Senate pledges to move quickly on Israel aid, will not wait for House

Schumer said he expects the Senate to receive a request, including humanitarian aid to Palestinians, by the end of the week

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to reporters following a closed-door lunch meeting with Senate Democrats at the U.S. Capitol October 17, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) pledged on Tuesday that the Senate will move quickly to approve a supplemental aid package for Israel, and will not wait for the still-deadlocked House to make the first move on an aid package.

“I’m not waiting for the House. We’re going to move the aid through the Senate as quickly as possible,” Schumer said at a rally in support of Israel with hundreds of national Jewish communal leaders hosted by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations at Washington, D.C.’s Sixth & I synagogue yesterday. “I do believe that if we get a strong bipartisan vote in the Senate, it will force the House — in whatever way they decide — to act.”

Schumer said yesterday at a Democratic leadership press conference that the Senate expects to receive the administration’s aid request by the end of the week, which he said will include military, diplomatic and intelligence aid to Israel, as well as humanitarian aid to Palestinians and Israelis. He said at the Jewish communal event that he’s urging that additional security aid for U.S. Jewish institutions be included in the bill.

The funding request, likely to combine Israel and Ukraine assistance and potentially other issues such as Taiwan and border security, could total $100 billion.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) said at the event that he has been working — even as the House remains deadlocked without a speaker — with congressional leaders and administration officials on measures in support of Israel. 

The first order of business for the House, Scalise added, will be passing a broadly bipartisan resolution in support of Israel. He also pledged that the House will pass legislation permanently blocking the $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds involved in a recent hostage deal and increasing sanctions on Iran’s oil production.

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) told Jewish Insider yesterday that, to combat the risk of slipping support for Israel in the U.S., “we have to call out Hamas for who they are. They are a terrorist organization and it is in their charter to kill Jews,” — a point that Schumer also emphasized during yesterday’s Senate leadership press conference.

“We need to be sure that everyone knows exactly who Hamas is,” Rosen continued. “Hamas holds their own countrymen hostage, they use them as human shields. They take away humanitarian support meant for people in Gaza, and they use it to build tunnels and weapons of war. And so we just need to expose Hamas for who they are.”

Rosen, who traveled with Schumer and other senators to Israel last weekend, told JI that, in addition to supplemental military aid, additional humanitarian aid to Gaza will be critical, as will ensuring that the assistance is not siphoned off by Hamas.

She and others who spoke at yesterday’s Democratic leadership press conference emphasized a focus on freeing the hostages held by Hamas, and said they’re in contact with leaders around the world to attempt to facilitate their release.

“We met with those families,” Rosen told JI. “One of the mothers said that, ‘We no longer live in the world with everyone else.’ Right now they live in the limbo that may never be fixed. And I will never forget how it felt to be in that room with them.”

Rosen, along with Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Todd Young (R-IN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Mitt Romney (R-UT), will be introducing a resolution today demanding the hostages’ immediate safe release, JI has learned.

The resolution lays out the scope of Hamas’ attack on Israel, “condemns Hamas in the harshest terms for its premeditated, coordinated, and brutal terrorist attacks,” demands Hamas provide medical care to hostages and release them and urges the U.S. to “lead a global campaign” for the hostages’ release.

Cardin, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, said at yesterday’s press conference his committee will take up legislation to “modernize and strengthen our relationship with Israel as it relates to armaments.” 

He also alluded to efforts in the committee to “reinforce” normalization talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and said the committee has had discussions with both countries about continuing those talks. Saudi Arabia has publicly put the negotiations on hold since the Gaza attack and stridently criticized Israel.

In the House, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-TX) said he’s drafting an authorization for use of military force for the worst-case-scenario in which the Israel-Hamas conflict becomes a broader regional war.

Schumer and other Democrats repeatedly emphasized yesterday the need for Israel to abide by the laws of war, minimize civilian casualties and help ensure humanitarian aid to the Palestinians — echoing President Joe Biden. Schumer said his delegation raised these issues with every Israeli leader they met. 

The calls come as Israel prepares an expected ground invasion into Gaza and as Hamas authorities in Gaza say civilian casualties are escalating.

Schumer and Scalise were joined at the Sixth & I event by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.

Mayorkas said that the Hamas attack would likely leave trauma that will impact the Jewish community for generations, invoking his own family’s history of fleeing the Holocaust.

“I am here to implore alertness, vigilance and preparedness,” Mayorkas continued. “I not only implore alertness and vigilance, I implore strength. The strength to live our Jewish lives and not allow fear to prevail.” 

McConnell said that, “Our message for you today is about how the United States and the entire civilized world are facing a moment that demands moral clarity. This is the time for choosing. And the choice is crystal clear. We must stand with America’s closest ally, with the people of Israel, with those held hostage by terrorists, and with their families.”

Schumer said that the stories from the Hamas attack reminded him of his own family history during the Holocaust, when family members were lined up and shot en masse by Nazi soldiers.

He pledged U.S. support to “totally eliminate the threat Hamas presents,” adding that if that threat is not eliminated, “it will come back again.”

Jeffries said that Hamas must be “decisively defeated” and “will be washed away.” He invoked the week’s Torah portion, saying that the story of Noah “remind[s] us of the role that Israel must now play in eradicating evil.”

He committed to the “aspirational goal of one day keeping a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinian people,” but said such peace will not be possible unless Hamas is “permanently eliminated from the landscape.”

Scalise said that the U.S. “will stand united with Israel and her people’s right to defend themselves from these barbaric attacks.” He also described recent demonstrations supporting Hamas as a “wake-up call” about antisemitism domestically.

“There can be no equivalence between the pure evil of Hamas and Israel’s effort to defend itself against terror,” he continued. “These terrorists must be eradicated and their Iranian backers must be punished as well.”

Noa Ben Artzi, a survivor of Hamas’ massacre at a music festival near the Gaza border, provided a tearful, chilling recounting of her experience of the attack, describing hearing her friends being shot, lying under bodies, seeing bodies blown apart by Hamas grenades, suffocating on fumes from bodies set afire by Hamas and discovering that her best friend had been killed in the attack.

Around a dozen additional House members also attended the rally.

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