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Should Biden Step Aside? Wajahat Ali & Norman Solomon Debate Democratic Options for 2024 Race

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Image Credit: X / @POTUS (center photo)

As calls mount for President Joe Biden to step down as the presumptive Democratic Party nominee over concerns surrounding his mental and physical capacity to lead, we host a debate between two longtime members of the Democratic Party: Wajahat Ali, who recently authored a column subtitled “Biden Is Very Old and Out of Touch, and Here’s Why You Should Vote for Him,” and Norman Solomon of RootsAction.org, which sponsors the Step Aside Joe campaign. At 81 years old, Biden is already the oldest person to ever serve as president of the United States. His recent public appearances, including a poor performance at his first presidential debate against presumptive Republican Party nominee Donald Trump — who, if reelected, would be the second-oldest person to ever serve as president — have renewed questions about his health and ability. Biden has thus far resisted pressure to suspend his reelection campaign, even as the U.S. liberal coalition fractures over his candidacy. Ali says that now is the time to unite over a candidate to prevent a second Trump presidency, and that without a clear alternative, only Biden can run a winnable campaign. Meanwhile, Solomon argues that Biden’s performance thus far has already critically weakened his chances of winning the election. “Uniting behind a losing candidate is a bad idea,” he says.

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StoryJun 28, 2024“Step Aside Joe”: After First Pres. Debate, Democrats Reeling from Biden Missteps & Trump Lies
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: President Joe Biden faces high stakes when he holds a news conference this evening after hosting NATO leaders in Washington, D.C. It will be Biden’s first solo news conference this year. This comes as Biden is facing growing calls to quit the 2024 presidential race, after his disastrous debate performance two weeks ago.

On Wednesday, Senator Peter Welch of Vermont became the first Democratic senator to publicly call on President Biden to step aside. Welch penned an op-ed in The Washington Post headlined “Biden should withdraw for the good of the country.” He wrote, quote, “I deliver this assessment with sadness. Vermont loves Joe Biden. President Biden and Vice President Harris received a larger vote percentage here than in any other state. But regular Vermonters are worried that he can’t win this time, and they’re terrified of another Trump presidency.” Senator Welch is the 10th congressional Democrat to call on Biden to step aside.

This comes after Colorado Senator Michael Bennet told CNN Tuesday he doesn’t think Biden can win reelection, but stopped short of calling for his withdrawal.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET: Donald Trump is on track, I think, to win this election, and maybe win it by a landslide, and take with him the Senate and the House. And so, for me, this isn’t a question of polling. It’s not a question of politics. It’s a moral question about the future of our country.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: On Wednesday, The New York Times published an op-ed by actor George Clooney headlined “I Love Joe Biden. But We Need a New Nominee.” Clooney co-hosted a major fundraiser for President Biden last month and wrote, quote, “It’s devastating to say it, but the Joe Biden I was with three weeks ago at the fund-raiser was not the Joe 'big F-ing deal' Biden of 2010. He wasn’t even the Joe Biden of 2020. He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate,” Clooney wrote.

Meanwhile, former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday she’s waiting for Biden to make a final decision on running.

This all comes as Biden insists he’s staying in the race and has been backed by many progressive congressmembers, even some who are openly critical of his support for Israel’s war on Gaza. This includes Congressmembers Ilhan Omar, who told The Washington Post, quote, “He’s been the best president of my lifetime, and we have his back,” and also Congressmembers Ayanna Pressley, Cori Bush, Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, Senator Bernie Sanders and New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who spoke to reporters Monday.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: I’ve spoken with him extensively. He made clear then, and he has made clear since, that he is in this race. The matter is closed. He had reiterated that this morning. He has reiterated that to the public. Joe Biden is our nominee. He is not leaving this race. He is in this race. And I support him. Now, what I think is critically important right now is that we focus on what it takes to win in November, because he is running against Donald Trump, who is a man with 34 felony convictions.

AMY GOODMAN: The majority of the Congressional Black Caucus has also supported Biden’s plan to stay in the race, but this week one of its members said vulnerable Democrats may want to distance themselves from Biden. This is Congressmember Marc Veasey of Texas.

