Risch threatens to jam up Foreign Relations panel over ICC bill

Sen. James E. Risch (Idaho), the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is threatening to bring his panel’s business to a standstill by blocking nominees and legislation unless Democrats agree to consider House-passed legislation placing sanctions on the International Criminal Court (ICC), according to Senate sources.

Risch is frustrated that the committee’s chair, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), is not immediately taking up the House bill to impose sanctions on the ICC in response to its prosecutor seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

“I look forward to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee taking up the bipartisan ICC bill in our next business meeting,” Risch posted June 5 on the social platform X.

The legislation passed the House 247-155, with the support of 42 House Democrats.

But Republicans say Senate Democrats largely walked away from negotiations over legislation to sanction the ICC after the Biden administration said sanctions on the court are not acceptable.

“There were numerous phone calls between a bipartisan group of senators who were galvanized to work on legislation regarding doing something on the ICC, but over the course of the last three weeks, that motivation seems to have gone away,” said a source familiar with the talks over legislation to sanction the ICC.

The flare-up of partisan fighting on the Foreign Relations Committee is unusual; its members have traditionally prided themselves on bipartisanship and avoiding political drama.

But the election, which will decide future control of the Senate, is less than five months away, and Republicans are accusing Democrats of trying to bury the House-passed ICC bill to give cover to President Biden and vulnerable Senate Democratic colleagues.

Punchbowl News first reported Risch’s threat to hold up nominations and legislation in committee.

Democrats, however, say House Republicans are playing politics by trying to turn support for Israel into a wedge issue, which they tried to do earlier this year when they separated military aid for Israel from an emergency foreign aid package that included $61 billion for Ukraine.

“It was deeply disappointing to see House Republicans push a divisive partisan bill on the ICC Prosecutor’s application for warrants rather than pursuing a sensible, bipartisan approach,” Cardin said in a statement.

“Defending Israel from this flawed and biased prosecution deserves the same united support we share for the entire U.S.-Israel relationship. Political maneuvering by Republicans have made a bipartisan bill more difficult, but I have continued talks with those Republicans who are genuinely interested in a bipartisan path forward,” he said.

Republicans are skeptical about whether Senate Democrats really want to get a bill responding to the ICC prosecutor to Biden’s desk, since there are only a few days left to conduct business meetings before the election.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has scheduled recesses for June, July, all of August and most of October.

Republicans believe if Schumer allowed the House-passed bill sanctioning the ICC to move quickly through committee and onto the Senate floor, they could get a result quickly.

Democratic support for sanctions dropped after the White House signaled opposition to the House bill.

“We fundamentally reject the ICC prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters in late May. “Sanctions on the ICC, however, we do not believe is an effective or an appropriate path forward.”

A spokesperson for Risch said he still hopes to take up ICC legislation at the panel’s next business meeting.

“Our staff will continue to work with the majority staff on finding a path forward to move legislation before the summer’s end,” the spokesperson said.

“Senator Risch is willing to pursue multiple avenues for the Senate to work on ICC legislation but despite several offers made by Risch and his colleagues to negotiate, Democrats have not responded substantively and we haven’t made progress,” the aide added.

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