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16 Democrats join most Republicans to force administration to send arms to Israel

Other Democrats who oppose the administration’s move objected to the enforcement mechanism, which would cut off funding to key national security agencies

An Israeli army battle tank is moving near the border with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on May 16, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and the Hamas movement. (Photo by Saeed Qaq/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Despite publicly expressed concerns about the administration’s decision to withhold some arms transfers from Israel and its threats to suspend further arms transfers, all but 16 Democrats voted on Thursday against a bill that sought to force the administration to allow arms sales and transfers to proceed.

The bill, which would cut off funding for the Department of State, Department of Defense and National Security Council if the administration continues to withhold the currently paused arms transfers to Israel, passed by a 224-187 vote. That enforcement mechanism proved a bridge too far for some Democrats otherwise opposed to the administration’s moves.

Among Democrats, Reps. Greg Landsman (D-OH), Jared Golden (D-ME), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Henry Cuellar (D-TX), Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Tom Suozzi (D-NY), Don Davis (D-NC), Jared Moskowitz (D-FL), Mary Peltola (D-AK), Darren Soto (D-FL), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-WA), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Angie Craig (D-MN), Ritchie Torres (D-NY) and David Scott (D-GA) voted for the bill.

Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Warren Davidson (R-OH) were among the Republicans who voted against the bill.

Twenty-six House Democrats had signed a letter last week expressing concerns about the halted arms sale. But several of them ultimately voted against the GOP bill, amid intense pressure from House Democratic leadership and the White House, which vowed to veto the bill if it passed Congress. They include lawmakers who previously bucked Democratic leadership on other key Israel votes since Oct. 7.

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) insisted in a floor speech that administration officials have “repeatedly clarified that U.S. support for Israel is ironclad, and they continue to match those words with action,” noting that they’ve approved additional arms sales this week. 

He slammed the bill as “partisan” and hurriedly crafted, arguing that the threat to cut funding to key agencies is “a terrible, dangerous idea, and it’s the reason I must vote against this bill.”

At the same time, he said “it is wrong to withhold even just one shipment of weapons to Israel as it fights an existential, multipronged war. It is ok for friends to disagree, but we must not send mixed signals to Israel’s enemy about U.S. support for the mission to end Hamas’s reign of terror over Gaza, to eliminate the threat to Israel, and to bring the hostages home.”

Schneider told Jewish Insider he’d be open to other legislation on the issue crafted in a more bipartisan manner to “work together and make sure Israel has what it needs” and “make it clear to the administration that the will of Congress is that Israel is able to defend itself, has the resources to defend itself and is doing it in a way that secures the future for both Israelis and Palestinians.”

Also speaking on the House floor, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) said that the bill would “torch the U.S.-Israel relationship… to score cheap political points.”

She said that she does not believe the weapons the administration has withheld are “needed for the Rafah operation” and said that the funding threat is dangerous to the U.S., to Israel and to diplomats working on hostage negotiations.

“A plan to defund U.S. national security agencies that send assistance, share intelligence and help defeat Hamas is how you cut off your nose to spite your face,” she said.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters after the vote that “we’re sending a strong message to the administration that Congress really does object to what you’re doing,” and said he thinks the administration “underestimated the blowback” the decision would produce.

But he said he’s also working on legislation, for which he’s hoping to receive the support of his Democratic counterpart and which he thinks could pass the Senate, that would require the administration to provide 15 days notice to Congress before withholding any weapons funded by Congress and approved by congressional leaders.

The proposed bill would also allow Congress the opportunity to vote on a joint resolution of disapproval to block such a move.

Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC), a pro-Israel Democrat who voted against the bill today, said she’s “proud to be an original co-sponsor of a better alternative,” referring to McCaul’s legislation, “which would strengthen congressional oversight of any changes to arms sales to Israel.”

McCaul said he’s still receiving mixed messages about the exact weapons that the administration is withholding from Israel, including whether they include guided bombs or guided bomb kits (which can be attached to unguided bombs to make them more precise). But he said he’s heard “from several sources” that those guidance systems are among the items being withheld. 

The Foreign Affairs Committee chair said that Israel “can’t finish this war” without an operation into Rafah, which will allow the conflict to move into a new phase and permit the resumption of normalization talks with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states.

“If we’re not going to allow them to go into Rafah, we’re going to deny the Middle East that opportunity,” McCaul said. “I don’t know how you’re going to get rid of [Hamas’] four battalions without going into Rafah.”

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