The House on Thursday overwhelmingly passed legislation that would provide $1 billion in supplemental military assistance to Israel, but there were some notable Democrats in opposition.
The bill to provide the funding to Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system passed 420-9 under suspension of the rules, a process that allowed a quick floor vote given strong bipartisan support. House Democratic leaders used the fast-track avenue after the funding had to be stripped from a stopgap spending bill after some progressives revolted.
The opposing votes included well-known Democratic members of the progressive “squad,” such as Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts, as well as Cori Bush of Missouri and Marie Newman of Illinois, who both defeated more moderate Democrats in primaries last year. The most high-profile member of the squad, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., voted present along with Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga.
As chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Arizona Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva provided the rare “no” vote from a Democrat in a leadership position. Only one Republican voted against the bill, libertarian-leaning Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie.
Israel’s Iron Dome was used successfully this spring during a period of fighting in the Gaza Strip to destroy over 90 percent of the approximately 4,000 rockets launched by Hamas into civilian-occupied areas of Israel.
“I will not support an effort to enable and support war crimes, human rights abuses and violence,” Tlaib, who is Palestinian American, said in a floor speech Thursday. “We cannot be talking only about Israelis’ need for safety at a time when Palestinians are living under a violent apartheid system.”
Tlaib’s use of the word “apartheid” on the House floor to characterize Israel’s long-running occupation of the Palestinian territories was sharply criticized by Republicans and some Democrats, like Florida Rep. Ted Deutch.
Even as the funding ultimately passed the House and is expected to handily pass the Senate in some form in the days ahead, House Democratic leaders sparked a fight this week with some in their progressive wing when they tried to pass the $1 billion Israel aid package in the stopgap funding measure.
Republicans were already uniformly opposed to that continuing resolution. So when a few progressive members threatened to withhold their support for the spending measure, it was enough to prompt Democratic leaders — with their microscopic three-vote majority — to strip out the Iron Dome funding and offer it instead as a standalone measure.
“There are some few who will not support this but the overwhelming majority of this Congress, not in a partisan way but in an American way, will support defending the democratic state of Israel,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., a key force for pushing the Iron Dome funding through.
The crux of the progressive argument over funding for Iron Dome has more to do with timing and proportionality.
“At the very last minute, unfortunately, somebody in our leadership made the decision to put this Iron Dome funding in, literally six hours before the bill was going to be released,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., told CNN on Wednesday. “And that just isn’t the way things work around here. There was no discussion about it.”
Over the last decade, the United States has provided $1.7 billion to the Iron Dome. In the current fiscal cycle, lawmakers appropriated $73 million for the Iron Dome. That makes the $1 billion in supplemental funding for the system amount to a roughly 14 times spending increase, according to a Tuesday tweet by Seth Binder, the director of advocacy for the Project On Middle East Democracy, an advocacy-focused research organization.
It is not just House progressives who have questions about how much money Israel needs to replenish its Iron Dome system.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., sounded a doubtful note over the urgency of passing the funding in a Wednesday comment to reporters.
“The Israelis haven’t even taken the money that we’ve already appropriated,” he said.
President Joe Biden is on record as supportive of replenishing the Dome and, with Israel’s wishes for supplemental funding known for months, lawmakers saw an opportunity to try to attach the funding to the must-pass continuing resolution instead of waiting until later in the year or early next year.
“Due to the [rocket] attacks this last spring, Iron Dome rocket interceptors need to be replenished,” House Appropriations ranking member Kay Granger, R-Texas, said in floor remarks.
Republicans tried to spin the intra-Democratic spat over the Iron Dome as evidence that the party no longer supports Israel’s ability to defend itself from attack, but Democrats strongly rejected that characterization.
In multiple floor speeches Thursday, Democrats charged that the blowup occurred in the first place because no Republicans would support the stopgap funding bill, regardless of whether it contained the Israeli missile defense support.