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Iron Dome funds may hitch a ride on Capitol security supplemental

Biden has pledged to 'replenish' missile defense system; Israeli government set to ask for funds

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.,  talks with reporters in the Senate subway during a vote on Wednesday, May 19, 2021.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., talks with reporters in the Senate subway during a vote on Wednesday, May 19, 2021. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Additional funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system could get wrapped into a stalled Capitol Hill security spending bill as Democrats and Republicans look for a way forward on both matters in the Senate.

A Senate Democratic aide, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about internal deliberations, said Democrats’ goal for the security bill is to create a bipartisan Senate alternative to the measure that barely passed the House on a party-line vote last month. Adding money for the Iron Dome system could be a way to satisfy Republicans following an expected Israeli government request for up to $1 billion.

Israel’s defense minister, Benny Gantz, was expected to ask for the money during a visit to the Pentagon on Thursday, according to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who was in Jerusalem earlier this week meeting with Gantz and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu’s tenure appears at an end after a new coalition government to oust the 12-year incumbent reached an agreement Wednesday, though the deal still needs the Israeli parliament’s approval.

Graham, the top Senate Republican on the State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, told reporters in Jerusalem he expected broad bipartisan support for the request though he didn’t offer a timeline or details. President Joe Biden has pledged to “replenish” Iron Dome, which has repelled thousands of rockets from Gaza and other places, but the administration hasn’t offered further details.

The issue is developing by the hour, according to the Senate Democratic aide.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Thursday that a “readout” of the latest on the missile defense funding situation wasn’t available yet. “It may be that we have to consider their request and I’m not sure we’ll have a rapid response. But I will check with our team and see if we have any update,” she said.

Senate Democrats would also need to overcome bipartisan opposition to a $200 million “quick reaction force” for Capitol complex threats that House Democrats’ $1.9 billion security bill would place under control of the District of Columbia National Guard.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., and ranking member Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., haven’t yet begun detailed negotiations over how to rework the House-passed security spending package that’s intended to pay bills related to the Jan. 6 insurrection and bolster security in the event of another attack.

That $1.9 billion bill barely made it off the House floor following a 213-212 vote.

Republicans voted against it en masse out of concern about removing Capitol defenses from civilian law enforcement control, among other things. Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Cori Bush, D-Mo., and Ayanna S. Pressley, D-Mass., voted against the bill because it would bolster the Hill’s police force “without addressing the underlying threats of organized and violent white supremacy, radicalization, and disinformation that led to” the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

The progressives also expressed frustration that the bill wouldn’t provide sufficient funding to address counseling for staff and that it included millions in additional funding for Capitol police “while questions about the disparate response between insurrectionists and those protesting in defense of Black lives go unanswered.”

Shelby told reporters in late May that he doesn’t think senators should “rush to judgment” on security funding and should instead be “measured” in their response.

Adding funding for Israeli defenses would represent a substantial change to the supplemental spending bill, which so far has received zero Republican support.

The United States has spent $1.6 billion on Israel’s Iron Dome system, according to the Congressional Research Service.

While most of that money is approved through the regular appropriations process, Congress and the Obama administration signed off on $225 million in emergency spending for Iron Dome in 2014 following another conflict between Israel and militant organizations.

A group of nearly 60 House members sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III this week expressing their support for U.S. military assistance to Israel, including “replenishing Israel’s stock of interceptors for the Iron Dome missile defense system.”

The group, which includes Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, asked that if Israel requests additional U.S. assistance following the 11-day conflict with Hamas, the Biden administration “work closely with Congress to expeditiously fulfill this request.”

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