REP. MARC VEASEY: I think they need to do whatever it is they need to do in order to come back and be reelected. Yeah. And so, if they need to, you know, distance themselves, then that’s what they need to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the Republican-led House Oversight Committee issued subpoenas for three senior White House aides to testify about Biden’s health. Today, Senate Democrats will have a special caucus lunch with top Biden officials to discuss the path forward.

For more, we’re joined by two guests with different views on what this path forward should be.

Here in New York, Wajahat Ali is with us. He’s a columnist for The Daily Beast. His podcast is Democracy-ish, and his Substack is called “The Left Hook,” where his recent pieces are headlined “Democracy or Dictatorship: Choose One” and “Why Is the Punditocracy Trying to Get Rid of Biden?” His piece for The Progressive magazine is headlined “Biden Is Very Old and Out of Touch, and Here’s Why You Should Vote for Him.”

And in San Francisco, we’re joined by Norm Solomon, the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, co-founder of RootsAction.org, which sponsors the Step Aside Joe campaign. They’re calling for an open convention in order to defeat Trump. Norm Solomon’s most recent book is titled War Made Invisible: How America Hides the Human Toll of Its Military Machine. He’s been an elected delegate at three past Democratic National Conventions. And by the way, we’ll be both at the Republican convention with two-hour daily coverage from Milwaukee and at the Democratic convention with the same two hours across the week.

Wajahat Ali, let’s start with you. Why do you believe that President Biden should remain in the race?

WAJAHAT ALI: Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me. It’s the first time ever. I feel I finally made it in America. This is why my parents came from Pakistan. So this is a big deal.

Listen, I have no fidelity to Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Gretchen Whitmer — throw any name you want out there. I have fidelity to this flawed democracy. And I think all of us agree right now this flawed democracy is under attack and under threat from a very real right-wing fascist movement, which is MAGA. Democracy or dictatorship? I also know the lessons that we can learn from Hungary. Where democracy failed is, when the pro-democratic coalition, the pro-democracy coalition splinters and falters, what happens? Fascism wins.

And I also know, as of this week, after two weeks of breathless coverage, where we’ve talked about Joe Biden being old, and that terrible, no-good debate — “Have you heard about that debate?” “Did you hear how old he is?” For two weeks this has been the nonstop news. It’s like the dog from Up: “Squirrel? Squirrel?” That’s what the corporate media has talked about nonstop, and it has influenced public opinion.

I do know that Joe Biden says he’s still in the race. The ticket, as of right now, is Biden-Harris. Harris is on the ticket. She is the VP. And I also know the CBC, the Congressional Black Caucus, is behind Joe Biden. You know that the progressives are behind Joe Biden. I understand the risk. We have four months left. It’s still a winnable race. A lot can happen in four months.

And I also know this about the polls. Everyone on Sunday said, “I don’t know. National Rally looks like it’s going to win.” What happened in France? What happened in U.K.? 2022 elections, it was going to be a red wave, red trickle. Special elections, when it came to abortion, when abortion was on the ballot, overwhelmingly, abortion rights won. I still think it’s within the margin of error.

And the last thing I’ll say is I know Norm cares, and I care also, about saving this democracy. But if you’re telling me right now, if Biden is in the race, and the CBC is behind him, you’re going to jettison him, force him out, then in a month, in the Democratic convention, put Harris with some random white person — because that’s what it’s going to be — and then pitch this to the American public, that is even more risky and, I believe, a recipe for disaster. Go on offense. You have four months. You have a winning campaign. We just found out about Project 2025, thanks to Taraji Henson. You have four months. Attack, attack, attack. This firing squad is going to weaken us, and we’re going to lose.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Norm Solomon, if you could respond to what Wajahat said and why you think that Biden should step aside?

NORMAN SOLOMON: It’s precisely because of the threat of the right-wing, neofascist Republican Party that we need to recognize reality. You know, magical thinking will not work. Hope will not work, when the facts are so daunting and so frightening, frankly, in terms of the prospects for preventing Trump from getting a second term. It’s very important that we not replicate Joe Biden’s denial. And I’m hearing a lot of that. The idea that because Joe Biden wants to continue, because Joe Biden, without being credible, claims that he is in a good position to defeat Trump, I think that’s a terrible mistake to internalize that.

