How Much Leverage Does The Biden Administration Have Over Israel? | Crooked Media
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May 08, 2024
What A Day
How Much Leverage Does The Biden Administration Have Over Israel?

In This Episode

  • President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that the U.S. would not supply Israel with some weapons if it moved forward with a ground invasion of Rafah. The announcement came hours after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed that the government had already paused a shipment of bombs to Israel over fears of an imminent offensive in the southern Gaza city where more than a million Palestinians are sheltering. Israel has been ramping up its attacks on Rafah over the last few days, all while negotiators frantically try to reach a ceasefire deal in Cairo. Ben Rhodes, former Deputy U.S. national security advisor to President Obama and co-host of Pod Save The World, talks about how much leverage Biden really has over Israel’s military operations.
  • And in headlines: A Georgia court agreed to hear an appeal over whether the Fulton County District Attorney can continue to lead former President Donald Trump’s state election interference case, Republican and Democratic House Lawmakers blocked Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene from ousting Speaker Mike Johnson, and third-party presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy Jr. says a parasite ate part of his brain.


Show Notes:



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Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Thursday, May 9th. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tolliver and this is What a Day. The show where we’re on better terms with the city of Los Angeles then the couple suing for the right to demolish Marilyn Monroe’s home. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, apparently, some like it litigious over there. [laughter] Yeah. Not us though. That’s not what we’re about. We’re very chill over here. [music break]


Juanita Tolliver: On today’s show, a Georgia appeals court will review whether DA Fani Willis can stay on Trump’s election interference case. Plus, independent presidential candidate RFK Jr attributes his memory loss and mental fogginess to a brain worm. 


Priyanka Aribindi: But first, Israel’s offensive on Gaza’s southern city of Rafah has been ramping up the last few days, and now an invasion of the city seems imminent. As we’ve told you on the show, there are well over a million people in Rafah, many of whom have been sheltering there after being forced to flee their homes elsewhere in Gaza. 


Juanita Tolliver: We know the negotiators have been trying to broker a ceasefire deal before this invasion to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe. What’s the U.S. doing in response to this? 


Priyanka Aribindi: The U.S. has upped the pressure on Israel a bit. Last week, they postponed a shipment of arms to the Israel Defense Forces, citing potential concerns over their use in Rafah. And on Wednesday, President Biden told CNN that he would stop the shipment of some weapons to Israel if the IDF invaded Rafah, and also confirmed that civilians have been killed using 2,000 pound bombs from the U.S.. 


[clip of President Joe Biden] 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. 


Juanita Tolliver: And to clarify, the targeted bombing of Rafah began Tuesday. And there have been reports of attacks in east Rafah as of Wednesday. So it’s safe to say that the assault on Rafah has started. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And of course, protests over Israel’s war in Gaza have continued on college campuses across the U.S. through this week, most recently in D.C.. DC Metropolitan Police cleared an encampment on the George Washington University campus on Wednesday morning, 13 days after it was first set up, and they arrested 33 people in the process. 


Juanita Tolliver: The police moved into GW’s campus at about 4 a.m. while protesters were asleep, and there were deployed after congressional Republicans applied pressure on D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser for allowing the peaceful encampment to continue. Mere hours after this police intervention, Republicans canceled a previously scheduled hearing with Mayor Bowser. And it is not a coincidence. 


Priyanka Aribindi: These protests were actually one of the things I talked with Ben Rhodes about earlier. He was the former deputy national security advisor to President Obama and now co-hosts Pod Save the World. I started our conversation by asking him about the latest news out of Rafah. 


Ben Rhodes: The Biden administration, which has generally obviously supported Israel, has made clear its opposition to this invasion of Rafah. And frankly, I think he’s been rushing to try to complete a ceasefire deal before an invasion goes forward. Because once it does, it’s hard to see how there could be any negotiated release of hostages in exchange for aid getting in and for either at least a long term pause. In terms of what’s happening now, from what we’ve seen, there have been an uptick in Israeli airstrikes in Rafah. And keep in mind, this is a city that now has well over a million people in it, over 600,000 children in it. So right now, there’s not the kind of full scale Israeli ground invasion, but we see a lot of preparation that is reminiscent of other places Israel has gone into. Airstrikes, warnings for people to evacuate, some troops moving in, and then, worryingly, the seizure of the aid crossing. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. We are also seeing the Biden administration withholding arms shipments to Israel. Here is Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin telling U.S. senators this on Wednesday. 


