By Ron Kampeas
October 25, 2023
WASHINGTON (JTA) — In its first action under its new speaker, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly condemned the deadly invasion of Israel by Hamas on Oct. 7, which launched Israel’s current war against the terror group in Gaza.
“With the most cosponsors of any resolution ever, this measure sends a clear message across the globe: The U.S. stands with Israel,” Rep. Michael McCaul, the Texas Republican who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, said after the vote Wednesday, posting on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
The resolution was approved 412-10, with another six members voting present, out of 435 congressional seats. A number of lawmakers were absent, and at least one seat remains empty pending a special election.
McCaul, working with his Democratic counterpart on the committee, New York’s Gregory Meeks, garnered 425 co-sponsors for the resolution, which declares that the House of Representatives “stands with Israel as it defends itself against the barbaric war launched by Hamas and other terrorists” and “stands ready to assist Israel with emergency resupply and other security, diplomatic, and intelligence support.” Among the co-sponsors, unusually, were party leaders, including Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the Democratic minority leader.
Meeks and McCaul, with the backing of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, first pressed for the resolution on Oct. 10, three days after Hamas’s invasion. Within a day they had garnered 390 co-sponsors, including progressives who have been harshly critical of Israel. But they were frustrated by the inability of Republicans to elect a speaker after a cadre of far-right lawmakers ousted Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who previously held the role. McCaul pledged to make the resolution the first thing the House passed under a new Speaker.
Mike Johnson, the Louisiana Republican who ended weeks of stalemate with his election as speaker just before the vote, said in his first remarks in the role that he was committed to Israel’s security.
“We have no better friend in the Middle East than the state of Israel,” he said. “Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state. the special relationship between the United States and Israel is unbreakable. Our commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad and Israel has a right to defend itself under the international rules of war against the brutal terror unleashed on its citizens by Hamas.”
Jeffries, who participated in the ceremonial passing of the gavel to Johnson, also expressed support for Israel in his remarks.
Johnson said he would work with President Joe Biden to pass emergency defense assistance for Israel. Biden has asked for $10.4 billion, which Republicans say they are amenable to; however, he has coupled it with a request for $60 billion in assistance for Ukraine as it continues to fend off Russia’s invasion, which is controversial among Republicans.
Five of the six co-sponsors who voted “present” were on the Democratic Party’s progressive left, which came under intense pressure from outside groups to refrain from backing a resolution that did not call for a ceasefire. They were Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Joaquin Castro of Texas, Nydia Velázquez of New York, Greg Casar of Texas, and Chuy Garcia of Illinois. The sixth lawmaker voting “present” was Ayanna Pressley, a Massachusetts Democrat who did not co-sponsor the resolution.
Voting against were Thomas Massie of Kentucky, a Republican, and nine Democrats: Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Jamaal Bowman of New York, Cori Bush of Missouri, Al Green of Texas, Summer Lee of Pennsylvania, Andre Carson of Indiana and Delia Ramirez of Illinois. Most of the Democratic “no” votes were from the Squad, a group of progressive lawmakers.
Omar said in a statement that she could not support a resolution that only noted the victims of Hamas without also noting Palestinians killed in Israel’s subsequent airstrikes in Gaza. Like many of the others who voted no, she is also pushing for a ceasefire, which the Biden Administration opposes.
“I’m committed to peace and a prompt ceasefire,” she said. “While the resolution rightly acknowledges and mourns the lives taken by Hamas, I cannot support a resolution that fails to acknowledge and mourn the lives of Palestinians taken by the Israeli military.”
Hamas killed more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians, in its raids, wounded thousands of others and abducted more than 200. Gaza’s Hamas-controlled health ministry says that Israeli strikes have so far killed more than 5,000 Palestinians, including many children. How many of the Palestinian dead are terrorists and how many are civilians cannot currently be assessed.