Politics / January 29, 2024

Nancy Pelosi’s Rant Against Cease-Fire Supporters Will Hurt Biden’s 2024 Campaign

The ex-speaker’s “delusional” attack insults millions of voters—and reveals the scorching ignorance of top Democrats about the depth of opposition to Israel’s war.

John Nichols
Nancy Pelosi on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, January 29, 2024.

Nancy Pelosi on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, January 29, 2024.


Nancy Pelosi went on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday and insulted tens of millions of Democratic voters—and millions of potential Democratic voters who are critical to the party’s prospects in 2024 presidential and congressional races—with a rant against supporters of a cease-fire in Gaza that revealed the scorching ignorance of top Democrats regarding widespread and sincere opposition to Israel’s assault on the Palestinian enclave.

Pelosi appeared on the Sunday morning show with the apparent intent of talking up President Biden’s reelection bid. But she did Biden no favors with comments that suggested she simply does not comprehend the depth of opposition within her own party to Israel’s bombing and invasion of Gaza, which has killed more than 25,000 Palestinians over the past three months. Pelosi contended that critics of the Biden administration’s steady support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s war are Russian dupes, or worse​. She even urged the FBI to investigate anti-war protesters.

Responding to a question about cease-fire protests that have interrupted events featuring Biden—and about the prospect that anger over the administration’s support for Netanyahu and the war might lead to a drop-off in support for Democrats among Arab Americans, young people, and progressives—Pelosi ​began on a dismissive note​​​. The former speaker told host Dana Bash that she had “been the recipient of their, shall we say, exuberances, and it’s as recently as in Seattle on Thursday, unfortunately wanted to disrupt our very exciting Democratic meeting there. They’re in front of my house all the time. So I have a feeling for what feelings they have.” Then, after expressing a measure of sympathy for Gazans who are “suffering” and “don’t have any place to go,” Pelosi smeared the activists who want to end that suffering.

“But for them to call for a cease-fire is Mr. Putin’s message, Mr. Putin’s message,” said Pelosi.

Make no mistake, this is directly connected to what he would like to see. Same thing with Ukraine. It’s about Putin’s message. I think some of these—some of these protesters are spontaneous and organic and sincere. Some, I think, are connected to Russia.

And I say that having looked at this for a long time now, as you know.

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Bash interrupted to make sure she was hearing Pelosi right. “You think some of these protests are Russian plants?” asked the host.

“I don’t think they’re plants,” said Pelosi. “I think some financing should be investigated. And I want to ask the FBI to investigate that.”

Pelosi offered no corroboration to support her charge​—beyond her vague comment that she had “looked at this for a long time”—and Bash did not follow up. It fell to other news outlets to point out ​that ​the former speaker’s remarks came from out of left field. “Pelosi’s comments marked the first time a prominent US lawmaker has accused Russia’s leader of backing US protesters calling for a ceasefire,” explained Reuters, which noted that her claims were made “without offering evidence.”  Veteran Los Angeles Times international correspondent Megan Stack, who is now a New York Times commentator, was blunter. “Having covered both Russia and Israel for years, having written very directly about the malignity of Putin’s government and the horrors of his wars on Ukraine and Georgia as well as this blood-drenched onslaught on Gaza,” said Stack, “I find this [claim] from Pelosi nauseating.”

Law professor Zephyr Teachout, a former Democratic congressional candidate, expressed concern that Pelosi was out of touch with the current debate, saying, “This is obviously nonsense, but more worrying because it reflects a deep structure of wrongness, of wrong understanding.”

Yet the discussion inspired immediate headlines, announcing, “Pelosi suggests some pro-Palestinian protesters are connected to Russia,” and  “Nancy Pelosi seeks FBI probe into protesters seeking cease-fire in Gaza.”

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That won’t help Biden rally a Democratic base that, polls suggest, has grown increasingly frustrated with the president’s support for Netanyahu and the war. And it could further estrange new voters—especially, but not exclusively, young people and Arab-Americans in swing states such as Michigan—whom Democrats need to draw into their coalition if the party is going to prevail in November.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) decried Pelosi’s comments as  ”unsubstantiated smears,” with  CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad observing, “Representative Pelosi’s claim that some of the Americans protesting for a Gaza ceasefire are working with Vladimir Putin sounds delusional and her call for the FBI to investigate those protesters without any evidence is downright authoritarian.”

Awad argued that Pelosi’s charges “echo a time in our nation when opponents of the Vietnam War were accused of being communist sympathizers and subjected to FBI harassment,” while noting: “Hundreds of thousands of Americans, including many young people, progressive activists, and Jewish, Muslim, Palestinian, and Black Americans, have been protesting to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. Instead of baselessly smearing those Americans as Russian collaborators, former House Speaker Pelosi and other political leaders should respect the will of the American people by calling for an end to the Netanyahu government’s genocidal war on the people of Gaza.”

While the Republican National Committee gleefully amplified Pelosi’s remarks, author and foreign affairs commentator Trita Parsi, the executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, retweeted a clip of the former speaker’s appearance on CNN and asked, “Is this the Democratic Party’s plan to delegitimize authentic fury over the slaughter in Gaza? Labeling Gaza ceasefire calls as ‘Putin’s message.’”

If so, it’s unlikely to succeed. No matter what Pelosi says, opposition to the administration’s support for Netanyahu and the war continues to grow among Democrats, and among voters that the party needs to attract in November. Even as they condemn the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, many of the party’s most prominent elected officials and grassroots activists have argued that the ensuing Israeli assault on Gaza has been disproportional and must stop. More than 65 congressional Democrats—members of the House caucus Pelosi once led—have called for a cease-fire. And there is growing concern among Democratic strategists that Biden’s stance could cost him critical support in states he must carry in the fall.

Abdullah Hammoud, the Democratic mayor of Dearborn, Mich., a city with a large and politically engaged Arab American population that Biden and the Democrats need to win over if they hope to carry Michigan, summed up the problem, when he observed, “So, based on Nancy Pelosi’s remarks, 76% of Democrats / 49% of Republicans / 61% of Americans are potentially paid operatives of Russia who are pushing Putin’s message of calling for a ceasefire??” The mayor was citing a late-November Data for Progress survey, which found those levels of support for a permanent ceasefire and de-escalation of violence in Gaza.

Mayor Hammoud, who refused last week to meet with Biden’s reelection campaign manager to discuss the impact that the administration’s stance on Israel-Palestine issues is having on the 2024 campaign, pointed to Pelosi’s remarks and said, “The Democratic party leadership is in disarray.”

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John Nichols

John Nichols is a national affairs correspondent for The Nation. He has written, cowritten, or edited over a dozen books on topics ranging from histories of American socialism and the Democratic Party to analyses of US and global media systems. His latest, cowritten with Senator Bernie Sanders, is the New York Times bestseller It's OK to Be Angry About Capitalism.

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