Biden is fighting a ‘low-intensity war’ against Iran-backed militants, and it’s causing tensions with fellow Democrats

joe biden
President Joe Biden makes brief remarks while hosting Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, in the Oval Office at the White House June 25, 2021 in Washington, DC.

  • Top Democrats are criticizing Biden’s recent airstrikes against Iranian proxies.
  • Sen. Chris Murphy told NYT that Biden is waging a “low-intensity war.”
  • Democrats like Murphy have effectively accused Biden of bypassing Congress.
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President Joe Biden’s Iran strategy is faltering, and he’s facing growing accusations from fellow Democrats of waging what effectively amounts to an undeclared war.

Biden on Sunday ordered airstrikes against Iran-backed militias along the Iraq-Syria border, a move the Pentagon said was “defensive” and prompted by drone attacks on US forces in the region.

The Biden administration said that Sunday’s strikes were designed to send “a clear and unambiguous deterrent message” against future attacks on American forces in the region, but within hours US troops in Syria were targeted with rocket attacks. No casualties have been reported. Iran-backed militias were suspected of firing the rockets, and US forces responded with artillery fire, a US military spokesperson said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the airstrikes were meant to “limit the risk of escalation,” but they’ve seemingly achieved the opposite.

Sunday’s airstrikes and the subsequent rocket attacks were also not isolated incidents, but linked to a broader, escalating series of retaliatory actions by the US and Iran-backed militias. Biden in February also ordered airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in response to attacks on US forces.

“This attack, like the one preceding it, will not deter these militias from targeting US and coalition forces again,” Randa Slim, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, told US News and World Report. Democrats in Congress have reached similar conclusions.

Rep. Sara Jacobs of California, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee as well as the Foreign Affairs Committee, in a tweet said, “The first time the Biden Administration launched airstrikes, they assured Congress there was a plan to de-escalate. Protecting American troops is a priority, but clearly continuing airstrikes is not deterring Iran-backed militias from attacking our troops in Iraq.”

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, an increasingly prominent voice on foreign policy in Washington, in comments to the New York Times said the violence between the US and Iranian proxies represents a “low-intensity war.”

“Repeated retaliatory strikes against Iranian proxy forces are starting to look like what would qualify as a pattern of hostilities,” Murphy, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the Times. Biden has repeatedly cited Article II of the Constitution as the legal justification for the strikes he’s ordered against Iran’s proxies, but Murphy said the cycle of violence is getting to a point where Congress needs to step in and assert its constitutionally-enshrined war powers.

“You can’t continue to declare Article II authorities over and over again … without at some point triggering Congress’s authorities,” Murphy said.

Other top Democrats have raised concerns about Congress being bypassed for military actions like this and called for more information on the Biden administration’s rationale for the strikes.

“Congress has the power to authorize the use of military force and declarations of war, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is planning to hear from the administration more on these strikes,” Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.

Biden in the Oval Office on Monday rebuffed the notion that he’s stretching the limits of his presidential war powers. “I have that authority under Article II – and even those up in the Hill who are reluctant to acknowledge that have acknowledged that is the case,” Biden told reporters.

The president is being pushed into walking a careful line when it comes to Iran as well as presidential war powers.

The Biden administration has endorsed recent congressional efforts to repeal post-9/11 laws that gave presidents broad powers to conduct military operations worldwide. But it also doesn’t want to allow attacks on US forces to go unanswered, or to look soft on Iran. This is particularly true while the US is engaged in ongoing, indirect diplomat discussions with Iran in Vienna that are aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal.

That said, the talks are up in the air, and with so many disagreements remaining Blinken recently told the Times that the US is “getting closer” to walking away from the negotiation table.

Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s incoming president, is not expected to derail the effort to revive the 2015 pact. But Raisi is also a hardliner and close ally of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is already under US sanctions over his human rights record. Moreover, the Iranian president-elect has made it clear he doesn’t support engaging in further diplomacy with the US. Raisi also recently said he would not relinquish support for regional militias, one of many signs that he could cause significant headaches for Biden.