It’s not just about the debate. A week ago in his ABC News interview, we had a situation where Joe Biden made fantastic claims about his political standing which were basically contradicted by facts. And we should not get into alternative facts, trying to, hopefully, through our wishful thinking, come up with different circumstances. Of course we wish that Trump wasn’t running away with this in swing states, but right now the latest polling indicates that it’s getting worse and worse.

We also can consider what Joe Biden himself said last week, and this is really significant. He said that he should no longer do public events after 8 p.m. Can you imagine, in the last months of a presidential race, the standard-bearer of the Democratic Party saying, “I can’t do any public events after 8 p.m.”? I don’t even know if that is the Eastern time zone, if he’s campaigning in Arizona or Nevada. It’s, frankly, borderline — or, over the borderline of preposterous that, out of his own mouth, the prospective nominee of the party is saying, “Oh, my lesson from my recent problems is I can’t campaign in public after 8 p.m.”

When we look at the latest polling, it’s gotten worse. In the last day, the swing states are going further south. We had PBS reporting last night — and I’m quoting here — “New polls show Biden slipping further behind Trump in critical swing states.” And it’s not only that. It gets even worse. Politico reported yesterday that New York is now in contention, which is, frankly, mind-blowing, the deep blue state of New York, with Biden at the top of the ticket. And I’m quoting here: It’s now “a competitive race in deep blue New York. Elected officials, union leaders and political consultants are panicking over … a steady erosion of Biden’s support” in New York.

Really, the idea that we should stick with Biden, I think, is a terrible mistake. There are members of Congress who are under all sorts of pressure. Our job is to not replicate or imitate those inside the bubble who are pledging their allegiance to Joe Biden. Our job is to not imitate Biden’s yes-men and yes-women around him. We’re not yes-people when it comes to people in power who are leading us down a garden path to disaster. You know, there’s the cliché that you don’t switch horses in midstream. But if you’re astride a horse that’s drowning, you’d better switch horses. It’s true there’s an unknown. If we can induce or force, whatever you will, Biden to step aside, it’s an unknown. But what is known is that the prospects for Trump to triumph over a Biden-led ticket are huge.

And let me mention that — and this has not gotten enough attention — that in his op-ed, George Clooney said yesterday that he had talked with senators, representatives and governors — all Democrats — and every single one of them told him they believed that with Biden at the top of the ticket, the U.S. government will fall into the hands of the Republican Party, that Trump would win the White House, the Republicans would win the Senate and retain the House. That is an absolute prescription for neofascism in this country. And I think we’ve just got to be real about this. And I’ll just point out something that George Clooney said, which I think is quite relevant — I’m quoting here: “We can put our heads in the sand and pray for a miracle in November, or we can speak the truth.” And it’s a responsibility for progressives and others who want to stop fascism to speak the truth and demand that Biden get off the ticket.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Wajahat, if you could respond to Norm? And, you know, you mentioned earlier — you drew the analogy between Hungary’s Orbán and Trump. But, you know, there’s another argument that’s being made also on the left by progressives that the analogy is not so much with Orbán as it is with Marine Le Pen in France. And those elections were called — they took a month, basically. They were snap elections. So, there are a couple of things. One, do you agree that the analogy is that? And the second thing is, another argument that’s made against replacing Biden is that it’s only — the election is only four months away. On the other hand, four months is an extremely long time compared to elections that are held elsewhere, including just now we’ve seen in the U.K. and in France.

WAJAHAT ALI: Yeah. So, we don’t have a parliamentary election. We don’t have multiple parties in this country, unfortunately. We don’t have second-round voting, which is why it’s that much more important that we have unity here and we have a Democratic coalition, or at least a pro-democracy coalition.

