Washington — Senior officials from President Joe Biden’s White House are traveling to Michigan to meet with officials and leaders of America’s Arab and Muslim communities on Thursday, according to four sources familiar with their plans.
Several meetings are planned to discuss policies and issues important to the community, largely focused on the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, amid tensions between the Democratic administration and Arab and Muslim American communities, angry over its management of the conflict and a The Palestinian death toll is approaching 28,000.
Senior administration officials expected to attend 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; Jon Finer, deputy national security adviser; Office of Public Engagement Director Steve Benjamin; and White House liaison to American Muslim communities Mazen Basrawi, the sources said.
Other White House aides who will participate include Jamie Citron, principal deputy director of the Office of Public Engagement, and Dan Koh, director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, according to a source familiar with the schedule.
“Look, I’ve lived in Dearborn for 40 years, and this is the highest-level political delegation I’ve seen visit at any given time,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Ann Arbor. “And I hope there will be a lot of open, honest, frank conversations.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined Wednesday to confirm the planned meetings, which were first reported by CNN.
“We said White House officials were obviously going to go to Michigan to continue — it’s a continuation of the conversations they’ve had with the Muslim and Arab communities as well as other communities like the Jewish community American,” Jean said. -Pierre said.
“I’m not going to preempt what’s going to be said. Obviously, we’re going to listen and hear what the leaders of this community have to say. We’re open to that – to having a real honest dialogue. I just don’t “I don’t have anything to confirm on the timing and when that’s going to happen.”
The meetings come after Biden skipped a stop in Dearborn while in metro Detroit last week, instead of visiting Black voters at a sports bar in Harper Woods and union voters in Macomb County at an event with the United Auto Workers union in Warren, where demonstrators 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 Arab and Muslim community leaders and officials, including the mayor and state lawmakers, but after several refused the invitation, the the meeting was canceled.
At the time, some in the community wondered why Biden would send a campaign official and not someone from the White House. Rodriguez previously served as director of Biden’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House.
Several officials who rejected Rodriguez’s previous meeting said they would accept his invitations to meet with White House officials on Thursday, including Wayne County deputy executive Assad Turfe and Rep. Abraham Aiyash, D-Hamtramck, who is the majority leader in the Michigan House. .
“I look forward to engaging in constructive policy discussions with some of the President’s key policymakers,” Turfe said in a statement Wednesday. “This visit represents the highest-level political delegation sent by the White House that I have experienced in my time. Having a dialogue and maintaining an open line of communication with policymakers is paramount to achieving any goal.”
Additionally, state Rep. Alabas Farhat, a Dearborn Democrat, told The Associated Press he plans to attend meetings with top Biden officials. Osama Siblani, publisher of Arab American News, also said he would leave.
“We need to send a meaningful message, and that’s nothing new for this administration,” Siblani told the Detroit News.
“This demands an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and assistance in rebuilding destroyed lives. The United States bears responsibility because it is a partner in the crime committed against the population,” Siblani added.
“Am I hopeful? No. It’s not going to happen. But we have to tell the American public that we tried to convince this administration and make changes.”
Michigan has one of the largest communities of Arab Americans in the country, with more than 300,000 residents of Middle Eastern or North African ancestryaccording to Census Bureau estimates.
They make up only a small percentage of Michigan’s electorate, but could be a crucial group in the battleground state in November’s general election. Biden won Michigan in 2020 by about 154,000 votes, or 3 percentage points, over former President Donald Trump, who won the state in 2016.
During a campaign stop in Lansing on Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg suggested that Biden’s White House outreach was a signal that the president was attentive to community concerns.
“One thing that you will see even today, it’s true, is that very senior officials in the administration will begin a dialogue with the Arab American communities in Michigan,” Buttigieg said. “I think this kind of outreach demonstrates that the president cares about this conversation.”
This week, a group of Arab-American activists launched a campaign to urge voters to voted “without commitment” in the Democratic presidential primary on February 27 to express their displeasure with Biden for not asking Israel to cease its military action in Gaza.
Organizers hope that substantial “no-commitment” turnout in Michigan’s primary would shake the president’s confidence in winning the state in November, with the risk leading him to shift his policies to support a ceasefire between Israel and the Hamas militant group.
Among these sign the commitment Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, Turfe, Aiyash, Farhat and State Representatives Karen Whitsett of Detroit and Erin Byrnes of Dearborn, Wayne County Commissioners Sam Baydoun and Al Haidous, Hamtramck Mayor Amer Ghalib and Mayor of Dearborn Heights Bill Bazzi voted Wednesday.
THE Listen to Michigan The coalition has less than three weeks before the February 27 primary election to get the message out and explain to voters how to vote “no strings attached” in the primary. In addition to Biden, Minnesota’s U.S. Representative Dean Phillips and self-help guru Marianne Williamson are also in Michigan’s Democratic primary, which offers the option of no-commitment voting.
White House officials have been in regular contact with Muslim and Arab American leaders in Michigan and across the country, having had more than 100 conversations with local and state leaders regarding the conflict and humanitarian assistance in Gaza.
The White House also featured sessions that Finer and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met in mid-October with leaders of the Arab and Muslim American community following the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, to discuss how the federal government can support communities affected by “hate.”
Jean-Pierre said last week that the president continues to believe that Israel has the right to defend itself as long as it acts 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 a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast before traveling to metro Detroit last week, Biden spoke about the conflict in Gaza and said his administration was working for peace.
“We appreciate and pray for the lives lost and for the families left behind, for all those living in dire circumstances – innocent men, women and children held hostage, bombed or displaced, not knowing where from their next meal will come. or if it will happen at all,” Biden said.
“Not only do we pray for peace, but we actively work for the peace, security and dignity of the Israeli and Palestinian people.”
Jean-Pierre said senior administration officials would travel 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 beyond. Gaza.”
Staff writer Craig Mauger contributed.