If violence between US forces and Iran’s proxies continues, Biden is poised to face more criticism from Democrats over presidential war powers – as well as increased calls to pull more of the roughly 2,500 American troops from Iraq.

Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, on Monday told Insider that Sunday’s airstrikes showed “the need for a broader strategy to bring our troops home so they are not at risk and to de-escalate the tensions with Iran.”

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Republicans and Democrats are teaming up to take a ‘huge step’ in the US’s battle against China

Chuck Schumer
  • Top Democrats are partnering with Republicans on a bill to counter China’s economic influence.
  • Co-sponsor Rep. Ro Khanna said in an interview lawmakers “hit the sweet spot” with the plan.
  • The legislation will be a test of whether Democrats and the GOP can still work together in Congress.
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A group of Republicans and Democrats are putting forward a new plan aimed at bolstering the nation’s economic competitiveness against China. It represents a big test of whether Republicans and Democrats can still collaborate on key issues in Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer along with Republican Sen. Todd Young introduced legislation on Wednesday to pour federal money into industries like semiconductors and artificial intelligence. Other co-sponsors included Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California and GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin.

The package would also expand the National Science Foundation, providing $100 billion over five years to fund a new research and development agency. It also allocates $10 billion to build regional hubs across the US to boost domestic manufacturing and create new companies as well.

“This legislation will enhance American competitiveness with China and other countries by investing in American innovation, building up regions across the country to lead in the innovation economy, creating good-paying American manufacturing and high-tech jobs, and strengthening America’s research, development, and manufacturing capabilities,” Schumer said in a statement.

Khanna of California, a top House progressive, said in an interview that the broad coalition reflected deep backing for the measure. He believes lawmakers “hit the sweet spot” with a package aimed at countering China’s economic influence, a rare area of bipartisan agreement in Congress.

“I think it is a huge step in that direction in terms of improving our competitiveness, improving our job creation and improving our support of critical industries,” Khanna said in an interview with Insider. “It’s a key area.”

The White House released a statement supporting the package, though signaling it could still change.

“We look forward to working with Congress to further shape this legislation to renew America’s global leadership in science and technology and to make sure we develop and manufacture the technologies of the future,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

China’s economic ascent has prompted a groundswell of Republican and Democratic calls for the government to invest more money into research and development in recent years. The pandemic also exposed the reliance of the US on global supply chains that originate in China.

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Minimum-wage talks restart as progressive and moderate Democrats reportedly huddle with Chuck Schumer

Chuck Schumer Bernie Sanders
Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during a Capitol Hill press conference in 2018.

  • Democratic Senators are meeting on Tuesday to discuss a minimum wage increase, HuffPo reports.
  • The meeting will include all 7 moderate Democrats who voted against the increase in the stimulus.
  • Bernie Sanders of Vermont has been adamant that the minimum wage can be no less than $15 an hour.
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Although a federal minimum wage increase to $15 an hour didn’t make it into the stimulus bill, Senate Democrats are meeting today to find a way to get it done somehow, a Democratic source told HuffPost.

According to the source, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will meet with the progressive senators who led the push for the $15 minimum wage increase, including Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Patty Murray of Washington, and Ron Wyden of Oregon. But the meeting will also include all seven moderate Democrats who voted against the $15 minimum wage hike: Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Chris Coons of Delaware, Tom Carper of Delaware, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, and Jon Tester of Montana.

When the Senate parliamentarian voted against including a minimum wage increase in the stimulus bill, Sanders – who co-sponsored a bill to raise the wage to $15 an hour by 2025 – promised he wouldn’t give up on efforts to get the job done.

“But let me be very clear: If we fail in this legislation, I will be back,” Sanders told reporters on March 1. “We’re going to keep going and, if it takes 10 votes, we’re going to raise that minimum wage very shortly.”

