On the Hill

Israel weapons bill faces strong Democratic headwinds in the House

House Democratic leadership is whipping against the GOP bill aiming to force the administration’s hand on arms sales, hoping to minimize Democratic support

Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA), the Democratic whip, speaks duing a news conference held by members of the Pro-Choice Caucus and Democratic Women's Caucus at the U.S. Capitol on March 7, 2024 in Washington, DC.

Democratic leaders in Washington are pushing hard to minimize the number of Democrats who vote this week for a House Republican bill that seeks to force the administration to abandon its efforts to restrict U.S. aid to Israel. 

The bill — which comes days after President Joe Biden said he would put a hold on offensive weapons sales to Israel if it goes ahead with an invasion of Rafah and confirmed he already withheld at least one arms shipment to Israel — would cut off funding to the Department of State, Department of Defense and National Security Council if the aid does not move forward.

House Democratic leaders announced on Tuesday that they’re encouraging Democrats to vote against the bill, a step they’ve avoided taking on a number of other recent Israel bills.

“The legislation would constitute an unprecedented limitation on President Biden’s executive authority and administrative discretion to implement U.S. foreign policy,” a whip notice distributed by Democratic Whip Rep. Katherine Clark’s (D-MA) office reads.

The memo downplays the significance of the existing arms hold on some offensive weapons, points to other instances where past administrations have frozen aid to Israel and also criticizes Israel for failing to provide a plan for operations in Gaza and post-war governance.

“The legislation eliminates any executive oversight or control on the flow of taxpayer funded U.S. arms,” the notice continues. “This is not a serious legislative effort. It is another partisan stunt by Extreme MAGA Republicans who are determined to hurt President Biden politically.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre likewise said on Monday that the White House “strongly, strongly oppose[s] the bill,” and the White House said Tuesday that it would veto the bill if it passes. “This bill would undermine the President’s ability to execute an effective foreign policy. This bill could raise serious concerns about infringement on the President’s authorities under Article II of the Constitution,” the White House statement said.

House Democratic leadership did whip against previous GOP bills to provide unilateral aid to Israel; one bill picked up 46 Democratic votes in favor while another, with Internal Revenue Service cuts, received a dozen Democratic supporters.

At least 26 House Democrats have publicly expressed concerns about the arms sales halts, amid growing backlash from moderate Democrats to the policy. It remains to be seen how many of them will vote for the GOP bill — at least several likely will — and whether additional Democrats support it as well.

But one of those signatories, Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI) accused Republicans of attempting to “politicize this crisis” and plans to vote against the bill.

AIPAC is supporting the bill.

Rep. Dan Goldman (D-NY), a Jewish Democrat who voted for one of the stand-alone Israel aid measures, strongly decried the new bill, suggesting that Democratic support will be limited.

“Despite [the administration’s] long record of support for Israel, House Republicans yet again intend to use Israel as a political cudgel, which weakens Israel and undermines Israel’s leverage in this conflict — continuing a despicable and shameful pattern of using Israel and Jews as political pawns,” Goldman said in a statement.

“Republicans’ latest messaging bill does nothing to materially help Israel’s security, fundamentally mischaracterizes the President’s statements and steadfast support for Israel since October 7, and simply requires commitments that the Administration has repeatedly made.”

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