[clip of Defense Secretary Llyod Austin] We are currently reviewing some near-term security assistance shipments in the context of the unfolding events in Rafah. 


Priyanka Aribindi: What is your take on how the White House is currently pressuring Israel, and how much leverage do they have right now? Could they at this point conceivably stop a full invasion into Rafah? 


Ben Rhodes: I think that if they had been using their leverage up to this point, they could have stopped the invasion of Rafah to be honest. At this point, I’m not sure. In other words, this thing may already be in motion. Israel doesn’t necessarily need those weapons for what they’re doing tomorrow. The reality is that the U.S. has a lot of leverage here. There’s both the kind of tangible fact that we provide a lot of weapons that Israel uses, and that’s both defensive weapons. And I think the Biden administration would continue to provide air defense, missile defense systems to protect people in Israel. But everything from small arms to the kind of 2,000 pound bombs that have been dropped indiscriminately on Palestinian neighborhoods. So there’s both that practical impact, but also the kind of general message to the world. I mean, the world sees that and says, okay, if the US is withdrawing support, there’s kind of nobody left, really. And so it’s a diplomatic message as well as a military message. So we’re at a bit of a breaking point here. I think that there’s kind of three ways this can go. You know, there’s a ceasefire deal that they pull a rabbit out of a hat, and that would be great. And there’s some release of hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners and a pretty long term ceasefire. Two, the Israeli military operation goes forward in kind of full force. And I do think in that scenario, you’d see probably further restrictions on aid going into Israel and a further kind of break between Netanyahu and Biden, or this kind of tenuous status quo in which the Israeli operation is a little more targeted than we’ve seen them do in other places, and they try to kind of negotiate around concerns that the US has, and its kind of a bit of an in-between dynamic. That’s where we currently are. And unfortunately, I think the most likely outcome is one of the last two. I think a ceasefire looks less likely these days. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. And speaking of, there were reports that Hamas had agreed to a ceasefire deal that was mediated by the Egyptians and the Qataris, only to be followed by conflicting accounts, whether if the Israelis would accept Hamas’s condition, what prevented that agreement from moving forward? And you’re saying that the likelihood of that is tough at this point? What do you think would be needed to get to that point? 


Ben Rhodes: Based on reports, there’s a couple of issues that are still in play. You know, one may have to do with the sequencing of when are Israeli hostages released in exchange for exactly how many Palestinians. That’s a solvable problem, hopefully in a negotiation. I think the bigger philosophical concern is, by all accounts, Israel wants this to be a pause for 40 days. And then perhaps they could consider negotiating some further exchange. But this core dynamic, Hamas wants the war to end. Israel doesn’t. That, to me, is the obvious substantive problem and challenge. The US is in a very strange position [laugh], I should say, because, you know, we’ve welcomed the Israelis for accepting what we termed a generous offer from their perspective. And yet we’re against the military Operation Rafah. So we’re kind of taking both sides in the negotiation, and I’m not sure how to square that. I think from the Israeli side, they’re going to want to go into Rafah. From their perspective, that’s where Hamas is. From the US side, there’s like a million and a half Palestinians there. You can’t really go in Rafah without causing catastrophe. So that to me, they’d have to get pretty creative to solve that difference. 


Priyanka Aribindi: On Wednesday, the State Department was all set to release findings of an investigation into whether or not Israel had violated international humanitarian law. According to Reuters, the US has indefinitely postponed that report. So what caused that delay and what would the potential implications of that report be? 