Also, when you’re talking about wishful thinking and hope, I’m a Muslim. We say ”inshallah.” To say that next month we’re going to go into the convention and, inshallah, find a ticket, maybe Harris, maybe not Harris — because a lot of these pundits, they haven’t even mentioned Kamala Harris, who’s the vice president. They’ve mentioned Whitmer, Wes Moore. They’ve mentioned Gavin Newsom. It’s like throwing darts on the board. And then you’re going to pair two people together with three months left and then trot them out in front of the American public and say, “Oh yeah, this is the new ticket, by the way.” And, oh, the person who won the 2020 election, Joe Biden, he’s still not going to come out, right? So, now you’re going to have an absolute disaster with the Democratic Party, disarray. We’re in the press. We know what’s going to happen. That’s going to be the leading news. It’s going to mean knives out. Everyone’s going to be that VP, if Kamala Harris is the president. And that is going to be driving the news.

A poll, a very good poll that I want people to talk about — Cornell Belcher, who I trust when it comes to Black voters, came out with a poll yesterday that said, in swing states, when Black voters in swing states saw the debate, their view and their position with Biden did not change. However, for those Black voters in swing states who did not watch the debate but read the breathless coverage for the past two weeks, that shifted their opinion. And I think we have to talk about this.

For the past two weeks, what has happened? The Supreme Court, stacked with right-wing extremists, decided to nuke the Chevron doctrine. The Supreme Court decided to make the next president a dictator. Project 2025 is now in the news.

AMY GOODMAN: Immunity, giving the president immunity.

WAJAHAT ALI: Yeah, yeah, immunity. Oh, sorry, “absolute immunity,” yes, for official acts. The president of Heritage Foundation, which is endorsing and creating Project 2025, said we’re in this process of a second revolution right now, and it’ll be bloodless if the left allows it. Josh Hawley just yesterday said he’s a Christian nationalist. Another Christian nationalist, Mike Johnson, approves Trump’s plan of camps. And two days ago — this is the top of my head. Two days ago, at the rally, Donald Trump said he has no idea what NATO is, this man who was president for four years. Meanwhile, Joe Biden, in front of our NATO leaders, got a standing ovation.

So, the last two weeks, imagine if our corporate press and our punditocracy talked about these threats. Don’t you think it would influence people? I think it would. But for two weeks, nonstop, we’ve talked about his age, not talking about Donald Trump, who’s done nothing for 12 days. And we’ve talked about, ah, this Democratic infighting. This is Hillary Clinton’s “but her emails” on steroids.

And I will still say, with four months left, what I took from Marine Le Pen was, the polls on Saturday said, “I don’t know. It looks bad. It seems like — it seems like, you know, she’s going to win.” At the last second, when democracy was under threat — you saw in the U.K., you saw in Brazil, you saw in France — you saw a multiracial coalition come together. And that’s what I think is going to happen still.

Norm, I know he cares. This is risky. What Norm is proposing is even more risky. I think it will sabotage the only chance we have to save this country from Trump. I have no fidelity to Biden, no fidelity to any other candidate. It’s a democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s particularly interesting you’re taking this position. I mean, the Squad has taken this position, not exactly Rashida Tlaib or Summer Lee, though Summer Lee said she would endorse Kamala Harris as a presidential candidate — she would support her. But given what’s happening right now in Palestine, in Gaza — 


AMY GOODMAN: — talk about the massive criticism of President Biden. And you were part of that. And yet —

WAJAHAT ALI: I am part of it.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet you are continuing to support him.

WAJAHAT ALI: Yes. So, I think the Biden administration has been a moral failure on Gaza. And I think we all agree — and I’m making an assumption here — that what’s happening is a genocide. I think it’s time to say it. And I also believe that he is complicit in this genocide, and this will be a stain on his legacy.

With that being said, Trump will be even worse on Palestine and every other issue. I want to remind people, at the debate — because I actually watched it, because I’m a masochist — Trump used the term “Palestinian” as a pejorative against Biden. The next day, he repeated it. When Trump was asked, “Do you support” —

AMY GOODMAN: The next day, he called Schumer a Palestinian.

WAJAHAT ALI: Schumer, yeah. And he was antisemitic and anti-Muslim and anti-Arab, right? And then, also at the debate, when asked about two states, he punted it. I also want people to remember that Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir want Trump to win.

