Democrats running for their party’s presidential nomination in 2020 are staying away from next week’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, in what progressive groups see as a sign of a shifting political tide.
Candidates’ announcements about not going to this year’s conference come after liberal group MoveOn called on 2020 Democrats to skip the gathering, which typically attracts a who’s who in politics and foreign policy and has hosted presidential candidates in the past.
“The influx of progressive candidates confirming they will not attend — even those who have gone in years past — shows how the momentum is shifting,” Iram Ali, campaign director at MoveOn, said in a statement Wednesday. “AIPAC is clearly a partisan lobbying group that has undermined diplomatic efforts, and progressives want no part in it.”
As of Thursday evening, aides for at least eight candidates told The Hill or other news outlets they would not attend this year’s conference: Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisCDFIs have proven they're the right tool to help small business, let's give them what they need to do the job The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Omicron tests vaccines; Bob Dole dies at 98 Biden cannot allow his domestic fumbles to transfer to the world stage MORE (D-Calif.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersStudy: Test detects signs of dementia at least six months earlier than standard method The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Omicron tests vaccines; Bob Dole dies at 98 Democrats see Christmas goal slipping away MORE (I-Vt.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandEx-officials voice deep concerns over new Pentagon UFO unit Paid leave advocates ramping up the pressure on Manchin and Schumer Gillibrand, bipartisan lawmakers push to keep military justice overhaul in NDAA MORE (N.Y.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenRegulators investigating financing of Trump's new media company Warren calls on big banks to follow Capital One in ditching overdraft fees Crypto firm top executives to testify before Congress MORE (D-Mass.); former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas); South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Washington Gov. Jay Inslee; and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.
A ninth candidate, former Rep. John DelaneyJohn DelaneyMaryland Democrats target lone Republican in redistricting scheme Warning: Joe Biden's 'eat the rich' pitch may come back to bite you Direct air capture is a crucial bipartisan climate policy MORE (Md.), a centrist who is considered a long shot, is also not attending, but a spokesman said it was due to a “scheduling conflict.”
“Congressman Delaney is very disappointed that we can't attend AIPAC this year due to a scheduling conflict,” press secretary Michael Starr Hopkins said in an email. “We have attended every year since he has been in Congress and we very much look forward to being back next year.”
A spokesperson for Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharGOP Sen. Braun says abortion laws should be left up to states Klobuchar says 'best way' to protect abortion rights is to codify Roe v. Wade into law Sunday shows preview: Multiple states detect cases of the omicron variant MORE (D-Minn.) told The Hill on Friday afternoon that she would not be attending AIPAC.
Other candidates did not respond to The Hill’s queries Thursday, but no one in the Democratic field for 2020 is listed as a scheduled speaker on AIPAC’s website.
The AIPAC conference has long been considered one of the top events of the political calendar, with politicians from both parties flocking to speak there.
This year’s conference again boasts headliners from both parties, including Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoHaley has 'positive' meeting with Trump No time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Psaki: Sexism contributes to some criticism of Harris MORE, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDole in final column: 'Too many of us have sacrificed too much' Schumer steps on the gas to move Biden agenda Hoyer says Dec. 15 is drop-dead deadline to hike debt ceiling MORE (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBuild Back Better Is bad for the states Dole to lie in state in Capitol Rotunda Biden points to drug prices in call for Senate social spending vote MORE (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDole in final column: 'Too many of us have sacrificed too much' Dole to lie in state in Capitol Rotunda House to vote on Uyghur bill amid diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics MORE (D-Calif.).
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also routinely come to the event and will do so again this year.
The conference has traditionally been considered a must-stop on the presidential campaign trail. Both former President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublican Ohio Senate candidate slams JD Vance over previous Trump comments Budowsky: Why GOP donors flock to Manchin and Sinema Countering the ongoing Republican delusion MORE spoke there in 2008, and Obama returned in 2012. Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenMan sentenced to nearly four years for running scam Trump, Biden PACs Dole in final column: 'Too many of us have sacrificed too much' Meadows says Trump's blood oxygen level was dangerously low when he had COVID-19 MORE, who is widely expected to join the 2020 race but has not officially announced, spoke at the conference in 2016.
But this year’s event is kicking off amid a fraught political atmosphere, spawned partly by freshman Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Omicron tests vaccines; Bob Dole dies at 98 Pressure grows to remove Boebert from committees Omar calls McCarthy 'a liar and a coward' for reaction to Boebert comments MORE’s (D-Minn.) criticisms of AIPAC earlier this year, which were widely condemned as anti-Semitic.
“The attack on Ilhan Omar by AIPAC and their supporters thrust AIPAC into the intense heat of scrutiny,” Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in an email. “More people are now willing to compare them to the NRA, Wall Street, Big Oil, Big Insurance, and Big Pharma when it comes to big-money influence on our political system.”
“And more people are willing to call out their support for Netanyahu's corruption and right-wing inhumane policies,” he added. “Good for candidates for taking a stand, and we expect that to be a growing trend."
AIPAC has been at odds with Democratic positions in the past. The group lobbied hard against Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, and some members of the audience booed Pelosi when she spoke at the conference in 2007 and criticized the Iraq War.
More recently, progressives see AIPAC as aligned with Trump and Netanyahu, whose policies they despise. Netanyahu’s reelection campaign, for example, has sparked outrage for moves seen as anti-Arab, including making a deal with a far-right political party.
It’s unclear whether any Democratic candidates were invited this year.
An AIPAC spokesman declined to comment on whether the organization invited any candidates, as well as what the organization thinks the pressure for candidates to skip means for Democratic policies on Israel going forward.
An official did note on background that “we have not had candidates in off years in the past."
Liberal groups, though, see the decision by some Democratic candidates not to attend as a significant development.
“Certainly, I think this is a notable change from previous years,” said Logan Bayroff, communications director for J Street, noting Obama's and Clinton’s appearances.
While this year’s event has several congressional Democrats scheduled to attend, “few if any” are considered to be the party’s rising stars, Bayroff said, adding that it “does send a pretty obvious message” about AIPAC’s place among the Democratic base.
J Street, a liberal advocacy group whose stated mission is to help end the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, has not called on 2020 Democrats to avoid the conference, with Bayroff saying it’s “their choice to make." Instead, the group has urged those who do attend to denounce Netanyahu’s policies.
“There are two different ways to distance yourself” from Netanyahu, according to Bayroff: Speak out at the conference or skip it. “We’re seeing one of those outcomes play out right now.”
Updated 3:55 p.m.