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House passes bill to force Biden to reverse Israel arms pause

REUTERS/KAYLEE GREENLEE BEAL/FILE PHOTO
                                A view shows the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., on May 9. The House today passed a bill that would rebuke President Joe Biden for pausing an arms shipment to Israel and compel his administration to quickly deliver those weapons, in a largely symbolic vote engineered by the GOP to spotlight the left’s divisions over Israel’s conduct of its offensive against Hamas.
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REUTERS/KAYLEE GREENLEE BEAL/FILE PHOTO

A view shows the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., on May 9. The House today passed a bill that would rebuke President Joe Biden for pausing an arms shipment to Israel and compel his administration to quickly deliver those weapons, in a largely symbolic vote engineered by the GOP to spotlight the left’s divisions over Israel’s conduct of its offensive against Hamas.

WASHINGTON >> The House today passed a bill that would rebuke President Joe Biden for pausing an arms shipment to Israel and compel his administration to quickly deliver those weapons, in a largely symbolic vote engineered by the GOP to spotlight the left’s divisions over Israel’s conduct of its offensive against Hamas.

The legislation has no chance of moving ahead. White House officials said the president would veto it, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the majority leader, said it was “not going anywhere” in the Senate.

But it had its intended effect of splintering Democrats: 16 of them joined Republicans in favor of legislation that condemned their own president’s administration. The measure passed 224-187.

The vote was the latest bid by congressional Republicans to portray themselves and their party as the true friends of the Jewish state and capitalize politically on the rift among Democrats about the war. The bill effectively forced Democrats to choose between a vote that would show unequivocal backing for Israel but embarrass Biden, and one that Republicans portrayed as anti-Israel.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said Biden and his team had turned their backs on Israel by even hinting that there were limits to the U.S.’ support.

“This administration has sowed the seeds of doubt on this nation’s commitment to its allies,” he said. “Red lines are meant for our enemies. Red lines are not meant for our allies and our friends.”

During a passionate debate on the House floor, Democrats warned that the measure represented a dangerous and unprecedented attempt to limit a president’s authority to implement foreign policy. And they accused Republicans of pushing forward with it as a stunt that politicized the U.S.-Israel relationship to the detriment of both countries.

“Israel has one friend in the world; it cannot afford to have only half of one friend,” said Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif. Including language in the bill that condemned the Biden administration by name, he said, was a purposeful effort by Republicans to “get as little Democratic support as possible.”

The intense back-and-forth over the bill came just a week after Democrats rescued Speaker Mike Johnson from a Republican-led coup, illustrating the limits of the political coalition that has allowed the House to function and the speaker to keep his job.

“It is President Biden and Sen. Schumer himself who are standing in the way of getting Israel the resources it desperately needs to defend itself,” Johnson said today as he urged the Senate to take up the bill.

The measure would compel the delivery of approved defense articles and services to Israel within 15 days of enactment. It also threatens to cut off funding for the Defense Department, the State Department and the National Security Council until the arms that have been suspended have been delivered. And it would reaffirm Israel’s right to defend itself.

“It’s appalling that this legislation is necessary,” said Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., the lead sponsor of the bill. Republicans used the moment to disparage Biden.

Appearing on the floor with a poster board bearing pictures of the eight Americans still being held in the Gaza Strip as hostages, Rep. Keith Self, R-Texas, accused Biden of “aiding and abetting Hamas terrorists instead of supporting Israel.”

For weeks, progressive Democrats in Congress had been urging Biden to limit or halt arms shipments to Israel, citing the tens of thousands of civilian casualties in Gaza and the impending famine there.

Last week, Biden put on hold the sale of 3,500 bombs that weighed up to 2,000 pounds each out of concern that Israel would use them on Rafah, a crowded city in southern Gaza. But the administration has also told Congress it plans to sell more than $1 billion in new weapons to Israel.

Before the vote today, a group of congressional staff aides staged a small protest outside the Capitol, waving white flags and carrying a sign that read, “Your staff demands you SAVE RAFAH.”

“The American people are calling their members of Congress every day to demand the United States take steps to stop the assault on Gaza,” said Samantha Elghanayan, an aide for Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who said she was not speaking on behalf of her boss. Elghanayan said the vote was an attempt to override the Biden administration’s “meager steps toward civilian protection.”

In urging their members to oppose the bill, House Democratic leaders noted that the pause on a shipment of “dumb bombs” represented less than 1% of the total military support that the United States has provided to Israel since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said it was infuriating to hear Republicans expressing outrage over a delay in a tiny fraction of weaponry for Israel when they had waited almost seven months to bring to the floor a foreign aid package that included billions of dollars in aid for the Jewish state, which many in the GOP opposed because it also included money for Ukraine.

“Where was the outrage when we waited seven months to give Israel aid?” Hoyer said.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla., dismissed the bill as a “nonsensical messaging bill to distract from the fact that they blocked vital aid to Israel for six months.”

Still, Republicans were successful in peeling away some Democrats to vote for the bill. Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., said on social media that Biden’s decision to hold back any aid to Israel “makes a mockery of our credibility as an ally” and accused the president of pandering to the left.

He voted today with Republicans for the bill.

“I have a general rule of supporting pro-Israel legislation unless it includes a poison pill,” Torres said, referring to an unacceptable policy provision.

Other Democrats who joined him included lawmakers from districts that former President Donald Trump won in 2020 who face tough reelection races, including Reps. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Washington, Jared Golden of Maine and Mary Peltola of Alaska.

As Republicans accused Biden of deserting a critical ally and some Democrats joined them, others spoke passionately on the House floor in an attempt to set the record straight.

Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., said the Biden administration “continues to focus on freeing the hostages, put the onus on Hamas to reach a deal, and supports Israel’s right to eradicate Hamas. That is the position of President Joseph R. Biden. Let’s be clear about it.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.today

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