uphill path

Israel, Ukraine aid unclear as growing number of Dems oppose Israel aid

Forty lawmakers, including former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said U.S. aid to Israel should be suspended, and that any future aid should come with further conditions

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) arrives to a House Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on February 06, 2024 in Washington, DC.

As the House returns from a two-week recess for two weeks in session before Passover,  there’s still little clarity about the path to holding a floor vote on additional aid for Israel and Ukraine, or whether there are sufficient votes to pass such legislation, particularly in light of growing Democratic opposition to unconditioned Israel aid.

Although House leadership had said that the supplemental would be the first priority after passing 2024 government funding, which Congress did immediately before the recess, the supplemental is not on this week’s schedule; the top focus issue is set to be renewing U.S. government surveillance powers ahead of an April 19 expiration deadline.

During the intervening two weeks, various rumors have been circulating about the potential path forward for the supplemental. Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has floated a series of changes he’s hoping to make to the Senate’s bill, including transforming Ukraine aid into a loan and mandating a rollback of administration energy policy.

Johnson also again said that the supplemental should be contingent on border policy changes, after having rejected the long-negotiated bipartisan immigration compromise floated in the Senate nearly two months ago.

It’s not clear how Johnson would muster the two-thirds of the House that will likely be necessary to pass the aid, given widespread GOP opposition to Ukraine aid and the growing opposition to unconditioned aid — or in some cases any aid — to Israel from progressive Democrats.

Underscoring that issue, 40 House Democrats signed a letter to President Joe Biden on Friday calling for him to freeze additional arms sales to Israel until an investigation into the Israeli strike that killed seven World Central Kitchen workers last week is complete, and to place additional conditions on any further aid “to ensure it is used in compliance with U.S. and international law.”

Israel completed its own investigation into the incident last week, and released the findings and course of action on Friday.

The letter was led by Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI), Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and signatories include former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who previously defended Israel and its war in Gaza and has for years been a stalwart defender of aid to Israel.

U.S. law already requires military aid recipients to comply with U.S. and international law and officials have found no instances where Israel violated the law.

Meanwhile, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) has threatened to attempt to oust Johnson as speaker if he allows any vote on Ukraine aid. Some Democrats have said they’d vote to save Johnson in that scenario, but that would likely not be a sustainable, long-term solution for the speaker and could prompt broader dissent in his conference.

Democratic efforts to force the Senate’s bill to the floor via a procedure known as a discharge petition also appear to be in limbo. As of March 22, 191 Democrats had joined the petition, alongside one Republican, who subsequently retired. 

Nearly two dozen Democrats have yet to sign on, mostly progressives opposed to sending additional aid to Israel, and there’s no sign of additional Republican appetite for the effort at this stage. What’s more, some Democrats who signed the petition now seem to be having second thoughts about the Israel aid.

Some Democrats — reportedly including senior members — have pushed for a stand-alone vote on Ukraine aid, which would be a particularly risky proposition for Johnson.

Any changes to the bill would also reopen a potentially drawn-out process in the Senate and give progressive Democrats a new opportunity to push for conditions on U.S. aid to Israel. The push for conditions has only grown more intense in the past week.

“If they send something back, it’s going to have to go through this process, and I don’t think it will survive on this side,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) told Politico. “It would just get stuck back over here before we could get anything out the door again.”

An alternative discharge petition by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) has just 16 signatories.

That said, the House will be taking one vote on Israel issues this week, on a resolution that “opposes efforts to place one-sided pressure on Israel with respect to Gaza,” effectively condemning the Biden administration’s call for an immediate cease-fire and decision last month not to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire not conditioned to the return of hostages.

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