House torpedoes stand-alone Israel aid bill

House torpedoes stand-alone Israel aid bill

The House on Tuesday rejected a bill to provide $17.6 billion in aid for Israel, sinking Congress’s latest effort to help its embattled Middle Eastern ally and throwing the fate of future foreign aid into question.

The tally was 250-180 — short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass the measure — with critics in both parties joining forces to quash it.

The stunning vote marked a defeat for Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who has opposed Democratic efforts to combine new Israel funding with other security provisions, including aid for Ukraine, and sought to pressure Democrats into swallowing the Israel piece as a stand-alone bill.

Instead, Democrats voted overwhelmingly against the measure, siding with their counterparts in the Senate — who are still fighting for a broader foreign aid package — and President Biden, who had vowed to veto the bill if it reached his desk.

Johnson’s gambit was also undercut by conservatives in his own GOP conference, whose opposition had nudged the Speaker to put the bill on a fast-track course — setting the threshold for passage at the higher two-thirds level — and whose “no” votes on final passage ensured it didn’t hit that mark. The conservatives were protesting Johnson’s decision not to offset the Israel funding with changes elsewhere in the budget, meaning the aid would have added to federal deficits.

On the policy, Democrats are broadly supportive of the move to provide Israel with a new round of military aid. But the GOP’s Israel-only bill excludes other provisions they favor, including humanitarian assistance for Palestinians in Gaza, help for Taiwan, security funding for the U.S.-Mexico border and new military funding for Ukraine.

Among those provisions, the Israel portion enjoys perhaps the most bipartisan support. And heading into Tuesday’s vote, Democrats were wary of separating out the popular provision that could help catalyze passage of a broader national security package in the future.

“I don’t think anybody can accuse him of being anti-Israel,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), referring to Biden. “But he knows that if we pass this, the other stuff is dead.”

Some House Republicans echoed that apprehension. House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Turner (R-Ohio) told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that he was “very concerned” about Johnson’s strategy to delink the foreign assistance provisions, for fear that Ukraine aid would ultimately be passed over.

Johnson, however, is already eyeing another go at approving the Israel aid by itself. Ahead of the vote on Tuesday, the Speaker told reporters his “Plan B” is bringing the bill to the floor next week through regular order, which would require first approving a procedural rule — a reality that could run into resistance from the same conservatives who helped kill his first effort.

Unveiled by Johnson on Saturday, the legislation would send $17.6 billion in military assistance to Israel, including $4 billion to replenish the Iron Dome and David’s Sling systems, $3.3 billion to support U.S. military operations and $200 million for the protection of U.S. citizens in the region.

The package comes in response to the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks on Israel by Hamas militants, who killed roughly 1,200 people and took 240 others hostage, according to Israeli officials. Wednesday marks four months since the assault.

Supporters of the bill, including a number of Israel’s staunchest Democratic supporters, said it was important for Congress to send a global message that the United States won’t abandon its ally, particularly after the Oct. 7 attacks.

“If you have a bill that has nothing in it except Israel, and it fails, what does that say to the rest of the world?” asked Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), a veteran Jewish lawmaker who voted for the proposal.

But most Democrats saw Tuesday’s vote as a Republican stunt, designed solely to put Democrats in a tough spot. In a letter to colleagues Tuesday morning, the top three House Democrats said the stand-alone Israel bill “is not being offered in good faith.”

“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,” they wrote.

The “clean” funding bill marked an about-face for Johnson and House GOP leadership.

The Speaker unveiled the stand-alone Israel legislation roughly three months to the day after House Republicans, joined by a small number of Democrats, approved a $14.3 billion aid package for Tel Aviv, which also included an equal amount in cuts to IRS funding — a provision that sparked cheers among conservative and howls from liberals.

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Republicans argued that the offsets would help control the ballooning deficit, even though the Congressional Budget Office found that the IRS cuts would actually add billions of dollars to the federal deficit. Democrats, meanwhile, decried the inclusion of the IRS cuts, noting that offsets are not typically required of emergency funding bills. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) refused to take up the legislation.

Yet Johnson’s removal of the IRS offset provision did nothing to bring Democrats on board. And the move infuriated conservatives, who quickly pounced on Johnson’s strategy this week. The board of the House Freedom Caucus in a statement said it was “extremely disappointing” that Johnson was “surrendering to perceived pressure to move an even larger but now unpaid for Israel aid package.”

Johnson, however, defended his reversal during a press conference Tuesday, pointing to the inaction in the Senate and the ongoing war in the Middle East.

“We understand now that in the — in the couple of months that have transpired since we passed that the first time, this situation has gotten much more dangerous. The heat has been turned up. And in that theater there — in that region, it’s a very, very serious matter. We need to stand with Israel right now, and we cannot wait any longer,” Johnson said. “And that’s why as desperate times call for desperate measures, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

The Israel-only bill was also viewed by many as a counter to the Senate’s national security supplemental, which includes $14.1 billion in security assistance for Tel Aviv in addition to Ukraine aid and tougher border security measures — the product of months of high-stakes negotiations.

House Republicans, led by Johnson, quickly bashed that deal, taking aim at border policies they deemed too lenient and expressing concerns that passing the bipartisan agreement would hand Biden a legislative win in an election year. That opposition was fueled by former President Trump, who remains the GOP’s national standard-bearer and opposes any border deal before the elections.

The Speaker cemented that opposition after negotiators released text of the supplemental over the weekend, arguing that the legislation was “even worse than we expected” and declaring it “dead on arrival” in the House.

But in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Johnson said he was not moving on the stand-alone Israel bill as a way to thwart the bipartisan Senate supplemental, which collapsed days after it was unveiled.

“We’ve been awaiting their action. We cannot wait any longer,” Johnson said. “The House is willing to lead.”

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