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House and Senate Israel aid bills face unclear path forward

Biden has vowed to veto the House’s standalone bill, which may not have the votes to pass, while Senate Republicans will likely block a procedural vote on the Senate package this week

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U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on energy as (L-R) Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and Special Presidential Coordinator Amos Hochstein listen during an event in the Roosevelt Room of the White House October 19, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Prospects appeared increasingly uncertain for both the House and Senate’s Israel aid bills on Monday, as President Joe Biden vowed to veto the House’s standalone Israel bill while Senate Republicans signaled their intent to block a procedural vote this week on the Senate’s multi-part package, demanding further changes to long-negotiated immigration policy provisions.

The House will vote on Tuesday on the GOP-led bill, but it’s unclear if it will have the necessary support to pass the lower chamber. With the short- and long-term prospects for both bills in question, it remains unclear how or when Congress will be able to come together to approve additional aid to Israel, which lawmakers have said is sorely needed.

The administration’s veto notice described the House bill as a “cynical political maneuver” turning Israel’s security, which “should be sacred,” into a “political game.” The notice cited Republicans’ failure to include assistance for houses of worship, Palestinian civilians and Ukraine in the bill as reasons it is opposed by the White House.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) called the veto threat “an act of betrayal” that is “abandoning our ally in its time of greatest need.” He called on lawmakers to “call the president’s bluff and pass this clean aid package.”

Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-FL), one of the handful of House Democrats who’ve publicly said they’re supporting the bill, told reporters yesterday that he thinks Biden would drop the veto threat if the House’s package were the only option for approving Israel aid.

“At the end of the day, the president has to do what he thinks is best,” Moskowitz told reporters. “I don’t actually think — if three months from now this was the only bill that could pass — I don’t think it would be vetoed. But I do think the president is trying to send a strong message that this is not sufficient, that you’ve got to help our ally in Ukraine.”

The House will vote on the Israel bill under a procedure requiring a two-thirds majority for approval, potentially making its passage difficult given the White House’s opposition. Some Democrats told JI on Monday evening that they’re not ready to announce their votes, while others said they oppose the bill. House Democratic leaders have not formally announced their position, but have been critical of the bill.

“I think we’ve got to stand with the president,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) told Jewish Insider. “The Republicans are playing a bunch of sinister, divisive games. President Biden has that right. And we’ve got to stand with President Biden on this.”

Rep. Greg Meeks (D-NY), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, did not explicitly say he would oppose the bill, but told JI he is “concerned” by the lack of Ukraine, Taiwan and humanitarian aid.

“It seems to me that the speaker and Republicans are playing politics with our national security interests,” Meeks said. To attempt to pass portions of the supplemental separately, he continued, “threatens the likelihood and the probability that we can get the other things done also. It should be a package deal, in my estimation.”

J Street, the progressive Israel advocacy group, is urging lawmakers to vote against the bill.

And House Republicans are also contending with defections on their right flank, who are insisting on funding cuts to pay for Israel aid.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Bob Good (R-VA) told reporters the House “shouldn’t now just turn around and send a new Israel bill to the Senate because they didn’t like the first one. We ought to hold our ground. We ought not to be borrowing from our kids and grandkids for foreign aid, even for our No. 1 most important ally, which is Israel.”

On the Senate side, Republican opposition to the package bill grew yesterday, with even committed defense hawks expressing skepticism or outright opposing the bill. Republicans emerged from a conference meeting Monday evening saying they needed more time to review the bill, suggesting that they were likely to vote against a procedural motion to open debate on it on Wednesday, leaving the bill in limbo.

Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), the lead GOP negotiator on the border package, told reporters that fellow Republicans will demand further changes to the bill’s immigration provisions in order to support it. He indicated he might vote against the procedural motion — on his own bill — on Wednesday.

“Right now, it’s a work in progress,” Lankford said, adding, “I’m not willing to do the funeral on it,” although he acknowledged that the bill cannot pass without further revisions.

Lankford said that some of the opposition to the bill came from misinformation or misunderstandings about it, but he said some colleagues can’t be persuaded to change their minds. 

Lankford said there was no discussion in the conference about breaking the package apart at this stage. Republicans were set to reconvene on Tuesday to discuss the bill further.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), a member of Republican leadership, told reporters earlier Monday that she was unsure if the package would ever come up for a vote. She also said she was “ very disappointed” that several Republicans announced firm opposition to the package before fully reviewing it.

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) told reporters that he had concerns about the border provisions and would vote against the procedural motion on Wednesday as he continued to review the bill. But he also pushed back strongly on the idea of taking up the House’s Israel-only bill, assuming it passes on Tuesday.

“I think we have to have Ukraine taken care of as well,” Rounds said. “I know there’s a lot of people that don’t want to do that, I think it’s critical. And I think the items for AUKUS, with regard to the Pacific Rim region — this is clearly a very important part as well.”

The Senate bill also faces Democratic opposition from Sens. Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) over the border provisions and from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) over military aid to Israel. It’s possible additional Democrats will defect in response to the border legislation.

But Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) told reporters she hadn’t heard any discussion of an alternative method to pass Ukraine and Israel aid, and that she assumed that the Senate bill would pass.

“I don’t understand how members of the House can say, for years, that we’ve had a problem on our southern border and then when something happens that can fix it, they refuse to do anything about it,” Shaheen said. “I think that’s untenable.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Jack Reed (D-RI) explicitly rejected the idea of taking up the House’s Israel-only bill without Ukraine aid attached, given Ukraine’s precarious financial and military situation.

Asked whether the Senate should take up the House bill, if its own package fails, Sen. Richard Blumenthal told JI he was “going to do everything possible to get this deal done, and I’ll face alternatives if necessary.”

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