Economy 07-02-2024 13:04 8 Views

House GOP fails to pass Israel package as congressional impasse continues

The Republican-led House on Tuesday failed to pass a bill that sought to provide billions of dollars in military aid to Israel, extending an impasse over how to address some of the United States’ top national security concerns in a Congress increasingly paralyzed by political infighting.

The outcome was 250 to 180 in favor, but the measure required a two-thirds majority to pass.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) called a vote on the $17.6 billion legislation, pitching it as a GOP counteroffer to a more sprawling Senate bill that also includes money for Ukraine, Taiwan and U.S. border security. Johnson declared earlier that the Senate measure would be “dead on arrival” should it reach the lower chamber, with many Republicans arguing it does not go far enough to address illegal immigration after former president Donald Trump urged them to oppose it.

Tuesday’s vote, minutes after House Republicans also fell short in their bid to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, punctuated back-to-back losses for Johnson, and left uncertain the path ahead for funding President Biden’s national security priorities. The Senate bill, which faces a key vote Wednesday, also is expected to fail in its current form.

The stand-alone House bill included funds only for Israel and U.S. forces in the Middle East — priorities, Johnson said earlier Tuesday, that must be “decoupled” from other national security initiatives.

Supporting Israel remains a priority for the Biden administration and many lawmakers of both political parties as the war in Gaza continues and U.S. troops in the region face escalating attacks from Iranian proxies.

While the vote failed, Republicans were able to use it as messaging leverage against Democrats, who bemoaned Republicans for passing an Israel funding bill three months ago that also included cuts to the IRS. Republicans claimed then that the spending cuts would offset funding for Israel, which Democrats considered a breach in precedent since supplemental bills to foreign allies often do not include such measures. Johnson dared House Democrats to vote against it, arguing he would put a clean funding bill on the floor so they could support it.

In the end, 46 Democrats voted for the bill Tuesday and 14 Republicans, all from the far right, voted against it.

But the GOP bill, proposed by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), was condemned by many Democrats — including staunch supporters of the Jewish state — who labeled it a “political stunt” that had “little to do with Israel’s right to self-defense — and everything to do with the chaos that has engulfed the Republican Party.”

Biden had said earlier that he would have vetoed it.

“We should reject this unserious effort,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), the House Appropriations Committee’s top Democrat, said on the House floor ahead of the vote. “The majority has opted to consider a bill that we know the President will veto. … This accomplishes nothing and delays aid getting out to our allies and providing humanitarian relief.”

Tuesday’s vote comes days after Senate leaders unveiled a $118 billion bill that includes funding for all of the administration’s national security priorities and a GOP wish list of immigration reforms. It is the product of months of bipartisan negotiations between a team of senators and the White House that began when Republicans said they would support additional Ukraine aid only if Democrats agreed to dramatic new immigration restrictions.

Support for the Senate bill, however, has swiftly fallen apart. Trump, Biden’s likely opponent in this year’s presidential election, has mischaracterized contours of the legislation, and he encouraged other Republicans not to back it even before the bill’s text was released this past weekend.

Calvert, the House bill’s sponsor, said his proposal was a “clean bill” devoid of less-popular national security provisions. “Assertions that this bill plays politics are patently false,” he said on the House floor shortly before the vote. “We have an opportunity today to come together and send a strong message: the United States stands with Israel,” he said. “The only people making it political are those who oppose it.”

Johnson, speaking at a news conference earlier in the day, suggested that after Israel is “taken care of,” lawmakers would “deal” with the other issues. “We have to deal with these measures independently and separately. I think they merit that,” he told reporters.

The negotiated Senate proposal did not contain “real border security reform,” he said, “and so that’s why it’s a nonstarter. They did not fulfill the requirements and the needs of the country.”

Support for Israel has remained strong on Capitol Hill despite growing angst among progressive Democratic voters as the death toll in Gaza has surpassed 27,000 — mostly women and children, according to local health officials — and Israel has hindered Palestinians’ access to food, water and medicine.

The Israel-only bill marked the second Republican attempt in three months to split the assistance for America’s closest Middle East ally from Biden’s larger supplemental funding request.

Some of Israel’s most vocal Democratic backers, including Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.), signaled they would vote in favor of the bill despite their support for the larger national security package because, as Moskowitz explained in an interview, Congress has proved too “chaotic” and “unpredictable” to count on it passing much else. “I think there’s a plausible scenario that if this dies, everything is dead,” he said earlier in the day, referring to the money sought for Ukraine aid and border security.

Ahead of the vote, dozens of lawmakers, including Democratic leaders and members of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, said they would reject the bill.

“We are prepared to support any serious, bipartisan effort in connection with the special relationship between the United States and Israel,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), Democratic Whip Katherine Clark (Mass.) and Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (Calif.) wrote in a “Dear Colleague” memo Tuesday ahead of the vote.

But the stand-alone legislation “is not being offered in good faith,” they said. “Rather, it is a nakedly obvious and cynical attempt by MAGA extremists to undermine the possibility of a comprehensive, bipartisan funding package that addresses America’s national security challenges in the Middle East, Ukraine, the Indo-Pacific region and throughout the world.”

Far-right Republicans, meanwhile, have tested their leaders routinely by demanding spending cuts to any funding bill. Those lawmakers supported Johnson’s initial supplemental $14 billion Israel bill that included cuts to the IRS, allowing the measure to pass to the Democratic-controlled Senate which immediately rejected it.

It’s unclear how lawmakers will proceed now.

National security experts and Ukraine advocates on Capitol Hill have warned for months that fresh military assistance for Kyiv is perhaps the most critical priority contained in the emergency spending package Biden proposed months ago. It is also the most endangered, as more Republican lawmakers cite skeptical voters for their fading willingness to help the embattled former Soviet republic. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement Tuesday night that passing Israel aid on its own would have taken “pressure off House Republicans to move forward with a vote on funding for Ukraine.”

Lawmakers from both parties also have long complained about the United States’ immigration system, with the Senate-brokered deal representing one of the most significant bipartisan reform efforts in decades.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the Republican conference had concluded there was “no real chance here” to turn the larger national security bill with its negotiated border deal into law, given Johnson’s opposition.

In a startling pivot, McConnell and several other Senate Republicans — who said weeks ago that they would not approve Ukraine aid and other national security funding without a border deal — suggested instead that they might proceed with a bill to aid Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, but that now excludes border provisions. Several other Republicans, including Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Todd Young (Ind.) also voiced support for the idea.

McConnell said it was up to Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to decide how to “repackage” the Senate bill after the expected vote on it probably fails Wednesday.

Schumer did not directly rule out the proposal, but said Democrats were angry and frustrated with Republicans’ about-face on a deal the GOP had explicitly requested. Johnson, too, initially opposed the idea of moving on Ukraine funding without significant reforms to border policy.

“They just don’t have the backbone, the guts, the spine to resist the blandishments of Trump, even when they know he’s wrong,” Schumer said at a news conference Tuesday.


A previous version of this article misstated the sum of a Senate proposal for funding various national security initiatives. It is $118 billion. The article has been corrected.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post
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