Also, behind closed doors — and Norm quoted Biden. He said that behind closed doors that he sleeps at 8 p.m. So did George W. Bush, who was much younger. He stopped. And so did Reagan, right?

But Trump said he’ll let them finish the job, and also he’s courting Miriam Adelson’s money, who has pledged to give $100 million, provided that they can annex the West Bank. So, on Palestine, on immigration and on Islamophobia and the Muslim ban and every other issue, folks, Trump will be worse. So, this is what I’m looking at. I’m looking at the big picture. I am not excited about Biden.

And you know who else is not excited about Biden, but they did the right thing? And the last thing I’ll say is, look to Black voters, and specifically the CBC, the Congressional Black Democratic Caucus. And the reason why I’m saying that, historically, that has been the base, the bellwether of the Democratic Party. Black women, in particular, have always saved this democracy, right? They know what’s at risk. That’s why they always put their economic anxiety second to protect the nation. And you’re seeing the CBC — which is not representative of all Black voters, of course, but is a good bellwether. Stacey Abrams, who helped give him Georgia, came out for Biden. You’re seeing the Black Democrats say, “You know what? We’ve done the analysis. We looked at all the arguments. Biden-Harris is the ticket.” So, for me, that’s the bellwether.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Norm, if you could respond? Wajahat has made a number of points. If you could respond to each of them? I mean, in particular, the fact that there are progressive Democrats who have backed Biden — most of the Squad, the Congressional Progressive Caucus. If you could respond?

NORMAN SOLOMON: Yeah, the progressives in Capitol Hill, who are under pressure, they’re dealing with their own pressure situation. Reality is, for instance, polling for many months, including now, has shown that Biden’s support among African Americans and Latinos has plummeted compared to 2020. We can’t or should not blame the messengers for the bad news.

The idea that we should be unified behind a candidate who is headed for catastrophic defeat, according to virtually all of the people paying attention to the polling, where it’s going, I think that’s a mistake. I think it’s a way of internalizing conventional political wisdom. It’s a way of fearing a process where an emerging other candidate could make it possible to get out of this deep hole that we’re in. We are in a deep ditch. And Biden’s refusal to deal with reality has driven not just himself, not just his own ostensible ticket, but the entire up and down the ballot of Democrats, into a fever pitch of panic.

Now, we can say that we know better than the pollsters. We can say we know better than those who are freaking out on Capitol Hill because they don’t want to lose the Senate, because they don’t want to lose their own races in the House and Senate. We can say that we know better. But to tune out so much information, to pretend that it doesn’t matter what Biden is saying — and, by the way, there is not a major candidate for president in our lifetimes who said, “I’m not going to campaign after 8 p.m.” It’s not about taking a nap. It’s about somebody who, as The New York Times reported five days after the debate, for many, many months has, in individual interactions and meetings, as well, really concerned people, really concerned people, because his sentences didn’t end. Often his thoughts did not connect and did not have a logical conclusion. He would sort of trail off. This is the guy who’s supposed to be leading the charge for the next four months to defeat the Republican Party, to defeat Donald Trump. I, frankly, think that that is borderline absurd.

And I do believe that if we’re going to be realistic about where we are now, it’s not enough for us to make speeches, as we should, about how horrific a Trump second term would be. I completely concur with everyone who is saying that we must prevent Trump from winning again. Our huge problem right now is that President Biden is refusing to step aside. We have unknowns if he does step aside. We have knowns if he refuses to step aside. We would have a candidate who appears, from all indications, to be incapable of fighting his way back from a very substantial deficit, which has gotten worse in the last two weeks. We, whether we identify as progressives or anyone else, if we don’t want a neofascist takeover of the executive branch and all of Congress, then we have to come to terms with where we really are now.

And that question of denial, which is radiating out of the White House every day, really 24/7, from the spin masters of the White House — “Oh, it’s not so bad,” “Oh, Biden is really in control,” “What you saw, you didn’t see, during the debate two weeks ago,” “What you saw a week ago with George Stephanopoulos on ABC News, you didn’t really see it.” Who are you really going to believe: What you saw and heard, or the White House spin masters and those who are, with wishful thinking, telling us to just plow ahead behind the Biden train? There is a train wreck that is very foreseeable around the bend. And when you see a train wreck around the bend, you’ve got to pull the emergency cord. You need to do everything you can to get Biden off the ticket.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Your response to that? I mean, do you think — everybody’s priority is defeating Trump, all the people who are saying whether Biden should stay or go. Is there no candidate you can think of who would be likely more successful than Biden at defeating Trump?

