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House to vote on clean Israel aid bill this week: Johnson

The announcement comes ahead of the anticipated release of the Senate’s combined Israel, Ukraine and border policy package, which is also set for a vote this week

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Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) gives a brief statement to reporters about the mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine after a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the U.S. Capitol October 26, 2023 in Washington, DC.

The House will vote this week on a clean, unconditioned $17.6 billion military aid bill to Israel, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) said in a letter to colleagues on Saturday, ahead of the anticipated release of the Senate’s combined supplemental aid package for Israel, Ukraine and the southern border, Jewish Insider has learned.

Johnson has for months telegraphed his concerns about the immigration policy reforms that have reportedly been negotiated as part of the Senate bill. Johnson’s announcement is likely to throw a wrench in Senate Democrats’ plans to push ahead with initial votes on the combined bill this week.

“While the Senate appears poised to finally release text of their supplemental package after months of behind closed doors negotiations, their leadership is aware that by failing to include the House in their negotiations, they have eliminated the ability for swift consideration of any legislation,” Johnson said in the letter. “As I have said consistently for the past three months, the House will have to work its will on these issues and our priorities will need to be addressed.”

Senate and House Democrats opposed the initial Israel aid bill passed by the House last year because it included cuts to IRS funding.

“Given the Senate’s failure to move appropriate legislation in a timely fashion, and the perilous circumstances currently facing Israel, the House will continue to lead,” Johnson continued, arguing that removing the funding offsets will eliminate the Senate’s “excuses, however misguided” for not taking up Israel aid as a standalone bill.

The bill includes more than $3 billion in additional funding, on top of what was included in the bill passed last year, which totaled $14.3 billion. It’s being led by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), who leads the Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Defense.

Co-sponsors include Appropriations Chair Kay Granger (R-TX), State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chair Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-NY).

The bill includes $4 billion for Israeli missile defense, $1.2 billion for Iron Beam development, $3.5 billion in foreign military financing for advanced weapons systems, $1 billion to improve artillery and munitions production, $4.4 billion to resupply U.S. weapons supplies provided to Israel, $3.3 billion for U.S. military operations in the Middle East, $150 million for additional protection for U.S. embassy personnel and $50 million for emergency evacuations of U.S. citizens from the region.

It does not include funding for nonprofit security grants, for which Jewish groups had advocated, or for humanitarian aid for Palestinians — an omission that might prompt progressive Democrats to oppose the package.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre blasted the new GOP effort, calling it a “cynical political maneuver” designed to undercut the Senate’s compromise bill.

“We strongly oppose this ploy which does nothing to secure the border, does nothing to help the people of Ukraine defend themselves against Putin’s aggression and denies humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians, the majority of them women and children, which the Israelis supported by opening the access route,” the spokesperson said. “House Republicans should instead work in a bipartisan way, like the administration and Senate are doing, on these pressing national security issues.”

Despite widespread support for Israel across the House, Johnson’s move is meeting criticism from many corners of the House. 

Pro-Israel Democrats and moderate Republicans are frustrated by the lack of Ukraine aid. Conservatives, including the House Freedom Caucus, say they oppose the bill because it doesn’t include funding offsets from the United Nations or elsewhere.

Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) described the bill as a “cynical attempt to undermine the Senate’s bipartisan effort,” but said Democrats will continue to evaluate it alongside the Senate’s package. A whip notice from Democratic leadership to members notes that the White House and Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) oppose the bill.  But more pro-Israel Democrats are ultimately likely to support this bill than the House’s last Israel aid package, which also cut funding from the Internal Revenue Service.

The Senate’s aid bill, released Sunday evening, contains $14.1 billion in assistance to Israel; $2.44 billion to support the U.S.’s Red Sea operations; $10 billion for humanitarian aid to Gaza the West Bank and Ukraine; and $400 million for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program. 

It also bans aid from the current bill and previous legislation from being provided to the controversy-plagued United Nations Relief and Works Agency — seemingly permanently freezing $300,000 in outstanding U.S. contributions to UNRWA — and mandates a series of stringent oversight procedures to ensure that aid to Gaza is not diverted.

Despite growing calls from some Democrats, the legislation does not appear to include any new conditions or restrictions on aid to Israel, nor does it eliminate the administration’s ability to waive the congressional review period for aid to Israel. In general, the bill appears to contain few wins for progressive Democrats on Israel policy, other than preserving Palestinian aid in some form; they’re also likely to be dubious of the immigration provisions.

House Republicans said the Senate bill will not receive a vote in the lower chamber. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), an isolationist conservative, urged colleagues to fillibuster the package.

The NSGP funding allocation is down from the $1 billion included in Senate Democratic leadership’s initial proposal prior to negotiations.

If both bills pass their chambers, Jewish community leaders — who have largely been agnostic about how Israel aid moves forward — could face a conundrum on whether to throw their weight behind the Senate package, or support the House bill, without NSGP and Ukraine aid.

“Combating antisemitism — and NSGP funding — has broad support,” Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s executive director for public policy, said. “The Speaker is maneuvering for the negotiation with the Senate. We will see NSGP emergency funds in the Senate supplemental. And we will work to ensure that when a final bill is enacted it delivers needed support for our community’s security.”

Karen Barall, the vice president of government relations at the Jewish Federations of North America, which lobbied members on Israel and NSGP funding last week, said that Johnson’s package “is a sign of how important our mobilization efforts are,” while adding that JFNA “will continue pushing for NSGP supplemental funding to advance as part of this important military aid package.”

Lauren Wolman, a director of government relations for the Anti-Defamation League, told JI that, in addition to providing aid to Israel, “Congress must also protect the Jewish community and all vulnerable communities at home.”

“We welcome the bipartisan Senate agreement on the emergency national security supplemental with critical funding for Israel’s security and historic funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which is needed now more than ever,” Wolman continued.

AIPAC said in a letter to members on Sunday that they are “strongly supportive of both these efforts.”

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