House passes bill that would force Biden to release paused arms shipment to Israel
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., on March 7, 2024. Photo: Cameron Smith/White House.

“The president’s threat to veto this legislation and Schumer’s refusal to bring it to a vote in the Senate are acts of betrayal to our closest ally in the region,” said Speaker of the House Mike Johnson.

By Andrew Bernard
May 17, 2024

(JNS) — The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday intended to force the Biden administration to deliver a paused arms shipment to Israel.

The Israel Security Assistance Support Act condemns U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to withhold the delivery of 3,500 bombs to Israel amid the administration’s concerns that the Jewish state would use them in a military operation in the south Gazan city of Rafah.

The act would cut off funding for the Pentagon, U.S. State Department and National Security Council if Biden does not release the shipment or if he withholds any future shipment of arms from Israel.

The bill passed on a mostly party-line vote of 224-187 after the White House issued a statement on Tuesday saying that Biden would veto the measure if it came to his desk.

“This bill could raise serious concerns about infringement on the president’s authorities under Article II of the Constitution, including his duties as commander-in-chief and Chief executive and his power to conduct foreign relations,” the White House stated.

Only 16 Democrats — many of whom are either noted pro-Israel advocates or moderates in swing districts —voted to force Biden’s hand and release the aid.

The three Republican “nay” votes came from Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), all of whom opposed the Israel foreign aid bill in April.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) stated after the House’s passage of the bill that Biden’s decision to withhold the arms sale was “catastrophic and goes directly against the will of Congress.”

Johnson also condemned Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) for saying that the Senate would not consider the measure.

“The president’s threat to veto this legislation and Leader Schumer’s refusal to bring it to a vote in the Senate are acts of betrayal to our closest ally in the region,” Johnson stated. “What’s more alarming is the 184 House Democrats that joined them in siding with the radical, pro-Hamas wing of the Democratic party. Security assistance to Israel is an urgent priority that must not be delayed.”

Several pro-Israel Democrats, who voted against the bill, argued that it undermined bipartisan support for the Jewish state and would actually weaken Israel if it somehow became law.

“This bill does nothing to help Israel strategically, but it attacks Israel at its two weakest points,” said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.). “The first is bipartisan support. Israel has one friend in the world. It cannot afford to have only half of one friend.”

“This resolution has poison pills, including condemning Biden by name, in a clear effort to get as little Democratic support as possible,” he added. 

Sherman also said that exempting Israel from the Leahy laws and other routine legislation that requires recipients of U.S. arms to comply with international law would have the unintended effect of suggesting that Israel was violating those laws.

“Second, this bill attacks Israel’s international image,” Sherman said. “Israel, in fact, meets American and international standards for minimizing civilian casualties. But what this bill does is it exempts Israel from the Leahy and similar laws, in effect declaring from this Congress to the world that Israel can’t meet the standard.”

“Congress should not step forward and exempt Israel from a test that Israel clearly meets,” he added. “That’s poison on the international stage.”

‘A partisan stunt’

Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) were among the pro-Israel Democrats who also voted against the bill.

“Today’s vote was a partisan stunt,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Republicans hoped to paper over their failure to provide aid to Israel for six months. I remain committed to working across the aisle on legislation and funding for our vital ally Israel.”

“It is wrong to withhold even just one shipment of weapons to Israel as it fights an existential, multipronged war,” Schneider said. “I can’t imagine anyone in this body believing that automatically zeroing out the budget for the Departments of State, Defense and the National Security Council in the case of delayed arms is a good idea.”

“It is a terrible, dangerous idea, and it’s the reason I must vote against this bill,” he added.

Republican supporters of the measure argued that Biden’s decision to pause the arms shipment undermined his repeated claim of “ironclad” support for Israel.

“The Biden administration, despite all the rhetoric, has broken its so-called ‘ironclad’ commitment to Israel by halting shipments of weapons at a time when Israel needs them the most,” said Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-Fla.). “Weapons that not only that Israel has asked for, but the president himself asked Congress to provide.”

“This administration’s argument is that the bill undermines the president’s ability to ‘execute an effective foreign policy,’” he added. “Does anyone really believe that this administration has an effective foreign policy?”

Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also hit back at the “ironclad” line from Biden on Thursday.

“Delaying weapons to Israel isn’t indicative of a commitment wrapped in ‘iron’ but more like ‘tin foil,’” he said.

Norm Coleman and Matt Brooks, national chairman and CEO respectively of the Republican Jewish Coalition, stated that the “spineless House Democrats shamefully chose partisan political loyalty over standing with our most cherished ally in the Middle East, voting overwhelmingly to oppose this measure.”

“Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has also said this bill will not even get a vote in the U.S. Senate,” the RJC leaders said. “This is a test for Democratic senators who say they support Israel: Will you meekly accept this betrayal of a key strategic partner?”

The RJC leaders singled out Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), asking what each of the four had to say.

“There is no excuse for President Biden’s embargo of Israel as it fights for its very survival—and, unsurprisingly, Biden has said he would veto this bill if it ever reached his desk,” Coleman and Brooks said. “Without a doubt, there is only one unequivocally pro-Israel party and it is the Republican Party.”

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