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On the Hill

Lawmakers could pressure Qatar, other U.S. partners through government funding to secure hostage release

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz alluded to ‘very specific steps’ through the appropriations process that could ‘begin to ratchet up the pressure’

Marc Rod

Thomas Hand, whose young daughter Emily was kidnapped by Hamas, at an emotion-laden press conference on Wednesday on Capitol Hill. At left, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), a senior Democratic member of the House Appropriations Committee, said Wednesday that lawmakers might seek to pressure Qatar and other U.S. partners through the government funding process to seek the release of hostages held in Gaza.

“We have very specific things that can specifically — country by country — begin to ratchet up the pressure,” Wasserman Schultz said. “These are countries that all have an interest in remaining a friend of the United States.”

She said that both the pending supplemental aid bill and the 2024 appropriations process give lawmakers “an opportunity to apply pressure” on these U.S. partners.

Wasserman Schultz’s comments came at a press conference alongside a delegation of members of the Knesset led by Speaker Amir Ohana, and families of Israeli hostages

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), who led a congressional delegation to Qatar and Israel last month to put pressure on the Qatari government, said that Qatar “need[s] to step up,” and suggested that Hamas leaders should be expelled from the country if the political leaders in Qatar are no longer in communication with Hamas leaders in Gaza.

Ernst said she has heard from members of the administration that the lawmakers’ trip was a “very clear turning point” in prompting Qatar to “put more pressure” on Hamas. 

The press conference included remarks from several other U.S. lawmakers, members of the Knesset delegation and emotional remarks from the families of several current and former hostages.

Thomas Hand, whose young daughter Emily was kidnapped by Hamas, openly wept as he spoke about the pain that he and the other families had and continued to experience. The group, Ohana noted, included families from three faiths — Jews, Christians and Bedouin Muslims.

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), who joined the event, could be seen tearing up as the hostages’ families spoke. Sens. Ted Budd (R-NC) and John Fetterman (D-PA) and Reps. Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Greg Landsman (D-OH) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) also attended.

The Knesset delegation met Wednesday morning with members of the House-Knesset Friendship Committee, including Reps. David Kustoff (R-TN), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Mike Lawler (R-NY), Kathy Manning (D-NC), Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY), Nikema Williams (D-GA) and Max Miller (R-OH).

Ohana acknowledged during a separate press conference with that group that there must be a “total, unmitigated defeat to Hamas,” but that “doesn’t mean that we can reach every last Hamasnik, I don’t think we can. We probably cannot even kill the idea of Hamas. We still haven’t killed the idea of Nazism.”

Victory, he continued, would entail removing Hamas from power over the Gaza Strip, as the Nazis were removed from power in Germany during World War II.

Kustoff called the defeat of a stand-alone Israel aid measure in the House on Tuesday night,  “a temporary setback.” Sherman chimed in to say that Ukraine, Taiwan and humanitarian aid must pass together with Israel aid as one bill, adding that he’s “confident that will happen in the next 30 to 40 days.”

The group met Tuesday with House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA).

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