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WFP State of the Union Response Shows Biden’s Shortfalls on Gaza, Immigration

WFP member Nicolas O'Rourke decried Democrats who want to "emulate" Republicans' "inhumane policies."

Nicolas O'Rourke speaks at a campaign event.

Shortly after President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Thursday evening, Philadelphia city council member Nicolas O’Rourke delivered the Working Families Party (WFP) response.

O’Rourke, who made history last fall alongside fellow WFP member Kendra Brooks by ousting the final two Republican at-large members from the Philadelphia city council in the city-wide election, condemned right-wing approaches to lawmaking — particularly the Trumpism that has taken hold of the GOP. He also expressed frustration about the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza and its inhumane immigration policies.

O’Rourke’s selection as the WFP responder to Biden’s State of the Union address was due to the “moral clarity and strategic vision” he would bring in urging the president and lawmakers in Congress to deliver a more progressive vision, WFP National Director Maurice Mitchell said in a press release preceding the speech.

“Anyone who wants to stop the MAGA movement in its tracks should listen to Nicolas closely,” Mitchell added.

Introducing himself as having grown up in a “proud, Black, working-class union family,” O’Rourke, who is a minister, noted that he has “joined in prayer and partnership with Christians, Muslims, Jews, Yoruba, Buddhists, and Hindus and more.”

“Philadelphians, including WFP voters, helped put Joe Biden in office in 2020,” O’Rourke said in his speech. “Tonight, we have a message for the President: Together we built a record of delivering resources and opportunities for working people and communities. But that work is not only unfinished. It is imperiled.”

O’Rourke discussed myriad issues, including economic and social ones. Much of his speech focused on Israel’s genocidal attacks on Gaza, which have killed more than 31,000 Palestinians since October 7. O’Rourke also addressed the United States’s cruel immigration policy.

O’Rourke described the war on Palestinians in Gaza, as well as Trump-era immigration policies that Biden has continued and expanded, as “out of step with our values and endangering the coalition that elected” him as president.

“The United States has given moral and material support to the arrogant and extreme-right Netanyahu Regime as it daily wages a horrific bombing campaign in Gaza,” O’Rourke said.

“There is no military solution to this crisis,” he stated, adding that the U.S. “should not be providing unrestricted military aid to Israel only to escalate this slaughter” and instead “should be using our diplomatic weight to force start a peace process.”

That is the best path to returning hostages, ending the occupation and bringing longterm peace and security, and freedom, to every human being in that region, regardless of religion,” O’Rourke went on.

The Philadelphia council member also noted that there is a humanitarian crisis at the U.S. border — but not in the way Republicans have framed it for the past several months.

“Migrants and refugees have come to America, some fleeing dangerous, failed states that American policy helped destabilize in the first place,” O’Rourke pointed out. “Like generations before them, they are seeking to build a better life. But our broken immigration system offers no pathway for most.”

O’Rourke flatly rejected the Trump plan of “detention camps, raids, splitting families, turning away refugees fleeing for their lives.” He also decried some Democrats who now “want to emulate those inhumane policies.”

“Democrats should not follow Republicans on this. … They should lead by fixing our immigration system so that it does what it was meant to do — give people who want to come to our country and build our communities a pathway to citizenship,” he said.

O’Rourke’s warnings to Democrats and Biden on securing the progressive vote are backed by a multitude of evidence.

Within the Democratic primaries, a number of voters have cast ballots for “uncommitted” in a coordinated campaign to protest Biden’s refusal to be more forceful for a permanent ceasefire agreement. In the Michigan primary last month, more than one in eight Democratic-leaning voters backed the “uncommitted” option. The movement carried on to this week’s “Super Tuesday” primaries, with nearly 19 percent of voters in Minnesota’s Democratic contest (amounting to 11 delegates) also picking uncommitted, as well as nearly 3 in 10 voters in Hawaii’s primary on Wednesday.

Polling also demonstrates that calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza would be a winning move for Biden. According to a Data for Progress poll from last month, 67 percent of voters say they would support the U.S. forcefully calling for a ceasefire and a de-escalation of violence in the region, with only 22 percent opposed.

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