And in a call with reporters on Friday, progressive lawmakers, including Rep. Ro Khanna of California, joined labor leaders and activists to strategize how they could pass a minimum wage increase through Congress, whether by reconciliation or attaching it to a must-pass bill.

“There needs to be a clear plan, a clear strategy,” Khanna told The Washington Post in an interview. “It’s not enough to just say, well, we’re committed to this, we want to get it done.”

Manchin has previously said that a $15 minimum wage increase is too high and advocated for an $11 per hour increase instead. However, Sanders has remained adamant on achieving a $15 per hour increase to lift Americans out of poverty.

“In my mind, the great economic crisis that we face today is half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck,” Sanders said on Twitter on March 5. “And many millions of workers are, frankly, working for starvation wages. Raising the minimum wage is what the American people want, and it’s what we have got to do.”

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‘Unfair and out-of-touch’: Democrats slam Biden’s White House staff marijuana policy

White House marijuana
A demonstrator waves a flag with marijuana leaves on it during a protest outside of the White House calling for the legalization of marijuana on April 2, 2016.

  • Several Democrats are criticizing the Biden White House over their marijuana policy for staffers.
  • Staffers were asked to resign or told to work remotely due to their drug use, per The Daily Beast.
  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki says the policy only affected a small number of staffers.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Several leading Democrats are criticizing a White House policy that has disqualified or and sidelined staffers for past marijuana use, as first reported by The Daily Beast on Friday.

Sources told The Daily Beast that dozens of young staffers under were suspended, asked to resign, or told to work remotely after informing the White House that they had smoked marijuana recreationally – a marked reversal from President Joe Biden administration’s stance of allowing recreational cannabis smokers to apply for open roles.

The rebuke from members of the president’s own party represents a major policy rift just days after the successful passage of the Democratic-backed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman of California on Friday shared his displeasure over the policy with The Daily Beast, highlighting that medical cannabis was now the law of the land in most states and Washington DC and expressing that the country had “evolved beyond [former US Attorney General] Jeff Sessions’ reefer madness hysteria.”

“I want to find out how and why this happened, and obviously I’m going to urge them to change course,” he said. “This administration promised a more enlightened approach, but somewhere along the line they reverted to the dogma.”

Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, the cochair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, was even sharper in his criticism.

“What’s happening now is a vivid illustration of unrealistic, unfair, and out-of-touch cannabis policies,” he told The Daily Beast. “There is confusion across the country because of out of date laws and the fact that the American public is not waiting for the federal government to get its act together. This is an opportunity for the Biden administration to help end the failed War on Drugs and make a more rational policy for everyone.”

He added: “In the meantime, these young people should not be singled out and discriminated against for something that is legal in much of the country and supported by the vast majority of Americans.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki addressed the pushback to the report on Twitter, noting that of the hundreds of staffers hired, just five individuals were no longer serving in the administration.

“The bottom line is this: of the hundreds of people hired, only five people who had started working at the White House are no longer employed as a result of this policy,” she wrote.

Psaki didn’t specify how many applicants were potentially blocked from actually being hired, but told The Daily Beast that there were other considerations pertaining to individuals affected by the policy.

“In an effort to ensure that more people have an opportunity to serve the public, we worked in coordination with the security service to ensure that more people have the opportunity to serve than would not have in the past with the same level of recent drug use,” she said in a statement. “While we will not get into individual cases, there were additional factors at play in many instances for the small number of individuals who were terminated.”

Other members didn’t bite their tongue in responding to the report, including progressive Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California.

“This is an absurd policy that will block law abiding people – particularly people of color – from pursuing careers in public service,” he told The Daily Beast. “It’s all the more unjust that many of these staffers applied for their security clearances with the understanding that past marijuana use would not be held against them.”

While cannabis is legal in Washington DC and 14 states, possession of the drug remains a federal crime, as it is still considered a Schedule I drug, the “most dangerous class” of substances.

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