On the Hill

Nearly 100 House Dems reiterate support for Israeli defense following House supplemental vote

The letter highlights support for funding for Israel’s missile-defense programs, after most Democrats voted against Republicans’ Israel aid bill

JALAA MAREY/AFP via Getty Images

A picture taken on August 5, 2021, shows an Iron Dome defense system battery, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, in the Hula Valley in northern Israel near the border with Lebanon.

After most House Democrats voted on Thursday against Republicans’ Israel supplemental aid bill, 92 members of their caucus, in a letter on Friday, expressed their support for the administration’s original supplemental request, particularly missile-defense aid to Israel.

The lawmakers’ letter, obtained by Jewish Insider and addressed to the leaders of both chambers of Congress, seems to represent an effort to counterbalance the “no” votes from most House Democrats on the standalone Israel aid bill, which also slashes funding to the Internal Revenue Service. The $14.3 billion aid bill passed on Thursday night, 226-196, mostly along party lines.

While a dozen pro-Israel Democrats supported the Republicans’ bill, House Democratic leadership actively encouraged the caucus to oppose the supplemental. Democrats have anticipated that they’ll face GOP attacks for voting against the bill.

The communique was led by Reps. Andy Kim (D-NJ), Grace Meng (D-NY) and Brad Schneider (D-IL). Some of the 12 who voted for the GOP bill also signed the letter.

The letter highlights the need for prompt assistance to Israel; lawmakers from both parties have argued that the House’s bill is dead on arrival in the Senate and will thereby ultimately slow down the provision of aid to Israel.

“We respectfully request the swift passage of the President’s request for Fiscal Year 2024 emergency supplemental funding, which includes vital procurement resources for Israel’s Iron Dome Defense System and David’s Sling short-range ballistic missile defense capabilities,” the letter reads. “While the United States took immediate action to support Israel and reduce the risk of a larger conflict in the region, this supplemental is necessary to build on that support and authorize the timely transfer of procurement funds to the government of Israel.”

The letter notes that the Israeli missile-defense systems are co-produced with the United States, meaning that the funding is a “a win-win for the United States, as they save lives and advance U.S. objectives by protecting one of our closest allies.”

In statements on the letter, lawmakers highlighted the importance of passing the president’s original emergency aid request.

“I’m helping lead this effort to reinforce Iron Dome because it has been the single best tool to protect Israeli families,” Kim said. “These defensive systems are proven to save countless lives, and Congress should act immediately to pass President Biden’s request for emergency assistance with bipartisan support.”

Meng said that “we must continue standing ready to provide additional resources to save lives” and “It is imperative we send the $106 billion emergency national security spending bill — which includes critical funding for [Iron Dome and David’s Sling] — to the president’s desk immediately.”

Kim, joined by Reps. Ami Bera (D-CA) and Sara Jacobs (D-CA) also led a separate letter, with 92 signatories — a number of them different to those on the first letter — expressing support for the humanitarian aid portion of the president’s budget request. 

“We believe that a prompt and robust humanitarian response is necessary to protect the lives of Palestinians, Americans, and Israelis — whose security will be weakened if we fail to meet the humanitarian needs in the region,” the second letter reads. “It is for this reason that we again respectfully request the swift passage of President Biden’s emergency supplemental appropriations request.”

Senate Democrats have vowed to send a comprehensive supplemental bill that includes Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan and humanitarian aid for the Palestinians — which one Republican told JI would only set up further clashes.

“Speaker Johnson has said that we won’t take up anything that combines Israel supplemental aid with anything else,” Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), a member of the Armed Services Committee who has worked frequently on Israel policy issues, told JI. “So if they send something else over to us, we’re not going to take it up.”

Lamborn also predicted that offsets will be “an ongoing issue, topic of debate” in the House, if and when Israel asks for additional aid in the future — as well as when it comes to Ukraine aid.

He predicted that “Democrats will come around eventually” to supporting the single-subject bill with the offsets, adding that “it’s possible” Republicans will approve a different approach “but I don’t see that right now.”

“If the Senate sends over a reasonable package, we would consider it,” but he said that it can’t combine Israel with a range of other subjects. He said that a clean Israel bill without an offset “would be a close call… because we want to support Israel.” He also acknowledged that emergency aid bills have typically not included offsets in the past.

“I would like to start creating a precedent where we do offset emergency aid, given the trillion dollar deficits that we’re running, but $14 billion — as much as it is — is a smaller amount compared to some of the aid packages, emergency funding we’ve done in the past,” he said.

Despite reports by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that Israeli officials have urged the U.S. to provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, Lamborn seemed skeptical of the idea. He argued that the defense funding is “the most critical thing” and suggested that Israel likely has the necessary resources to aid the Palestinians if necessary. 

“I guess if there’s no money there, we’ll consider that,” he said. “But I think the first priority for Israel’s defense, is the armaments that are necessary to keep Israel in the fight.”

In the long term, Lamborn emphasized the need to build up U.S. military supply chains to enable America to continue supplying aid to Ukraine and Israel, as well as potentially Taiwan — presenting this as a counter to arguments from some colleagues that the U.S. doesn’t have the capacity to continue to aid Ukraine.

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