Ben Rhodes: My guess is that inside the administration, there’s some argument being made by some people. This isn’t the right time to do this. You know, this could upset the delicate ceasefire negotiations or a timing related argument. Essentially. I don’t agree with that at all. [laugh] You know I’m generally giving analysis here, but in this case, like it’s the law, we’re supposed to file these reports and I’m sorry if it’s inconvenient, but the reason it’s inconvenient is because Israel, more likely than not, has violated war crimes. So when’s the right time? You know, if you’re waiting for the right time to do that, there’s always going to be some excuse for why it’s not the right time. And this is a real problem because the consequence would be, look, U.S. laws, multiple U.S. laws have restrictions on the use of military assistance from the United States for war crimes, or somebody receiving U.S. military assistance and then ignoring efforts to get humanitarian aid in. That’s also against U.S. law, and it triggers a stop in that assistance, we have laws for a reason. We should just follow them. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Biden has also said that the student protests over Gaza have had no effect on his policy decisions. We have a clip of his remarks last week. 


[clip of unnamed news reporter] Have the protests forced you to reconsider any of the policies with regard to the region? 


[clip of President Joe Biden] No. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Do you think that that is true? And do you think that these protests are moving the needle at all? 


Ben Rhodes: I don’t see like a before or after in terms of the really uptick in protest and Biden policy. That said, though, the general political concern that this is a problem in the Democratic Party and the protests are part of that, I think has contributed to the Biden administration being much more critical of Israel publicly, even if they until this recent suspension of a military package, even though that hasn’t changed necessarily their policy, it’s a rhetorical posture has changed. In some ways the protests gave Joe Biden a more kind of comfortable place that he likes to go in terms of actually condemning the protests. You know, he seemed pretty comfortable, you know um, calling out the kind of anti Semitic aspects and elements to the protests rather than engaging the substance of the protests, you know, wouldn’t be hard for him to say, like, hey, I condemn you know, it’s certain actions I’ve seen taking over buildings or whatever it is I condemn certain anti Semitic language I see. That said, I want to say to the protesters who are just out there because they sincerely care about what’s happening to the Palestinian people. I hear you, I see you, I share your concern. Like he hasn’t done that in the same way that he–


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Ben Rhodes: –hasn’t spoken kind of to Palestinian suffering in ways that are anywhere near the motion he shows when he speaks to Israeli suffering and I, you know that I think is the problem. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And Juanita, that was my conversation with Ben Rhodes, former U.S. National Security Advisor and co-host of Pod Save the World. 


Juanita Tolliver: That’s the latest for now. We’ll get to some headlines in a moment, but if you like our show, make sure you subscribe and share with your friends. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break]




Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s wrap up with some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Former President Donald Trump has caught another lucky legal break, this time in his election interference case in Georgia. On Wednesday, a state court agreed to hear an appeal over whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis can continue to lead the case. The lower court judge overseeing the case ruled back in March that she could. At issue is Willis’s former romantic relationship with the attorney who she originally hired to handle Trump’s prosecution. The appeal increases the chance that Trump and his 14 co-defendants in the case won’t face a trial in Georgia until after the November election, though the judge on the case has said that he’ll continue with pretrial motions. It also reopens the possibility that Willis could be kicked off the case, which would delay it even more. It was Trump’s second legal victory of the week. That is two too many if you’re asking me. On Tuesday, the Florida judge overseeing his federal classified documents case delayed that trial indefinitely. 


