8 C
New York

House GOP fails to pass Israel package as Congress’ impasse continues


The House on Tuesday failed to pass a bill that sought to provide billions of dollars in military aid to Israel, furthering the impasse over how to address some of the United States’ top national security concerns in a Congress increasingly paralyzed by political infighting.

The vote was 250 to 180 in favor, but the legislation required a two-thirds majority to pass.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) called a vote on the $17.6 billion legislation, pitching it as a GOP counteroffer to a more sprawling Senate bill that also includes money for Ukraine, Taiwan and U.S. border security. Johnson declared earlier that the Senate measure would be “dead on arrival” should it reach the lower chamber, with many Republicans arguing it does not go far enough to address illegal immigration.

The stand-alone House bill included funds only for Israel and U.S. forces in the Middle East — priorities, Johnson said earlier Tuesday, that must be “decoupled” from other national security issues.

Supporting Israel remains a priority for the Biden administration and lawmakers of both parties as the war in Gaza continues and American troops in the region face escalating attacks from Iranian proxies.

But the GOP bill, proposed by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), was condemned by many Democrats — including staunch supporters of the Jewish state — who called it a “political stunt” that has “little to do with Israel’s right to self-defense.”

“We should reject this unserious effort,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), the House Appropriations Committee’s top Democrat said on the House floor ahead of the vote. “The majority has opted to consider a bill that we know the President will veto. … This accomplishes nothing and delays aid getting out to our allies and providing humanitarian relief.”

Tuesday’s vote comes days after Senate leaders unveiled a $116 billion bill that includes funding for all of the administration’s national security priorities and a GOP wishlist of immigration reforms. It is the product of months of bipartisan negotiation that began when Republicans said they would support additional Ukraine aid only if Democrats agreed to dramatic new immigration restrictions.

Support for the Senate bill, however, has swiftly fallen apart. Former president Donald Trump, Biden’s likely opponent in this year’s presidential election, has mischaracterized contours of the legislation, and urged other Republicans not to back it even before the bill text was released over this past weekend.

Calvert, the House bill’s sponsor, said his proposal was a “clean bill” devoid of less-popular national security provisions. “Assertions that this bill plays politics are patently false,” he said on the House floor shortly before the vote. “We have an opportunity today to come together and send a strong message: the United States stands with Israel,” he said. “The only people making it political are those who oppose it.”

Johnson, speaking at a news conference earlier in the day, suggested that after Israel is “taken care of,” lawmakers would “deal” with the other issues. “We have to deal with these measures independently and separately. I think they merit that,” he told reporters.

The negotiated Senate proposal did not contain “real border security reform,” he said, “and so that’s why it’s a nonstarter. They did not fulfill the requirements and the needs of the country.”

Support for Israel has remained strong on Capitol Hill despite growing angst among progressive Democratic voters as the death toll in Gaza has surpassed 27,000 — mostly women and children, according to local health officials — and Israel has hindered Palestinians’ access to food, water and medicine.

The Israel-only bill marks the second Republican attempt in two months to split the assistance for America’s closest Mideast ally from Biden’s larger supplemental funding request.

Some of Israel’s most vocal Democratic backers, including Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.), signaled they would vote in favor of the bill despite their support for the larger national security package, because, as Moskowitz explained in an interview, Congress has proven too “chaotic” and “unpredictable” to count on it passing much else. “I think there’s a plausible scenario that if this dies, everything is dead,” he said earlier in the day, referring to the money sought for Ukraine aid and border security.

Ahead of the vote, dozens of lawmakers, including Democratic leaders and members of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, said they would reject the bill.

“We are prepared to support any serious, bipartisan effort in connection with the special relationship between the United States and Israel,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), Democratic whip Katherine Clark (Mass.), and Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (Calif.) wrote in a “Dear Colleague” memo Tuesday ahead of the vote.

But the stand-alone legislation “is not being offered in good faith,” they said. “Rather, it is a nakedly obvious and cynical attempt by MAGA extremists to undermine the possibility of a comprehensive, bipartisan funding package that addresses America’s national security challenges in the Middle East, Ukraine, the Indo-Pacific region and throughout the world.”

It’s unclear how lawmakers will proceed.

National security experts and Ukraine advocates on Capitol Hill have warned for months that fresh military assistance for Kyiv is perhaps the most critical priority contained in the emergency spending package Biden proposed months ago. It is also the most endangered, as more Republican lawmakers cite skeptical voters for their fading willingness to help the embattled former Soviet republic.

Lawmakers from both parties also have long complained about America’s immigration system, with the Senate-brokered deal representing one of the most significant bipartisan reform efforts in decades.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the Republican conference had concluded there was “no real chance here” to turn the larger national security bill with its negotiated border deal into law, given Johnson’s opposition. In a startling pivot, McConnell and several other Senate Republicans — who said weeks ago that they would not approve Ukraine aid and other national security funding without a border deal — suggested instead that they might proceed with a bill to aid Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan but that now excludes border provisions.

Several other Republicans, including Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Todd Young (Ind.) also voiced support for the idea.

McConnell said it was up to Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to decide how to “repackage” the Senate bill after the vote on it likely fails Wednesday.

Schumer did not directly rule out the proposal, but said Democrats were angry and frustrated with Republicans’ about-face on a deal the GOP had explicitly requested. Johnson, too, initially opposed the idea of moving on Ukraine funding without significant reforms to border policy.

“They just don’t have the backbone, the guts, the spine to resist the blandishments of Trump, even when they know he’s wrong,” Schumer said at a news conference Tuesday.

Related articles

Recent articles