WAJAHAT ALI: So, speaking about the polls, when they’ve done this magical pairing of these two magical people — right? — the greatest advantage that any pairing has is one point. One point. That’s it. So, you pair Harris with someone else, plus one. That means we’re still within striking distance. If Norm and anyone else can show me any polls that any other magical pairing other than Biden gives us plus seven, plus eight, beyond, you know, the four points of error, sure. We’ve only seen a one-point shift. As of today, the polls, it’s evened out, right? The popular vote, I think you just saw on the news today, it’s 46-46. Biden is a little bit behind but still within striking distance.

So, I think you have a small risk here, but it’s even riskier to break apart this coalition, especially after you have had the progressives, AOC, Bernie Sanders, the CBC, and Kamala Harris say, “Hey, we’re with Biden,” and the fact that Biden, after two weeks, has said, “I’m still in.” And then go into the convention, magically come up with two people — and no poll has shown me that that has a plus five, plus seven, plus 10. Four months. Unite. Fight. I believe we can win.

AMY GOODMAN: Norm Solomon, we just have 20 seconds. Your final comment?

NORMAN SOLOMON: Oh, uniting behind a losing candidate is a bad idea. I think it’s really improper to cite the popular vote, when the reality is, as we’ve seen twice in this century, it’s about the swing states. And in the swing states, Biden is tanking. So, we can talk about popular vote all we want. It’s about the battlefield states. Now New York, according to the polling, is a swing state. That’s how bad it is with Biden on the ticket. We’ve got to get him off the ticket.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. But before we go, Nermeen and I wanted to wish Nusayba a very happy eighth birthday.

WAJAHAT ALI: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Your daughter, Waj, on — for Sunday — that she has battled and defeated fourth stage liver cancer?

WAJAHAT ALI: Right before the pandemic, when she was 3, she had stage IV liver cancer. She needed a full liver transplant. An anonymous donor stepped up. His name is Shawn Zahir, no longer anonymous.

AMY GOODMAN: Because you just put out to the world, “We need a liver”?

WAJAHAT ALI: Yeah, put out to the world, and 500 people signed up to be a liver donor, mostly strangers. And one person stepped up: Shawn. And fast-forward five years, half of my brain is about saving democracy; the other half of my brain is about planning this big water balloon fight for Nusayba, my little diva, on Sunday. So, thank you so much. She’s alive. She’s healthy. She’s cancer-free. She has two costume changes a day.

And, you know, if you need hope — people need hope, Amy. Have hope, folks. We’re fighting for democracy. I have faith in us. And I see Nusayba every day, and I’m like, “You know what? We were in the darkest periods. People said she wouldn’t survive. And look at her now. She’s thriving.”

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, indeed, organ donors save lives.

WAJAHAT ALI: Organ donors — and if you’re watching right now, please, you can give a piece of your liver.

AMY GOODMAN: You can say it right into that camera.

WAJAHAT ALI: You can give a piece of your liver. The liver grows back. I had no idea. The liver grows back. You can also give your kidney. And the one beautiful thing about Nusayba’s story is, I got a message last week from someone who said, “I never knew about live donations. I follow your daughter’s story. I just got matched up, and I’m paired up with a kid.” So, imagine the lives that can be saved. If you’re watching right now, think about donating a piece of the liver. The liver, it grows back.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. And I want to thank you so much again.

WAJAHAT ALI: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Happy birthday, Nusayba! Wajahat Ali is a Daily Beast columnist and runs “The Left Hook” Substack. Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, co-founder of RootsAction.org, which sponsors the Step Aside Joe campaign.

Next up, we look at the state of the Gaza ceasefire and hostage negotiations. A framework for a deal has been reportedly agreed to by Hamas and Israel. Stay with us.

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