Fight for the Suburbs

Bowman’s break with Biden on campus antisemitism isn’t helping him back home

The far-left congressman has been trying to showcase his support for Biden, but he’s breaking with the White House less than two months before the primary

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) joins fellow House Democrats for a news conference to announce a bicameral resolution recognizing Banned Books Week outside the U.S. Capitol on September 27, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) has been trying to ingratiate himself with President Joe Biden even as his left-wing, anti-Israel record in Congress has alienated moderate Democratic voters to the point where he could lose a hotly contested primary against Westchester County Executive George Latimer next month. 

But in a sign of the Squad-aligned lawmaker’s ideological commitments undermining his political prospects, his support of the anti-Israel campus protesters has underscored how far his views are from Biden’s. In the same week that Bowman defended Columbia University protesters taking over and occupying a building on campus and decried “heavy-handed repression” from the NYPD, Biden condemned the violent protests that have swept college campuses in a White House address.

The prominence of antisemitism as a major political issue across the country couldn’t come at a worse time for Bowman, who faces a heated Democratic primary against Latimer on June 25. 

Notably, in recent weeks, Bowman had been trying to showcase his support of the president, with his campaign even touting the fact that the congressman voted for Biden in the New York presidential primary over an “uncommitted” option to protest the Biden administration’s approach to the Israel-Hamas war. Bowman’s spokesman said he voted for the president because the two “are close allies in combating gun violence and climate change.” 

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) urged Democrats in her home state of Michigan and elsewhere to vote “uncommitted” rather than for Biden in the presidential primary as a means of protesting his continued support of aid to Israel. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) said last month that she did not vote in Minnesota’s presidential primary, though she praised uncommitted voters for using the primary to send a message to Biden. 

And instead of joining the anti-Israel protesters outside a recent Westchester County fundraiser for Biden’s reelection bid, Bowman opted to take part in the event alongside the president. Bowman even received a shoutout from the president during his 20-minute speech to the crowd, with Biden saying he and former Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) need “to win in November.”

Bowman’s cozying up to Biden is borne out of political necessity. Bowman badly needs to improve his standing with suburban voters who find Bowman’s hard-left activism problematic. Latimer has consistently polled ahead of the incumbent congressman with that moderate suburban constituency — most notably, among Jewish voters alienated by Bowman’s anti-Israel posture and ties to antisemitic groups.

Bowman has also voted against many Biden-backed bipartisan initiatives, including Biden’s infrastructure deal, the national security supplemental (which included Israel aid, TikTok divestiture legislation and a bill aimed at stemming the flow of fentanyl that rivals a proposal of his own), as well as numerous Democratic-led resolutions relating to Israel or condemning terrorism. 

Bowman has also faced a number of controversies in the last year alone, most prominently when he pled guilty to a misdemeanor for triggering a false fire alarm in a House building.

Bowman, whose Westchester-based district has a large and active Jewish community, most recently opposed a resolution condemning Iran’s drone and missile strikes on Israel. He was one of 14 House lawmakers — 13 Democrats and one Republican — to do so. He joined 42 of his Democratic colleagues and that same Republican, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), two days earlier to vote against a resolution condemning the phrase “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” as antisemitic.

In the days immediately following Oct. 7, Bowman was one of the 10 members of Congress to vote down a resolution reaffirming U.S. support for Israel “as it defends itself against the barbaric war launched by Hamas and other terrorists.” Bowman voted in November against a resolution condemning support for terrorist groups and antisemitism on college campuses. In that case he was one of 23 lawmakers to oppose the resolution. 

Bowman co-sponsored a resolution alongside Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) less than a week after Oct. 7 calling for an “immediate cease-fire.” The resolution, which was harshly condemned by local Jewish leaders at the time, made no mention of Hamas or terrorism broadly, nor did it address the Israeli hostages in Gaza. 

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.