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Senior White House officials set to meet with Arab, Muslim American leaders, officials in Michigan

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power speaks during an event to launch the Bureau of Global Health Security and Diplomacy on Aug. 1, 2023, at the State Department in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/TNS)

Senior officials from President Joe Biden’s White House are traveling to Michigan to meet Thursday with government and elected officials and leaders in the Arab and Muslim American communities there, according to four sources familiar with their plans.

Several meetings are planned to discuss policy largely focused on the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, including one-on-one sit-downs, amid tensions between the Democratic administration and the Arab and Muslim American communities who are furious over his handling of the conflict and a Palestinian death toll approaching 28,000.

The senior administration officials who are scheduled to participate in the meetings in Wayne County include Samantha Power, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development; Tom Perez, director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs; Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer; Director of the Office of Public Engagement Steve Benjamin; and White House liaison to American Muslim Communities Mazen Basrawi, the sources said.

The White House did not immediately comment Wednesday on the planned meetings, which were first reported by CNN.

The meetings come after Biden skipped a stop in Dearborn while he was in Metro Detroit last week, instead visiting Black voters at a sports bar in Harper Woods and Macomb County union voters in an event with the United Auto Workers in Warren, where protesters demanding a cease-fire in Gaza demonstrated nearby.

The previous week, Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez traveled to Dearborn for a meeting with a group of leaders and officials from the Arab and Muslim communities including the mayor and state lawmakers, but after several refused the invitation, the meeting was canceled.

At the time, some in the community questioned why Biden would send a campaign official and not someone from the White House. Rodriguez previously was director of Biden’s White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

Michigan has among the largest communities of Arab Americans in the country, with over 300,000 residents of Middle Eastern or North African ancestry, according to Census Bureau estimates.

They make up a small percentage of the Michigan electorate but could be a crucial group in the battleground state in November’s general election. Biden won Michiga in 2020 by about 154,000 votes or 3 percentage points over former President Donald Trump, who won the state in 2016.

This week, a group of Arab American activists launched a last-minute campaign to urge voters to cast “uncommitted” votes in the Democratic presidential primary on Feb. 27 to register their discontent with Biden for not demanding Israel cease military action in Gaza.

Organizers hope a substantial “uncommitted” showing in Michigan’s primary would shake the president’s confidence in winning the state in November, with that risk leading him to shift his policy to support a cease-fire between Israel and the Hamas militant group.

The Listen to Michigan coalition has less than three weeks before the Feb. 27 primary election to get out the word and explain to voters how to vote “uncommitted” in the primary. In addition to Biden, Minnesota U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips and self-help guru Marianne Williamson also are on Michigan’s Democratic primary ballot, which has an option for voting uncommitted.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said last week that the president continues to believe Israel has a right to defend itself as long as it operates in accordance with international humanitarian law.

“At the same time, he is heartbroken by the suffering of innocent Palestinians,” Jean-Pierre said of Biden.

In remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast before he traveled to Metro Detroit last week, Biden spoke of the conflict in Gaza and said his administration is working for peace.

“We value and pray for the lives taken and for the families left behind, for all those who are living in dire circumstances — innocent men, women, and children held hostage or under bombardment or displaced, not knowing where their next meal will come from or if it will come at all,” Biden said.

“Not only do we pray for peace, we are actively working for peace, security, dignity for the Israeli people and the Palestinian people.”

Jean-Pierre has said senior administration officials would be traveling to Michigan in the coming days “to hear directly from community leaders on a range of issues that are important to them and their families, including the conflict in Israel and Gaza.”


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