot. Our office is not involved in that process.”

An Ohio lawyer apparently working for the Democratic Party sent a letter to LaRose’s office last week suggesting that the secretary could accept a provisional certification that would allow Biden to be on the ballot despite the deadline. LaRose’s office in response, however, insisted in a letter Monday it did not have any such legal authority.

Things are a little messier in Alabama. There, the state’s legislature passed an accommodation for the conventions in 2020, but Alabama’s Republican secretary of state at the time also accepted a provisional certification to put then-President Donald Trump on the ballot.

The Biden campaign argued to The Dispatch that there is precedent, therefore, for the state’s election office to do the same this year. “Joe Biden will be on the ballot in all 50 states,” a Biden campaign official said in a statement. “State officials have the ability to grant provisional ballot access certification prior to the conclusion of presidential nominating conventions. In 2020 alone, states like Alabama, Illinois, Montana, and Washington all allowed provisional certification for Democratic and Republican nominees.”

But Wes Allen, the current secretary of state in Alabama and a Republican, has said he will not accept a provisional certification.

“I was not the Secretary of State in 2020,” Allen told The Dispatch in a statement. “The fact that a ‘provisional certification’ was accepted in 2020, when no such document exists under Alabama law, is irrelevant to my decision-making process. I am guided only by the law as it exists today.”

For a legislative fix, Republicans and Democrats will need to work together, something that may be unlikely in polarized times—and after Democratic secretaries of state in Maine and Colorado attempted to disqualify Trump from their ballots. Republican leaders in Alabama and Ohio have signaled some openness to working with Democrats. Greg Reed, the Senate president pro tempore in Alabama, told the Associated Press that his “attitude would be trying to be accommodating,” while Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman called the matter a “Democratic problem” that requires a “Democratic solution,” though he added that he’s “all ears” if there is one.

Notable and Quotable

“I think the real danger to the country, the real danger to democracy, as I say, is the progressive agenda and I’ve said Trump may be playing Russian roulette, but continuation of the Biden administration is national suicide in my opinion.”

—Former Attorney General Bill Barr on Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, April 17, 2024

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.

Charles Hilu is a reporter for The Dispatch based in Virginia. Before joining the company in 2024, he was the Collegiate Network Fellow at the Washington Free Beacon and interned at both National Review and the Washington Examiner. When he is not writing and reporting, he is probably listening to show tunes or following the premier sports teams of the University of Michigan and city of Detroit.

Michael Warren is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was an on-air reporter at CNN and a senior writer at the Weekly Standard. When Mike is not reporting, writing, editing, and podcasting, he is probably spending time with his wife and three sons.