On the hill

Portman rules out quick passage of Senate Iron Dome supplement bill

‘I wish I could tell you that everybody's going to go along with it, but I think there will still be at least that one objection and maybe others,’ Portman told Ohio Jewish leaders

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Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) speaks during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee meeting to discuss committee matters on Capitol Hill on October 06, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) appeared on Tuesday to rule out the possibility of passing the $1 billion supplement to Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system as a standalone item in the Senate by unanimous consent.

Speaking to a virtual meeting organized by the Ohio Jewish Communities, Portman said that senators are exploring other options for passing the supplement, which has been blocked by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), including adding it to the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act. Senate leadership is attempting to pass the massive defense policy bill this week, but that legislation is also stalled.

“There’s a consensus really, among Republicans and Democrats, that the Iron Dome needs to be replenished, and yet you have at least one member — maybe a couple — who have blocked it from being handled under what would be unanimous consent,” Portman said. “It’s too bad… I wish I could tell you that everybody’s going to go along with it, but I think there will still be at least that one objection and maybe others. And so we’re going to have to put it in a different kind of a vehicle where there has to be a 60-vote margin, rather than unanimous consent.”

Senate Democrats had hoped that Republicans would be able to convince Paul — who is demanding that aid funding be stripped from Afghanistan and redirected to the Iron Dome supplement — to drop his objection, but lawmakers in both chambers have proposed multiple other options for passing the funding. 

Portman further alluded to the difficulties Israel Relations Normalization Act, which he sponsored, has faced in the Senate, namely opposition from former cosponsor Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who is objecting to language added to the bill supporting a two-state solution.

“That legislation is not without controversy,” Portman said. “We’ve got some people that want to amend it in ways that would be counterproductive.”

The Ohio senator also said that Iran was a frequent topic of conversation on a recent bipartisan delegation to Israel in which he participated earlier this month, and defended the effectiveness of the Trump-era “maximum pressure” sanctions regime.

“[Iran’s nuclear program is] an existential threat to the entire world. Because if you started this effort of using nuclear weapons it would quickly escalate. I think it’s worth being very tough in terms of the sanctions,” Portman said. “That’s obviously the place where we have the most leverage. And that’s the only thing I can think of right now that would be effective short of… the American people are not looking for a proactive conflict right now, I don’t believe, nor should we be.”

The senator added that the resolution of disapproval of the 2015 nuclear deal that Congress passed at the time “really wasn’t very effective” but said that if the Biden administration reenters the deal, “there may be some ways to work on that from a legal point of view.”

Portman also offered high praise for Israeli President Isaac Herzog, whom he met during the trip to Israel.

“He is more hands-on, I would say, than even previous presidents have been that I have met,” Portman said. “I think President Herzog is well respected as an objective, nonpartisan guy. He wants to improve the U.S. relationship.”

Portman also said that a conversation the group had with young Palestinians who are part of a U.S. embassy program to improve relationships between Israeli and Palestinian youth highlighted the deep separation between the two groups.

“I realized that they didn’t have much of a sense of how Israel operates and the fact that there are a lot of Arabs in Israel… and that there’s freedom of religion and freedom of speech,” Portman said. “I asked them at one point, ‘Have you ever talked to an Israeli?’ and there were kind of blank stares all around… It’s important that we provide these kinds of exchanges, but we’ve got to be sure they’re real exchanges.”

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