on the hill

Senate Dems give GOP more time to convince Rand Paul to back down on Iron Dome

Republicans are attempting to convince Rand Paul to back down from his amendment, a Senate source said

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) delivers remarks to Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra as he testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to discuss reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic on Capitol Hill on September 30, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Senate Democratic leadership wants to give Republicans more time to convince Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to drop his amendment to a $1 billion supplement to Iron Dome funding, a Senate source told Jewish Insider, even as Paul blocked two additional attempts on Wednesday to schedule a vote on the funding.

Democratic leadership is not yet ready to file cloture on the bill — a procedural tool to limit debate on a measure and start the process of bringing it to a vote on the Senate floor — because party leaders want to provide time to Republicans who “are trying to talk sense into Rand Paul,” the source said.

But as of now, Paul shows no signs of backing down, despite frustrations from others in his own party.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) took to the Senate floor in succession on Wednesday to request unanimous consent to fast-track and schedule a vote on the Iron Dome funding, in an apparent effort to increase the pressure on Paul to allow the funding to proceed. Paul blocked both requests — the second and third times he has done so this week.

“Sen. Paul has demanded that we add unrelated language to rescind funds from the Department of State and Department of Defense before he will agree to a unanimous consent decree,” Blumenthal said. “We should prevent this sacred relationship [between the U.S. and Israel] from becoming a political football. We should make sure that we preserve it as a bipartisan source of consensus.”

Blumenthal argued that Paul’s proposed amendment to the Iron Dome funding bill, which would rescind all 2022 aid to Afghanistan and shift $1 billion of it to Israel’s missile-defense system “falls on its own weight” because the Afghanistan funding hasn’t been appropriated yet.

He also noted that U.S. aid by law cannot be directed to the Taliban — Paul’s stated concern about the Afghanistan aid. “If any Pentagon official breaks that law they could go to jail,” he said. 

“Mr. Paul’s objection is unacceptable, he knows it’s unacceptable,” Rosen said. “This is no time for political games. It could jeopardize the support for our allies.”

Paul used his floor time to reiterate arguments he made earlier in the week blocking a unanimous consent request from Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) to fast-track the Iron Dome funding, emphasizing the $30 trillion national debt — ”we got here a billion dollars at a time,” he remarked — and restating his concerns about the Taliban.

The Senate also faces a number of high-priority issues that will consume substantial time on the floor when it returns from its weeklong Columbus Day recess, including government funding, infrastructure, the Democratic social spending reconciliation bill and a long-term debt limit increase. Those would make it difficult for leadership to schedule time to pass the Iron Dome funding through regular order.

The Senate could also fold the funding into the year-end defense appropriations package, but that would likely frustrate House Democrats who eschewed that approach last month. There is also no guarantee that the defense appropriations process will otherwise be completed by the end of the year.

Also on Thursday, staffers for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) revealed that Sanders had secured a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for increased humanitarian aid to Gaza in 2022 in exchange for Sanders’s support for Iron Dome.

In a letter to Schumer, Sanders said the Iron Dome aid was “unquestionably a good thing, and something I support” but that “it would be irresponsible if we do not at the same time address the enormous destruction and suffering that that war caused the Palestinians in Gaza.” Sanders went on to request that an equal amount, $1 billion, be provided for assistance to Gaza.

A source close to the negotiations downplayed the significance of this agreement, telling JI that Schumer and Sanders have not reached a deal on a specific amount for Palestinian aid. Schumer has traditionally supported humanitarian aid, and cosponsored the Taylor Force Act, which cut off most direct aid to the Palestinian Authority until it ends payments to the families of terrorists.

Sanders’s request is an $850 million increase over the total $150 million the U.S. provided to Palestinians for 2021 and would almost certainly fail in the Senate. The Senate Appropriations Committee has not finalized a draft foreign affairs funding bill, although the House Appropriations Committee has proposed a total of $225 million in Palestinian aid for the West Bank and Gaza combined.

Sanders is not the first Democrat who has proposed linking Iron Dome aid to increased Palestinian aid. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) argued for a similar strategy, but told JI he would not “certainly” not block passage of the Iron Dome funding.