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AOC and Other Democrats Urge Biden to Call for a Ceasefire at the State of the Union TIME

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As President Joe Biden prepares for his State of the Union address next week, some of Capitol Hill’s most high-profile progressive Democrats are urging him to use the speech to call for a ceasefire in the Gaza strip. 

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“Of course, my hope would have been—and continues to be—we should have accomplished a ceasefire by now,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat who co-sponsored a resolution for an immediate ceasefire, tells TIME on Thursday. “But absent that, I would certainly hope that he speaks to the necessity of that” at the State of the Union.

Biden has already expressed a desire for a ceasefire. But doing so in his televised State of the Union speech in front of all members of Congress and the nation could strengthen the call for de-escalation—and add pressure on Israel over the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza. 

When asked what Biden should discuss during his March 7 speech, Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, tells TIME, “Of course on Israel and Gaza, hopefully, what he’s been doing to press for a ceasefire and a peace agreement among everyone,” along with other foreign policy priorities.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren emphasized her desire to see Biden call out Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “All of us need to be pushing hard on the Netanyahu government,” she tells TIME. Warren is among the many Democrats that have backed a ceasefire to end the violence against civilians in the Gaza strip. “Netanyahu has prosecuted this war in a way to create a monumental humanitarian disaster. He is not moving forward, retrieving the hostages or toward making Israelis safer. He’s watching out for his own political future, but not serving the interests of the state of Israel.”

Democrats have warned that Biden’s support of Israel and refusal to condition military aid to Israel has politically hurt him among young voters, progressives, people of color, and Muslim and Arab Americans. The criticism escalated during Tuesday’s primary in Michigan, a state with a large Arab American population, where more than 100,000 Democrats voted “uncommitted” in place of Biden over his handling of the war. 

Read More: In Michigan, a Win and a Warning for Biden

“There’s a lot of communities and constituencies that are wondering if the Democratic Party is still fighting for them,” says Ocasio-Cortez.

Recent polling data from progressive polling firm Data for Progress shows that most voters support the U.S. calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and conditioning aid to Israel. A separate poll from the Associated Press and Norc in January found that about half of U.S. adults believed Israel had “gone too far.” More than 70 U.S. city councils, most run by Democrats, have passed resolutions in support of a ceasefire. And as of Thursday, 71 Democratic members of Congress have called for a ceasefire or deescalation of the war.

More than 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the war began after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack against Israel, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Nearly five months into the war, Israel is now preparing to launch a ground operation in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town near the border with Egypt, where 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering.

Biden previously said a temporary ceasefire in Gaza could come by next week, but he has since walked back that assessment. “I was on the telephone with the people in the region,” Biden told reporters on the South Lawn Thursday morning, adding: “Probably not by Monday, but I’m hopeful.” A proposed six-week pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas would allow for the release of hostages being held in Gaza by the militant group in return for Israel releasing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. It would also allow trucks to deliver humanitarian aid into Gaza every day.

The White House is hoping to secure a ceasefire before the onset of Ramadan, recognizing the historical significance of the period as a potential flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As of Tuesday, Hamas told the New York Times a deal isn’t imminent. 

Nik Popli

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