Biden is caught in a no-win situation on Israel: From the Politics Desk

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Welcome to the online version of From the Politics Desk, an evening newsletter that brings you the NBC News Politics team’s latest reporting and analysis from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today’s edition, senior national politics reporter Jonathan Allen explains how Joe Biden isn't pleasing anyone with his latest move on Israel. Plus, senior national politics reporters Henry J. Gomez and Matt Dixon report on the potential domino effect that could hurt the prospects for two potential Donald Trump running mates. And we recap Day 14 of Trump's New York criminal trial.

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Biden is caught in a no-win situation on Israel

By Jonathan Allen

President Joe Biden is trying to thread the needle on Israel’s war against Hamas, but his threat to stop sending certain weapons to Benjamin Netanyahu’s government left some in Washington wondering whether he’s lost that thread.

“Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs and other ways in which they go after population centers,” Biden said in an interview with CNN Wednesday. “I made it clear that if they go into Rafah — they haven’t gone in Rafah yet — if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities — that deal with that problem.”

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In point of fact, Israel is conducting limited military operations in Rafah, the Gaza city where more than 1 million Palestinians have clustered since the war began in the aftermath of Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack on the Jewish state. Biden said Israel has not yet crossed a “red line” by going into population centers.

But at the same time the Biden administration is delaying an official certification that U.S. weapons aren’t being used to undercut humanitarian efforts to protect civilians, the president is drawing a new rhetorical line in the sand.

Some in his own party see that as counterproductive to Biden’s policy and political aims. He would like the war to conclude as soon as possible, with the release of Israeli and American hostages held by Hamas, and he would like for pro-Palestinian activists to stop hammering him at home as he seeks re-election.

“The problem is this message that they’re sending can’t accomplish both of those things,” said one Democratic lawmaker who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer candid criticism of Biden’s position. “Because now, if you want Hamas to release the hostages and they see the U.S. pulling back, it relieves the pressure on Hamas.”

This lawmaker said that figures to lengthen the war, rather than bringing a conclusion, which in turn threatens to extend Biden’s domestic political quandary.

“If the hostages are not going to be released, then the war is going to continue, with or without U.S. missiles,” the lawmaker said.

Republicans were quick to condemn Biden’s position. House Speaker Mike Johnson, who recently worked with the Biden White House to enact an aid package for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, told Politico that he hopes Biden’s remarks were a “senior moment.” And in an interview with North Carolina’s Spectrum News 1, former President Donald Trump said he “wouldn’t do what Biden did.”

“He just abandoned Israel,” Trump said.

But progressives welcomed what they saw as a turn in the right direction.

“Biden has taken the position that 37 Democrats did in voting no on offensive weapons to Gaza that could be used for an invasion in Rafah,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., a co-chair of Biden’s campaign. “That now is the mainstream Democratic position, and the recent vote on the offensive weapons to Israel will be seen akin to the Iraq War one.”

Last month, Democrats voted 173-37 for a stand-alone measure that provided aid to Israel, including for offensive weapons, before it was wrapped into the larger package of foreign military assistance that Biden signed into law. If Biden is mainstreaming the progressive view, he’s doing so at the potential cost of standing with roughly 20% of his party’s House contingent and against the vast majority of Republican officials inside and outside Congress.

The question for Biden as he tries to manage Israel’s war from afar is whether he’ll net more support at home by moving closer to the pro-Palestinian progressives who have given him fits since the start of the war.

Trump trial, Day 14: Stormy Daniels spars with the former president’s lawyer during testimony

By Adam Reiss, Jillian Frankel, Gary Grumbach and Dareh Gregorian

Adult film star Stormy Daniels returned to the stand in Trump’s criminal trial Thursday, pushing back during cross-examination on his defense attorney’s attempts to discredit her in sometimes bizarre and uncomfortable exchanges.

Trump’s attorney Susan Necheles grilled Daniels about the $130,000 nondisclosure agreement she signed with Trump’s then-attorney Michael Cohen near the close of the 2016 election, and tried to poke holes in her now-sworn statements about the sexual encounter she says she had with Trump, which he denies.

Necheles asked her about the number of porn films she’s written and directed, and said, “You have a lot of experience making phony stories about sex.”

“Wow. That’s not how I would put it,” Daniels replied. “The sex in the films is very much real, just like what happened to me in that room” with Trump. She added, “If that story was untrue, I would’ve written it to be a lot better.”

Madeleine Westerhout, Trump’s former White House executive assistant, was called as a witness later in the day.

Read more from the Trump trial here →

💲The million-dollar question: Will Trump take the stand? He previously said that he “absolutely” would testify, but has since softened those comments. Read more →

A potential roadblock for two of Trump’s VP contenders

By Henry J. Gomez and Matt Dixon

Two of Trump’s prospective running mates come with politically fraught complications: the Republican governors who would choose their successors.

If Trump goes with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis would be in line to select his replacement — perhaps immediately if Rubio resigns and relocates to avoid the constitutional hang-up of having both candidates on the ticket residing in the same state. If Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio becomes vice president, Gov. Mike DeWine would pick a new senator.

Both governors have recent, fractious histories with Trump, raising doubts about whether the people they appoint would meet the often rigid right-wing standards of his MAGA movement. And while the succession dynamic will not necessarily sink Rubio’s or Vance’s chances of being selected, it is the subject of speculative conversation in both states.

DeSantis and Trump are coming off a bitter clash for the GOP presidential nomination. Though there are signs of détente, enough trust issues remain that the idea of handing DeSantis the power of a Senate appointment is one that Trump world is approaching cautiously.

In Ohio, Trump campaigned vigorously against DeWine’s endorsed candidate, state Sen. Matt Dolan, in a recent GOP Senate primary, branding DeWine as a crusty establishment avatar and RINO. Many believe Dolan, who lost the primary to Trump-endorsed Bernie Moreno, would be on DeWine’s shortlist to succeed Vance.

Read more on the Trump veepstakes here →

That’s all from The Politics Desk for now. If you have feedback — likes or dislikes — email us at

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