Vice President Kamala Harris’ plans to meet with members of the Arab American community were abruptly postponed this week after leaders decided not to move forward, according to two sources familiar with the situation, marking the latest sign of the obstacles the administration faces in trying to make inroads with the community.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Harris have been dogged by protesters calling for a ceasefire in Gaza at events nationwide, underscoring a persistent reality as the president shifts into general election mode: Democrats are deeply divided on Biden’s support for Israel as it wages war with Hamas, and the issue threatens to split the coalition.
Earlier in the week, the vice president’s office held a virtual meeting with around a dozen participants from the Arab American community — including activists and representative organizations — to discuss topics, including the crisis in Gaza, ahead of a listening session with Harris at the White House that was scheduled for Monday, one source said.
The following day, those participants called off the Monday session, citing concerns including potential backlash from allies and not wanting to speak for entire communities. Conversations about potentially rescheduling are ongoing, sources said.
The now-postponed meeting, which has not been previously reported, is part of a concerted effort by the administration to hear from members of the Arab American community, including this past week in Michigan after a push by leaders and activists to meet with White House officials.
A White House official told CNN the vice president “looks forward to continuing to engage with leaders of the Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian communities, including through phone calls and meetings.”
“The vice president is committed to listening to and having a dialogue with members of these communities, and we look forward to meeting with these leaders in the future,” the official said, adding that Harris has spoken to people who have left Gaza, people contributing to the humanitarian response and others.
The community members invited to Monday’s session maintained they want to keep lines of communication with the White House open, but the episode served as yet another reminder of the challenges the administration is confronting.
ACCESS Reproductive Justice, a California-based nonprofit focused on abortion access, decided not to attend Harris’ San Jose stop.
“We feel very strongly that the plight of the Palestinian people is very much a reproductive justice issue and quite frankly ignored by the Biden-Harris administration,” Jessica Pinckney Gil, executive director of ACCESS RJ, told CNN.
Gil stressed that the group is staying in contact with the vice president’s office despite its decision not to attend the event.
“For us, being at the event was supporting policies that we can’t fully support, whereas continuing to be in dialogue with the administration is pushing for policy change,” she said.
Sources told CNN that Harris’ staff, at the vice president’s direction, have offered those protesting at her events an opportunity to speak directly with senior White House officials to share their concerns.
Harris was interrupted during remarks in San Jose in January as she participated in a moderated discussion about abortion rights with actress Sophia Bush. A protester could be heard calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
And this week, Harris was interrupted by a protester during her speech in Savannah, Georgia. A few minutes into her speech, a protester yelled, “Shame on you” and “You’re committing genocide,” referring to the violence that is unfolding in Gaza.
Harris responded by saying, “We know in a healthy democracy we value the freedom of all people to be heard, but right now we are talking about … what has happened to the women and people of America as a result of the Dobbs decision,” referring to the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.
A member of the Harris team spoke with the demonstrator in Georgia, the White House official said.
A recent CNN poll found 34% of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of the war between Israel and Hamas. About half of Democrats — 51% — say they approve of his handling of the Israel-Hamas war; among Democrats younger than 45, that falls to just 35%.
This week, senior administration officials met with members of the Arab American and Muslim communities in the battleground state of Michigan.
Asked about that meeting, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “We want to hear directly from them,” adding that it’s important for community leaders “to be able to speak directly to officials in the White House.”
The Michigan meeting came after Biden’s campaign manager, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, traveled to the state to meet with local community leaders, including members of the Arab American and Muslim communities.
One sit-down, which was expected to include roughly a dozen Arab American, Muslim, and Palestinian leaders and activists, was called off last month when invitees declined to attend. At the time, some expressed frustration that the Biden team had sent a campaign official instead of White House officials.
“The president’s refusal to change course or even to publicly acknowledge his mistakes is a grave insult to people here in Michigan, to Michigan Democrats in particular,” Abbas Alawieh, spokesperson of “Listen to Michigan,” said Friday. Listen to Michigan is a new campaign urging Democrats to vote “Uncommitted” in the state’s February 27 presidential primary to demand Biden support a ceasefire.
“And the hypocrisy of telling us privately that the administration has made mistakes while continuing to fail to hold (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu accountable publicly, it’s a blatant display of moral bankruptcy that will have political consequences here in Michigan,” Alawieh said.