2020 Dems avoid this year's AIPAC conference

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.

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“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 Devi HarrisHow the media fall in and out of love with candidates Conway: Trump is 'toying with everybody' by attacking Bloomberg for stop-and-frisk comments The Hill's Campaign Report: New challenges for 2020 Dems in Nevada, South Carolina MORE (D-Calif.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersBloomberg campaign: Primary is two-way race with Sanders Warren: Bloomberg making debate will show how other candidates handle 'an egomaniac billionaire' HuffPost reporter: Sanders could win plurality of delegates but lose nomination MORE (I-Vt.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandHillicon Valley: US hits Huawei with new charges | Judge orders Pentagon to halt 'war cloud' work amid Amazon challenge | IRS removes guidance on Fortnite game currency Gillibrand proposes creating new digital privacy agency Lobbying world MORE (N.Y.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren: Bloomberg making debate will show how other candidates handle 'an egomaniac billionaire' Klobuchar campaign gets first super PAC HuffPost reporter: Sanders could win plurality of delegates but lose nomination 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 Kevin DelaneyLobbying world The Hill's Campaign Report: Four-way sprint to Iowa finish line John Delaney drops out of presidential race, Krystal and Saagar react 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 Jean KlobucharKlobuchar campaign gets first super PAC Sanders leads among Latino voters: poll How the media fall in and out of love with candidates 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 PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoDemocratic senator meets with Iranian foreign minister The Hill's Morning Report - Sanders on the rise as Nevada debate looms Congress looks to strengthen hand in State Department following impeachment MORE, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellErnst endorses bipartisan Grassley-Wyden bill to lower drug prices Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Trump declares war on hardworking Americans with new budget request MORE (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerBarr to testify before House Judiciary panel Graham won't call Barr to testify over Roger Stone sentencing recommendation Roger Stone witness alleges Trump targeted prosecutors in 'vile smear job' MORE (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Sanders on the rise as Nevada debate looms Lawmakers push back at Trump's Pentagon funding grab for wall Malaysia says it will choose 5G partners based on own standards, not US recommendations MORE (D-Calif.).

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also routinely come to the event and will do so again this year.

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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 ClintonOmar endorses progressive Georgia Democrat running for House seat Bernie Sanders's Super Tuesday problem Democrats worried about Trump's growing strength MORE spoke there in 2008, and Obama returned in 2012.

 Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBloomberg campaign: Primary is two-way race with Sanders HuffPost reporter: Sanders could win plurality of delegates but lose nomination Meghan McCain to Joy Behar: 'You guys have done a piss-poor job of convincing me that I should vote for a Democrat' 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 OmarOmar endorses progressive Georgia Democrat running for House seat Tlaib says she held Omar's hand during 'triggering' moments at Trump's State of the Union speech Key House Democrat says Perez must go: 'He doesn't lead on anything' 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.