Juanita Tolliver: House lawmakers voted to save Republican Speaker Mike Johnson after far right Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene attempted to oust him. [clip of booing] You know, whoever said that last boo, that was a vibe. [laughter] The house erupted with booing on Wednesday as Greene took the floor to air her grievances and force a vote on whether or not Johnson should keep his speakership. The House overwhelmingly defeated her with a final vote tally of 359 to 43. Green threatened to trigger the vote for weeks, but unseating Johnson was always a long shot. Not many Republicans were on Greene’s side to begin with. In the end, only ten of them voted with Greene, and House Democrats made good on their promise to come to Johnson’s aid if Greene tried to kick him out of his chair. The Louisiana Republican said this week that he plans to run for the top spot in the House again if Republicans keep the House. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I think it’s nice to have a sweet aspiration to hang on to, no matter how unrealistic, sir. Six more Republican led states filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration on Wednesday to challenge the expanded protections for LGBTQ students under the landmark civil rights law, title nine. Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota all want to block a new rule finalized by the education department last month that bans, quote, “discrimination based on sex stereotypes, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.” The suit from the state follows four other lawsuits filed last month, and brings the total number of states suing over the title nine changes to more than 20. All of the states are claiming that the Biden administration’s rules change weakens the title nine protections designed to help women, which is deeply, deeply ironic since most of the same states were all too happy to take away or severely restrict access to abortion. Anyway, the Education Department’s changes to title nine do not cover trans student athletes. The department says its rulemaking process on that issue is ongoing. I would strongly advise the people from these 20 states to find a hobby of some kind. Go for a run. Take up pickleball. Like there are a lot of things we could be doing with our time, not this. 


Juanita Tolliver: I love how you’re thinking of creative outlets. I’m like, maybe produce something that people in your constituencies actually need. 


Priyanka Aribindi: No Juanita, they’re incapable of doing that. 


Juanita Tolliver: Is that too hard? 


Priyanka Aribindi: I, lets–


Juanita Tolliver: Okay. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. 


Juanita Tolliver: Okay. 


Priyanka Aribindi: That’s so far beyond–


Juanita Tolliver: Noted. 


Priyanka Aribindi: –their capabilities. Like they got to move on to the pickle ball. 


Juanita Tolliver: And finally, independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr made headlines on Wednesday when he claimed that a doctor found a dead worm in his brain. According to a 2012 deposition reviewed by The New York Times, the 71 year old has experienced multiple health scares over the past decade, including atrial fibrillation, a heart condition that can cause strokes. He developed mercury poisoning at one point after eating too many tuna sandwiches. 


Priyanka Aribindi: [laugh] Why’d you say that the funniest way possible? 


Juanita Tolliver: And he’s also had memory loss and brain fog for more than a decade. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Wow. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah. RFK Jr said that he consulted multiple neurologists about his cognitive issues, and they said he had a tumor of some kind after noticing an odd dark spot on many of his brain scans. But another doctor called him with a different diagnosis. He explained to RFK Jr he believed it was a parasite that got into his brain and died after eating a portion of it. It being a portion of RFK Jr’s brain. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Excuse me. 


Juanita Tolliver: Wow. Okay. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I can’t even I’m just sitting here blinking because that is so crazy. 


Juanita Tolliver: According to the Times, after a series of tests, quote, “doctors ultimately concluded that the cysts they saw on scans contained the remains of a parasite.” RFK Jr doesn’t know how the worm got into his head in the first place. He thinks he may have picked it up during a trip to South Asia years ago, but he insists that the worm had no lasting effects on him. I mean, I don’t know if he got a doctor’s note for that last clause. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Didn’t he go to the doctor because he was having all these cognitive issues and–


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Priyanka Aribindi: –memory loss and brain fog? What’s going on? The worm may or may not have eaten a portion of his brain. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah. The campaign is ultimately saying he’s fine. It’s all good. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Nothing to see here. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And those are the headlines. 




Priyanka Aribindi: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Don’t eat too much tuna and tell your friends to listen. 


Juanita Tolliver: And if you’re into reading and not just decade old divorce depositions like me, What a Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Juanita Tolliver.


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


[spoken together] And congrats to Marjorie Taylor Greene on her latest failure.


Juanita Tolliver: You know, keep them coming friend, you’re doing wonders for your party’s chances of keeping–


Priyanka Aribindi: Truly. 


Juanita Tolliver: –the house in 2024. 


Priyanka Aribindi: More, more. [laughing] [music break] What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our associate producers are Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf. We had production help today from Michell Eloy, Greg Walters and Julia Claire. Our showrunner is Erica Morrison, and our executive producer is Adriene Hill. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.