on the hill

Jeffries calls for Hamas to be ‘decisively defeated’ in response to Biden’s Rafah ‘red line’

The House minority leader clarified his support for the terror group’s defeat, saying there is ‘no possibility for a just and lasting peace’ without Hamas’ ouster

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) talks to reporters during his weekly news conference in the House Visitors Center in the U.S. Capitol on March 13, 2024, in Washington, D.C.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said on Wednesday that he wants to see Hamas “decisively defeated” in response to a question about a potential Israeli invasion of Rafah. 

Jeffries’ comments came at a press conference where he staked out a strong pro-Israel line as the prospect of a Rafah invasion divides Democrats.

The administration has been urging Israel against expanding its operations in the southern Gaza city where many displaced Palestinians are sheltering, with Biden calling a Rafah invasion a “red line” that the U.S. cannot support. Administration officials yesterday somewhat softened that stance, calling for a humanitarian plan before an operation in Rafah.

Asked by Jewish Insider whether he agreed with Biden’s “red line” comment, Jeffries said, “I support everything that the president said during the State of the Union address and his general perspective that what we have to do is make sure that Hamas is decisively defeated. It’s a brutal terrorist organization.”

Biden did not mention the Rafah “red line” at the State of the Union — those comments came subsequently, in a weekend interview. Israel has said that fully defeating Hamas will require operations in Rafah to eliminate the terrorist group’s remaining brigades and commanders, as was noted in the question to Jeffries.

“Unless we defeat Hamas, there is no possibility for just and lasting peace,” Jeffries continued. “But at the same time, we have to make sure we get the hostages out and humanitarian assistance into Gaza, decisively.”

The Democratic leader also addressed AIPAC activists at a summit in Washington, D.C., this week.

Secretary of State Tony Blinken said Wednesday that the U.S., “need[s] to see a plan that will get civilians out of harm’s way if there’s to be a military operation in Rafah — and not only gets them out of harm’s way but also ensures that they have what they need: that they have shelter, that they have food, that they have medicine. We’ve not yet seen such a plan.”

Jeffries, at the press conference, seemed to push back on calls from some Democrats to cut off aid to Israel unless it immediately increases the volume of humanitarian aid moving into Gaza. Such critics say Israel is violating U.S. foreign aid laws.

Biden has “indicated he’s going to continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself,” Jeffries said. “And our commitment, of course, to Israel is ironclad, while at the same time making sure that we can get the hostages out and surge humanitarian assistance in, so that we can help the innocent civilians in Gaza who are in harm’s way, through no fault of their own.”

Jeffries also brushed off an effort by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) to put a new version of an Israel/Ukraine/Taiwan aid bill up for a House vote, dismissing it as an unviable alternative to the Senate-passed bill he supports.

“I would take issue, politely, with the notion that there are dueling discharge petitions,” he said, referring to the mechanism that both Fitzpatrick and House Democrats are using to try to bypass Republican leadership. “One has 15 signatures. The other is about 180. That’s not dueling discharge petitions. It’s a reaffirmation that the only clear path is to put the bipartisan comprehensive Senate passed bill on the House floor for an up or down vote.”

Fitzpatrick’s petition currently has eight Republican signatures, which will be necessary for success; the Democratic petition has none.

The Democratic leader said he’s not concerned about potential uncommitted votes in New York’s Democratic presidential primary, arguing that Biden’s standing has remained strong among Democratic base voters and only increased following his State of the Union address.

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