Nearly all of Connecticut’s congressional delegation is calling for “humanitarian pauses” in the Middle East as part of the U.S. strategy to ensure the flow of more aid into Gaza as well as the release of hostages captured by Hamas.
That support for a temporary halt, which aligns with a growing number of Democrats in Congress and the Biden administration, comes as the U.S. navigates the threats posed to civilian life in what could be a protracted conflict between Israel and Hamas.
No federal lawmakers from Connecticut have joined the group of Democrats in their party that is pushing for a ceasefire. They have repeatedly affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself and hold Hamas accountable for its attack on Oct. 7 that killed about 1,400 people in Israel and took a few hundred hostage.
But they are voicing concerns about Palestinian civilians’ ability to relocate to avoid Israeli airstrikes, plus the need for more access to food, water and fuel in Gaza. And they view a strategic pause in those strikes and fighting as a way of negotiating the safe release of Israeli and non-Israeli hostages captured by Hamas, which includes those with ties to Connecticut.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., was the first in the state’s delegation to publicly announce his support for a pause in the region. He recently authored a statement with nine other Democratic senators asking for swift aid to Gaza — where thousands have died — and the “immediate, unconditional release” of hostages.
Murphy has been vocal about pressing the Biden administration to increase humanitarian aid. According to the White House, the president urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ramp up the flow of aid into Gaza over the weekend. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said 100 trucks are expected to go to the area a day but believes more assistance is needed.
While neither senator supports a ceasefire, Murphy argued that Israel must conduct its operations without causing unnecessary harm to innocent civilians — something he believes the country needs to address.
“I don’t believe that holding Hamas accountable and being serious about preventing civilian harm are mutually exclusive. I don’t think you have to make a choice,” Murphy said in an interview.
“I think you have to hold Hamas accountable, but you can do that in a way that doesn’t unduly hurt civilians,” he added. “I don’t think Israel has gotten this balance right all the time. I think it’s really important for us to press Israel to do better, especially as we are considering putting money into this operation.”
Blumenthal had not joined the senators’ statement on Friday but said in an interview he supports a pause “if it helps free the hostages and provide more humanitarian aid and a corridor for Americans to escape from Gaza.”
The senator, who recently returned from a trip to Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, has been an ardent defender of Israel. He is prepping bipartisan legislation to strengthen and enforce sanctions against Iran, which has supported and funded Hamas.
But Blumenthal echoed a similar sentiment about minimizing civilian casualties and enhancing aid. He argued they are both moral and strategic interests “because Israel has to think about the day after and the numbers of additional young people who will be attracted to terrorism if their family and friends perish.”
Murphy raised a similar point about the consequences of a “long term, open-ended conflict.” He warned Israel against “potentially walking into a trap set by Hamas,” adding that he hopes other countries can learn the lessons of America’s long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The focus on humanitarian pauses illustrates the modest shift in how the U.S. sees its role in supporting Israel’s war to defeat Hamas.
Two weeks ago, the U.S. vetoed a resolution before the United Nations Security Council on a temporary halt because it reportedly did not mention Israel’s right to defend itself. The U.S. now has its own resolution seeking “all measures, specifically to include humanitarian pauses” for getting aid into Gaza.
And members of the Biden administration, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, publicly addressed the idea of pursuing such a path. But officials have said it is a work in progress as they privately talk with Israel. Netanyahu has rejected calls for a ceasefire as Israeli forces go further into Gaza.
On the House side, Connecticut lawmakers are almost all in agreement with a brief pause in fighting and airstrikes.
Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, said he has spoken with constituents about the conflict for the past three weeks. He highlighted a meeting this week with the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ chapter in Connecticut. CAIR, which advocates for Muslim civil rights, supports a ceasefire. But Larson, like others in the delegation, has not backed those calls within Congress.
“I join the Biden Administration in calling for humanitarian pauses to allow for the safe passage of civilians, secure the release of all hostages and ensure humanitarian assistance can enter Gaza without delay,” Larson said in a statement.
“I have supported and will continue to support Israel and their right to self-defense, as well as the need to prevent further loss of innocent life and ensure basic necessities are available to civilians in Gaza,” Larson added. “There is no excuse for Hamas’s actions, and it is vital to emphasize that Hamas and the Palestinian people are not one and the same.”
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District; Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District; and Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, reiterated similar positions on aligning with the Biden administration on pauses and support for Israel.
Himes said he will keep pressing Israel to defend itself “in a way that is consistent with the international laws of armed conflict and with deep regard for humanitarian concerns and minimizing civilian deaths.” And DeLauro urged people to not equate Hamas to Palestinian civilians, who have “sadly have lost communities, neighborhoods, and loved ones because of this conflict and Hamas’s atrocities.”
Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, declined to comment on whether she supports humanitarian pauses. In a past statement, she raised concerns about the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
“Two things can be true. While I condemn the horrific attack by Hamas, I am deeply concerned about the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the assault on innocent Palestinians,” Hayes said in an Oct. 14 statement. “As this war continues, international humanitarian laws must be observed and innocent civilians must be protected.”
While Connecticut Democrats are largely unified on the issue, differences have emerged within the party at large over the past few weeks.
The vast majority of House Democrats, including Connecticut’s five lawmakers, voted for a resolution last week condemning Hamas for the Oct. 7 attack. But a handful of members did not vote for the legislation.
Progressive lawmakers and advocacy groups argue that a humanitarian pause is not enough. They continue to press the Biden administration to back a ceasefire and have introduced a resolution seeking de-escalation and an immediate ceasefire in Israel and Gaza.
“War and retaliatory violence doesn’t achieve accountability or justice; it only leads to more death and human suffering,” Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., said when introducing the resolution. “The United States bears a unique responsibility to exhaust every diplomatic tool at our disposal to prevent mass atrocities and save lives.”
Meanwhile, Republicans, under the new leadership of House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., are pushing forward this week with legislation providing security aid for Israel — and separating it from other key funding priorities such as Ukraine.
Democrats appear largely opposed to the structure of Republicans’ standalone bill, which seeks to pay for it by carving out money from a Democratic bill passed last year to boost IRS enforcement. Johnson pushed back on Fox News that he is not trying “not to use [aid for Israel] for any partisan political gamesmanship.”
But Courtney and others in Connecticut’s delegation hope Congress pursues Biden’s national security funding request that packages together aid for border security, Ukraine, Israel and humanitarian aid for places like Gaza.
“Speaker Johnson’s disappointing, one-sided bill falls far short of the gravity of this moment,” Courtney said in a statement. “It’s time the House Republican majority stops putting politics above the survival of innocent lives.”
Blumenthal said he expects the GOP bill on separate funding for Israel to face resistance in the Democratic-controlled Senate, even among some Republicans who also want to approve assistance for Ukraine. He still wants both funding streams to pass together but emphasized the urgency of getting something done for Israel.
“If push comes to shove and it’s Israel aid or nothing, I would vote for Israel aid,” Blumenthal said, “with the understanding that the Senate would move forward and get some commitment the House would put [Ukraine aid] to a vote.”