President Biden kicked off a series of get-togethers with world leaders Thursday in England’s Carbis Bay, a scenic, seaside resort town, where he met U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson ahead of the G-7 summit.
The scene was perhaps a welcome respite for the president from the brutal battlefield of domestic politics, especially as House Democrats were in the midst of some of the worst intra-party sniping they’ve seen in years.
Tensions between moderate and Jewish Democrats and “Squad” members like Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., exploded into the open this week over recent comments she made apparently comparing the United States and Israel to Hamas.
A group of moderate Democrats lambasted Omar for her statement in a joint press release, prompting Omar, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and other “Squad” members to fire back, accusing those Democrats of “islamophobic tropes,” putting Omar in “danger,” and more.
The conflict began brewing Monday when Omar tweeted about “unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban,” after making similar comments in a committee hearing. It reached its peak Wednesday and Thursday when the group of moderates, including Reps. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J.; Jake Auchincloss, D-Mass.; Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and eight others lit into Omar in a scathing statement.
“Ignoring the differences between democracies governed by the rule of law and contemptible organizations that engage in terrorism at best discredits one’s intended argument and at worst reflects deep-seated prejudice,” they said.
Omar responded by calling the statement “shameful” and saying, “The constant harassment & silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable.” Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., was among the others who came to Omar’s defense. She told the moderate lawmakers: “Enough with the anti-Blackness and Islamophobia.”
There were signs tensions could have been receding Thursday afternoon when Omar released a statement saying that her comments were “not a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the U.S. and Israel. I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and a group of House Democratic leaders appeared to accept that in a subsequent statement.
“We welcome the clarification by Congresswoman Omar that there is no moral equivalency between the U.S. and Israel and Hamas and the Taliban,” they said. One of the signers of the initial statement critical of Omar appeared to try to lower the temperature as well.
But “Squad” member Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., later in the day launched a broadside attack against Pelosi and her leadership team signaling that internal fighting may drag on even longer.
“Freedom of speech doesn’t exist for Muslim women in Congress,” Tlaib said. “The benefit of the doubt doesn’t exist for Muslim women in Congress. House Democratic leadership should be ashamed of its relentless, exclusive tone policing of Congresswomen of color.”
Even if the combatants in the latest moderates versus far-left skirmish put down their swords, for now, the fundamental tension under the surface is unlikely to go away as it’s been simmering for years.
Just weeks ago, Democrats – including Wasserman Schultz and Omar – were going to the House floor giving radically different speeches on the fighting between Hamas and Israel. And as recently as 2019 the House passed a resolution condemning bigotry in response to comments from Omar suggesting that Israel supporters were pushing for U.S. politicians to declare “allegiance” to Israel. That was seen as a form of the longstanding “dual loyalties” trope that has been used against Jewish people for centuries.
Thousands of miles away, Biden was largely spared from the crossfire on the issue, unlike during the recent fighting in the Middle East when he was forced to walk a political tightrope in reaffirming Israel’s right to defend itself while simultaneously avoiding alienating left-wing Democrats like Omar at home.
Instead, Biden enjoyed a lighthearted jaunt with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and their wives on Thursday in Carbis Bay, a scenic coastal retreat in England. The president later gave his U.K. counterpart, a cycling enthusiast, a new bicycle from Philadelphia’s Bilenky Cycle Works.
Johnson gave the president a framed photo of a mural of the American abolitionist Frederick Douglass and gifted first lady Jill Biden a first-edition book from the late novelist Daphne du Maurier.
Photos show the couples strolling together down a seaside walkway, smiling and taking in the view.
The U.K. government sent 5,000 extra police officers to the quiet town for added security as the leaders of the U.S., U.K., France, Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan converge. Authorities even hired a 3,000-bed cruise ship to help with their lodgings.
After the tour, Biden and Johnson sat down for a bilateral meeting where they discussed climate change, global security, the war in Afghanistan and the coronavirus. They also signed a new document related to the Atlantic Charter, first signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, which led to the United Nations and NATO.
Biden arrived in the U.K. on Wednesday to kick off an eight-day European visit to attend the G-7 summit, meet Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle and meet with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
During the summit, he is staying at the Tregenna Castle Resort in Carbis Bay, a waterfront 18th-century castle surrounded by more than 70 acres of gardens, woodlands and its own 18-hole golf course. Stays there can cost north of $500 per night for normal visitors.
The G-7 summit begins Friday. After that, the president will meet with NATO and European Union leaders and eventually meet with Putin.
The leaders are expected to discuss a rise in international cybercrime, the conflict in Ukraine and interests in the Arctic region.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.