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Takeaways from Biden’s candid CNN interview as he warns Israel

Donald Trump slams president over threat to withhold heavy bombs

President Joe Biden salutes as he steps off of Marine One before departing Chicago O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on Wednesday.
President Joe Biden salutes as he steps off of Marine One before departing Chicago O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on Wednesday. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

ANALYSIS — President Joe Biden is headed back to California to raise more campaign cash Friday and Saturday after he sent shockwaves around the globe with a potential landmark change to U.S. foreign policy.

Biden sat down with CNN anchor Erin Burnett during a campaign stop in battleground Wisconsin on Wednesday. As he did during recent official White House and campaign events, he jabbed at Donald Trump, the presumed GOP presidential nominee, and defended his economic record.

The president has joked that his staff dreads when he goes off-script or veers away from the prepared remarks on a teleprompter. And he has given fewer media interviews than his recent predecessors, including Trump.

But when he does, Biden often is more candid than when he is delivering remarks from behind the presidential lectern or even answering reporters’ shouted questions, which usually generate four- or five-word answers than can raise even more questions about his policy stances.

His CNN sit-down was no exception, as Biden delivered his most blunt warning to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet. Here are three takeaways.

‘Not supplying the weapons’

Biden told the “Outfront” anchor he made clear to Israeli leaders if they conduct military operations in “population centers” inside Gaza, he would withhold U.S.-made heavy bombs.

Though his top aides in recent weeks have declined to answer reporters’ questions about Israeli military operations inside the Palestinian enclave, he acknowledged on Wednesday that those American-manufactured bombs have been used in the Israeli Defense Forces’ deadly bombardment. According to a Hamas-run health agency, almost 35,000 Palestinians have died in Israel’s military response to Hamas’ attack inside the Jewish state, which killed 1,400 people. Another 78,000 Palestinians have been wounded, according to the same agency.

“I made it clear that, if they go into Rafah — they haven’t gone into Rafah yet. If they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities, to deal with that problem,” Biden said. He appeared to say the goal was to limit Israel’s ability to go on offense, not to defend itself.

“We’re going to continue to make sure Israel is secure, in terms of Iron Dome [missile defense system] and their ability to respond to attacks like [the one that] came out of the Middle East recently,” he said, citing heavy bombs and artillery shells as weapons he would withhold.

Biden’s warning, if it becomes reality, would upend 76 years of American foreign policy. U.S. presidents from both political parties have staunchly supported Israel and supplied it with military assistance. As recently as last week, Biden declared his support for Tel Aviv was “ironclad.”

The United States was the first country to recognize Israel in 1948. “The 75-year partnership has been built on mutual interests and shared democratic values from its inception, with Israelis and Americans united by their commitment to democracy, economic prosperity, and regional security,” a State Department fact sheet said.

That partnership — and regional security — may be on the ropes.

Trump, who also has criticized Netanyahu, panned Biden on Thursday.

“What Biden is doing with respect to Israel is disgraceful. If any Jewish person voted for Joe Biden, they should be ashamed of themselves,” Trump told reporters staking out his trial in New York City. “He’s totally abandoned Israel and nobody can believe it. I guess he feels good about it. Because he did it as a political decision, you have to do the right decision, not the political decision. But he did a very bad thing.”

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., on Thursday accused Biden of a “100 percent political calculation” and said he is “defying the will of Congress,” which recently passed an aid package for the Jewish state.

John Kirby, White House national security communications adviser, on Thursday contended Israeli leaders have known “for some time now” about Biden’s intent to withhold such weapons if they went hard militarily into the refugee-packed Rafah area. He also disclosed that Biden’s threat was based on “what we were seeing and hearing from the Israelis” in terms of their planning for a Rafah operation.

“It’s going to depend on Israel’s decision-making right now,” Kirby said. U.S. officials intend to keep pitching “alternative” options to “smashing into Rafah” with Israeli officials, he said, adding the Biden administration also intends to hold discussions with their Israeli counterparts about an “alternative governing structure to Hamas” inside Gaza.

‘Wrong all along’

Trump continues to hold a polling advantage — nationally and in battleground states — over Biden on economic issues. Biden was defiant, and he blames the polls.

“We have already turned it around,” he said of the economy. “Look, look at the Michigan survey, where 65 percent of the American people think they’re in good shape economically. They think the nation’s not in good shape, but they’re personally in good shape,” the president said, not specifying to which survey he was referring to.

“The polling data has been wrong all along. … You guys do a poll at CNN. How many folks [do] you have to call to get one response? The idea that we’re in a situation where things are so bad, the folks that — I mean, we have created more jobs,” Biden said. “We’re in a situation where people have access to good-paying jobs.

“And the last I saw, the combination of the inflation, the cost of inflation and all those things, that’s really worrisome to people, with good reason,” he added.

‘Promise you he won’t’

In recent media interviews, Trump has done little to quell worries among many Democrats that, should he again lose to Biden, he will refuse to accept the election results — and possibly even urge his loyalists to violence.

Biden said Wednesday Trump should be taken at his word.

“The guy is not a Democrat with a small d,” Biden said. “Look, you can’t only love your country when you win, No. 1. How many court cases did they have, Supreme Court cases?

“They all said, ‘This is a totally legitimate election,’” he said, referring to the nine high court justices. “This is Trump. … He may not accept the outcome of the election. I promise you he won’t.

Burnett asked: “Promise that he won’t?”

Biden replied: “He won’t.”

In a recent interview with TIME magazine, Trump said this when asked if political violence is possible if he loses again.

“If we don’t win, you know, it depends,” Trump said.

“It always depends on the fairness of an election. I don’t believe they’ll be able to do the things that they did the last time. I don’t think they’ll be able to get away with it,” he said, making more never-proved allegations about shenanigans by Democrats in the 2020 election. “And if that’s the case, we’re gonna win in record-setting fashion.”

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