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SMOKE SIGNALS

Republicans signal concerns about aid to Palestinians, Ukraine in Israel funding request

There are some early signs of opposition for President Joe Biden’s $106 billion supplemental request, which includes $13.3 billion in aid to Israel

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Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) speaks with reporters after attending a closed-door, classified briefing for Senators at U.S. Capitol Building on February 14, 2023 in Washington, DC.

President Joe Biden’s $106 billion supplemental funding request, announced on Friday, is running up against early opposition from some Republicans in both the Senate and House, who are voicing concerns over Biden’s requests for humanitarian aid for the Palestinians and additional military aid for Ukraine, among other subjects.

In addition to $14.3 billion for Israel — primarily for missile-defense interceptors and additional weaponry — the president requested $61.4 billion for Ukraine, $9 billion in humanitarian aid divided among Ukraine, Israel and Gaza, as well as aid for Taiwan and funding for the southern border. The Senate is likely to move first to pass its own version of the supplemental aid package, with the House still paralyzed without a speaker.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) said on Friday, shortly after the package was announced, that Biden’s “slush fund proposal is dead on arrival” and that the Senate “will not spend… $3.5 billion to address ‘the ‘potential needs of Gazans,’ essentially functioning as a resupply line for Hamas terrorists.”

Such opposition is likely to grow among Republicans, among whom criticism of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians has been gaining steam. Several lawmakers slammed the administration for its announcement of $100 million in humanitarian aid to Gaza last week, with some seeking to cut off this aid or redirect it to Israel. Some lawmakers said that no aid should be provided to Palestinians until after the war.

Combining Israel aid with Ukraine funding could also prove problematic.

Nine Senate Republicans also urged Senate leadership last week to separate Ukraine and Israel funding, arguing that “it would be wrong to leverage support of aid to Israel in an attempt to get additional aid for Ukraine across the finish line. Furthermore, it would be irresponsible and we should not risk a government shutdown by bundling these priorities together and thus complicating the process and lessening the likelihood of a funding package.”

Such criticisms have been widespread among House Republicans as well — even those who support aid to Ukraine — and some hard-right House members vowed to vote against any supplemental package that includes Ukraine funding.

These concerns could weigh heavily in the latest round of the House speakership race, which could help shape what provisions might be part of the final supplemental funding.

Other provisions in the bill could also run up against conservative opposition — Cotton, for instance, highlighted concerns about non-military aid for Ukraine and funding for services for undocumented immigrants.

Meanwhile, it’s unclear if the 20 House progressives and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) who are pushing for a ceasefire would support additional military aid to Israel. Some on the left outside of Congress are arguing that the bill doesn’t include enough aid for the Palestinians.

That said, key Republican leaders have indicated support for at least some broad elements of Biden’s request.

Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a statement on Friday that a supplemental package should address Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan and the southern border — the broad categories included in Biden’s proposal. He added, however, that “after reviewing the President’s request, [the Senate] must produce our own supplemental legislation.”

On “Fox News Sunday,” McConnell added, “it’s an emergency that we step up and deal with this axis of evil — China, Russia, Iran — because it’s an immediate threat to the United States.”

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, highlighted his support on Friday for the inclusion of additional funding for submarine maintenance and construction in the supplemental spending.

And Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has been one of the few outspoken supporters of linking Israel and Ukraine funding in the GOP conference.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said at a press conference in Tel Aviv yesterday that the supplemental aid has “strong bipartisan support” in the Senate.

“We think that we can act in the Senate decisively and, when we can act decisively in the Senate — bipartisan — that will be a clear message to the House: they’ve got to act,” Cardin said. “We know there’s support in the House. We think we will get this done and we’ll get it done in a timely way.”

Cardin was joined in Israel by a number of other senators who will be key in advancing the president’s request, including Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME), Armed Services Committee Chair Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who lead the Appropriations subcommittee on foreign affairs. Graham led the bipartisan delegation of 10 senators, who had traveled to Israel after a stop in Saudi Arabia.

It appears unlikely that the Senate will move to advance the president’s proposed bill this week — a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing with Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is scheduled for Oct. 31.

Despite some growing signs of discord among House Democrats, Jewish House Democrats — often a fractious group with diverse views on Israel — are sticking together. They signed onto a letter on Friday to President Joe Biden with nearly 100 other Democrats reiterating support for Israel and his approach to the conflict..

The letter also describes humanitarian support for Gaza as critical, arguing that “a commitment to Israel’s security and right to respond to terror is not incompatible with a commitment to the humanitarian needs of the innocent people of Gaza.”

After the war, the lawmakers continue, “your leadership together with regional partners will be needed to create a path to a sustainable future” for Israel and the Palestinians, a conflict which “cannot be solved ultimately by any military means.”

Meanwhile, Squad members Reps. Delia Ramirez (D-IL), Summer Lee (D-PA) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) pushed on Friday for additional information on the status of civilians, including American citizens, in the West Bank and Gaza, calling for a House member briefing on the subject by the end of the day Wednesday.

Among Republicans, there are growing efforts to crack down on anti-Israel protests on college campuses. 

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and six colleagues introduced legislation to prohibit federal student loan and grant funding to schools that “authorize antisemitic events on campus.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and four colleagues sent a letter calling for students who expressed support for Hamas to face potential deportation. And Rep. Burgess Owens (R-UT), who leads a subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and 52 colleagues introduced a resolution condemning support for Hamas and other terror groups at colleges and universities.

Additionally, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) introduced a bill that would require full enforcement of U.S. sanctions on Iran, suspend presidential waiver authorities that have allowed some Iranian funds to be released, refreeze unfrozen Iranian funds and attempt to block Iran from receiving International Monetary Fund funding.

And Rep. Cory Mills (R-FL) and 18 other Republicans introduced a resolution condemning the Biden administration “for failing to fulfill the United States Government’s duty to American citizens left stranded in Israel.”

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