The long shot presidential bid of Dean Phillips is off to a rough start.
On Thursday, the three-term Democratic congressman from Minnesota held his campaign’s first town hall, in Manchester, New Hampshire, which devolved into a contentious squabble over Israel’s invasion and bombing of the Gaza Strip. The incident began when a 23-year-old Kenyan immigrant asked Phillips why he hadn’t urged a cease-fire in the conflict that has so far led to the deaths of thousands of Palestinian children.
“How do you feel about the Israeli babies?” Phillips shot back, according to The Daily Beast, referencing those killed in Israel during Hamas’s October 7 attack. “And moms, and dads, and grandmas, and hostages in Gaza who were brutally murdered. Before I answer your question, I want to understand if that empathy is across humanity, or only for Palestinians?”
While the questioner, Manchester resident Atong Chan, said that she was “completely empathetic” to the dead Israeli civilians, Phillips ultimately ignored her question about supporting a cease-fire, saying instead that he was “horrified and disgusted when I see Palestinians slaughtered,” according to The Washington Post.
“I care deeply about Palestinian lives. Rashida Tlaib, my Palestinian sister, is my friend,” he said, referring to the only Palestinian member of Congress. “I’m her Jewish brother.” But the dispute went unsettled until Chan and another audience member were ultimately escorted out of the venue, according to The Daily Beast. One attendee voluntarily left the event in protest, the Post reported. (While speaking with reporters after the event, according to the Post, Phillips clarified that he would “support a cease-fire when Hamas is no longer in a position to murder Israelis.”)
As part of his peculiar primary campaign against Joe Biden, Phillips, whose slogan proclaims, “Everyone’s Invited,” has said he will hold 118 additional town halls over the coming months. The Phillips campaign, The Daily Beast noted, has adopted a rigorous production setup to ensure the sessions can be recorded and viewed online. However, the YouTube livestream of Phillips’s Thursday town hall was curiously not archived online, even though the candidate had said he was happy the kerfuffle with Chan occurred “in front of the cameras.”
The Phillips campaign did not respond to a request for comment. But Chan raised a point shortly before she was shown the door that might explain the video’s disappearance. “This is so embarrassing for you,” she told Phillips, “and you want to make it seem like it was embarrassing for me.”
As of Wednesday, 18 members of Congress had signed on to a resolution calling for a cease-fire. Biden, meanwhile, has argued in favor of a humanitarian “pause.” Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, said Friday that he will not impose a temporary cease-fire until all of the hostages held by Hamas are released.
During his campaign launch last Friday, Phillips, 54, said, “It is time for the torch to be passed to a new generation of American leaders,” an apparent shot at Biden, who is 80, or possibly the 77-year-old Donald Trump. “It is time for a change,” the congressman added. “And I am ready to lead our great nation to a secure and a more prosperous future.”
Phillips’s decision to challenge Biden for the nomination has elicited outrage and irritation from many members of his own party, including Democrats in his home state. Tim Walz, the Democratic governor of Minnesota, even suggested last week that Phillips’s bid was a self-serving “political [sideshow].”