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.

(CNN)

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.

Current Issue

Cover of July 2024 Issue

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.”

The Nation Weekly

Fridays. A weekly digest of the best of our coverage.
By signing up, you confirm that you are over the age of 16 and agree to receive occasional promotional offers for programs that support The Nation’s journalism. You may unsubscribe or adjust your preferences at any time. You can read our Privacy Policy here.

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.”

Thank you for reading The Nation

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read, just one of the many incisive, deeply-reported articles we publish daily. Now more than ever, we need fearless journalism that shifts the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media.

Throughout this critical election year and a time of media austerity and renewed campus activism and rising labor organizing, independent journalism that gets to the heart of the matter is more critical than ever before. Donate right now and help us hold the powerful accountable, shine a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug, and build a more just and equitable future.

For nearly 160 years, The Nation has stood for truth, justice, and moral clarity. As a reader-supported publication, we are not beholden to the whims of advertisers or a corporate owner. But it does take financial resources to report on stories that may take weeks or months to properly investigate, thoroughly edit and fact-check articles, and get our stories into the hands of readers.

Donate today and stand with us for a better future. Thank you for being a supporter of independent journalism.

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.

More from The Nation

Miller Time

Miller Time Miller Time

Get out the volts.

This Week / Steve Brodner

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a campaign event at Resorts World Las Vegas on July 9, 2024, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Can Kamala Harris Beat Trump? Polls Say “Yes.” Can Kamala Harris Beat Trump? Polls Say “Yes.”

The vice president’s numbers keep rising. One new survey puts her ahead of the Republican—and in a better position to beat him than Joe Biden.

John Nichols

Joe Biden speaks at an event launching the Ukraine Compact at the 2024 NATO Summit on July 11, 2024, in Washington, DC.

Why Aren’t We Talking About the Great News on the Economy and Crime? Why Aren’t We Talking About the Great News on the Economy and Crime?

The Democrats have a winning election message—but do they have the right messenger?

Jeet Heer

Pro-Palestinian activists and supporters hold placards and Palestinian flags as they gather in front of the Elizabeth Tower at the Palace of Westminster, home to the Houses of Parliament, in central London, on April 17, 2024.

Muslim Voters Are Sending a Message Muslim Voters Are Sending a Message

With the US election looming on the horizon, Muslim communities in the UK cast their ballots in a way that put Gaza at the forefront.

Hasan Ali

President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference during the NATO Summit in Washington, DC, on July 11, 2024.

Biden’s “Big Boy Press Conference” Went Fine, but It Won’t Quiet Doubters Biden’s “Big Boy Press Conference” Went Fine, but It Won’t Quiet Doubters

The president started with a flub but ended strong. It may not matter.

Joan Walsh

Donald Trump in 2016

Don’t Believe Trump When He Claims He’s Not Racist Don’t Believe Trump When He Claims He’s Not Racist

Trump does not deserve a single Black or Hispanic vote. Nada. None.

Clarence Lusane