A number of right-wing figures have criticized President Joe Biden for hosting a barbecue at the White House at the weekend amid the heavy fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas militants.
Republican Missouri Senator Josh Hawley was one of those to condemn Biden for holding the event for White House staff and their families on Sunday, which including a live band, one day after Hamas launched it surprise incursion in what became the deadliest day of fighting in the Israel-Palestine conflict for decades.
At least 700 people have been killed in Israel, and a further 400 in Gaza, since the incursion by Hamas according to the Associated Press. Israel has officially declared war against the Islamist organization, which has been designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. and the European Union.
Hamas is alleged to have captured Israeli hostages, including elderly people and children. Israel and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also reported that American citizens may have been taken hostage. The reports haven’t yet been confirmed.
“While Hamas holds Americans hostage, Joe Biden is enjoying a picnic with a live band,” Hawley posted on X, formerly Twitter, while sharing a White House pool report noting that music “could be heard coming from the area around the Rose Garden” on Sunday evening. The pool report added that Biden and the First Lady were “hosting a BBQ” for White House executive resident staff and their families.
Scott Taylor, a former Virginia Republican congressman, added: “Given recent events, and certainly with the news of many Americans being held hostage in Gaza, I think I would have canceled the White House BBQ with the live band.”
“This weekend, several Americans were killed in Israel and several more are still being held hostage by Hamas. Today, Joe Biden called a lid at 11:34 a.m. and is having a barbecue,” political commentator and podcast host Benny Johnson posted. The term ‘calling a lid’ is used by political reporters to mean that the president will not be making any more public statements or be available to the press for the rest of the day.
C.J. Pearson, a conservative activist and commentator, added: “There are American hostages being held captive by Hamas and Joe Biden is currently having a barbecue at the White House. The case for impeachment couldn’t be more strong.”
Reacting to the criticism, a White House official told Newsweek: “President Biden has been consistently engaged in supporting Israel as they defend themselves against these brutal terrorist attacks.
“Yesterday, after another call with Prime Minister Netanyahu and ordering the American military to provide aid to the IDF to ensure they have what they need, the President held a long-scheduled event to thank the hardworking non-political staff who keep the White House running—operating the kitchens, cleaning the White House, and helping keep the complex safe.
“This date was chosen because there were not White House activities that would require their work and they could bring their families. They deserve recognition, and no small, petty comments from partisan media or elected officials change that.”
On Sunday morning, Biden spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The president expressed his “deep sympathy” for all those missing, wounded and killed during the “unprecedented and appalling assault by Hamas terrorists.”
“They discussed the taking of hostages by Hamas terrorists, including entire families, the elderly, and young children,” the White House said in a readout detailing the conversation.
“The President emphasized that there is no justification whatsoever for terrorism, and all countries must stand united in the face of such brutal atrocities.”
Biden also confirmed that the U.S. will be sending “additional assistance” to the Israeli Defense Forces as it battles with Hamas.
Update 10/9/23 at 12:15 p.m. ET; This article was updated with comment from a White House official.