Rashida Tlaib's call to vote against Biden in primary seen by some as helping Trump

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U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib's call for people to vote against President Joe Biden in Michigan's Feb. 27 Democratic primary reverberated across political circles and social media over the weekend, with nervous supporters of the president's saying she was helping former President Donald Trump's reelection efforts.

Some allies of Trump's seemed to agree, with one of his top advisers, Jason Miller, on Monday posting a link on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, to a Washington Times story about Tlaib's call for people to vote "uncommitted" versus for Biden as good news for Trump. "It's all falling apart for Joe Biden," he wrote.

On Saturday, even as Trump was making his way to Michigan for a raucous rally in Waterford, Tlaib, D-Detroit, who represents southeast Michigan's large Arab American and Muslim community in Dearborn, released a video of her telling people to vote uncommitted as a signal to Biden of their continued demand that he call for Israel to stop a bombing and invasion of the Gaza Strip that has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths.

Opinion: Biden has lost Arab American voters. So what's the point of 'uncommitted'?

Israel, which has maintained a blockade of Gaza since 2007 that has been denounced by human rights group for creating untenable economic and health conditions, counterattacked after the Hamas group that rules the region conducted a brutal terrorist attack in southern Israel on Oct. 7 of last year.

"It is important as you all know not only to march against the genocide, not only make sure we’re calling our members of Congress … it is also important to create a voting bloc, something that is a bullhorn to say enough is enough," Tlaib said on the video posted on the X account of Listen to Michigan, a group organized to push people to vote uncommitted as a way to push Biden to call for a cease-fire.

"We don’t want a country that supports wars and bombs and destruction," Tlaib said, speaking outside the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn as early voting began. "We want to support life, we want to stand up for every single life killed in Gaza. ... This is the way you can raise our voices. Don’t make us even more invisible right now. We feel completely neglected and just unseen by our government. If you want us to be louder, then come here and vote uncommitted."

It's extraordinarily unlikely that the number of uncommitted votes in Michigan's Democratic primary would outnumber the tally coming in for Biden, given that he's the incumbent and enjoys strong support among many Michigan Democrats, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, one of his campaign co-chairs.

But a notably larger-than-usual uncommitted vote, especially arising out of Wayne County, the most populous county in the state and where Detroit and Dearborn are located, could send a sharp signal to Biden and the campaign given how important they are to any Democrats' hopes of winning statewide in Michigan.

Several Democrats and others denounced Tlaib's stance almost immediately. Norm Ornstein, a congressional expert and emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, proclaimed it "shameful" on X on Sunday.

And after a group, Republicans Against Trump, posted the remarks, asking, "Who's going to primary her?" the civil rights lawyer Andrew Laufer said of her comments on X: "That’s an amazing stance @RashidaTlaib. Have your supporters not vote or vote for the guy who will deport them. Just an amazing position."

Tlaib — who also was one of Trump's most vocal critics when he was in office, calling for his impeachment the day she was sworn into office — hadn't publicly embraced the uncommitted campaign prior to Saturday, but it came as no surprise that she would: The only Palestinian American in Congress and having relatives still living in the West Bank, Tlaib, since taking office in 2019, has been among Israel's harshest critics in Congress. And since the conflict in Gaza began, she has continually demanded the Biden administration use its sway — and the fact that the U.S. contributes billions to Israel's defense in the hostile region — to call for a cease-fire.

In November, the Republican-led U.S. House voted to censure Tlaib for her defense of a phrase, "from the river to the sea," that many see as antisemitic, but which Tlaib defended as an "aspirational" comment that both sides should live in peace. She also has denounced the actions of both Hamas and the Israeli government as "war crimes" because of the loss of innocent lives.

As for finding a primary challenger against Tlaib in Michigan's 12th Congressional District, her opponents have been unable to do so. Meanwhile, Tlaib's censure and prominent stance in demanding a cease-fire has only helped her in many ways: In the last three months of 2023, even without an opponent, she raised an amazing $3.7 million.

And as for the Listen to Michigan campaign, Tlaib has literally close relations with its membership: Her sister, Layla Elabed, is its campaign manager. Several other local leaders with whom she is close, including Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud and former U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, also have signed onto the uncommitted campaign.

Appearing on MSNBC on Sunday morning, Levin, a Jewish progressive who lost his seat in a Democratic primary two years ago after having been targeted as anti-Israel, in part, because of his friendship with Tlaib, said the effort to denounce the uncommitted movement was misguided and that, if anything, it could help Biden by getting him to embrace a cease-fire.

"What Mayor Hammoud is saying; what I'm saying; what we're all saying is that this is a catastrophe in Gaza. We have to change course," he said, "Let's do it now and (the general election in) November will take care of itself."

Levin also noted polls that show Biden trailing Trump in Michigan, a key swing state with a large Arab American and Muslim community at odds with U.S. support of Israel, suggesting that if that community and younger progressive voters refused to vote for Biden then, he may not win. "We have to work very hard to win Michigan. … I’m afraid if we don’t change course, we can’t win on Nov. 5," he said. "That’s why I’m pouring my energy into his. We cannot allow Donald Trump to be anywhere near the White House again."

Biden has issued some tentative criticism of Israel's actions in Gaza, calling them "over the top" in a recent news conference. And his administration has been working behind the scenes to try to arrange hostage swaps and a pause in the fighting that it hopes could lead to a more lasting peace and cool down regional tensions.

Both the administration and the Biden campaign have sent officials to Dearborn to try to begin to mend fences with the Arab American and Muslim community, though they have been met with protests as well. Meanwhile, ahead of Trump's Saturday rally in Oakland County, the former president's campaign met with a group of local Republicans including three in the state's Arab American community.

Free Press staff writer Niraj Warikoo contributed to this article.

Contact Todd Spangler: tspangler@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @tsspangler.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Tlaib's call for primary vote against Biden resounds across politics