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Democratic leaders oppose Israel aid bill, imperiling its odds

GOP floor strategy on bill requires a two-thirds majority

Rep. Brad Sherman of California is one of the few Democrats who supports the Israel aid bill.
Rep. Brad Sherman of California is one of the few Democrats who supports the Israel aid bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Democratic leaders promised Tuesday to vote against a standalone Israel aid bill teed up for floor consideration, calling into question whether the bill can pass. 

Republicans plan to bring the $17.6 billion legislation to the floor Tuesday afternoon under suspension of the rules, which means it needs a two-thirds majority to pass. But with Democratic support wavering, it appears unlikely to meet that threshold. 

Democratic leaders argued in a “Dear Colleague” letter that Speaker Mike Johnson’s move to bring the Israel aid bill to the floor “is not being offered in good faith,” instead calling for passage of the Senate’s $118.3 billion supplemental package funding Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and border security.

“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,” they wrote.

Democrats also took issue with the bill’s omission of humanitarian aid for Gaza, where thousands of Palestinian civilians have been killed since the start of the war in October.

“Two-point-two million people are starving,” said House Appropriations Committee ranking member Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. “So humanitarian assistance is key. It is critical. It is not there.”

Democratic leaders have not formally whipped against the bill, members said Tuesday morning, and some staunchly pro-Israel Democrats will likely still vote yes. Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., said he planned to vote for the bill on the principle that good bills shouldn’t be blocked because of what they don’t include. 

“I’m not going to vote against the Ukraine bill because it fails to deal with Armenia, because it fails to deal with Tigray,” he said, referring to a part of Ethiopia facing devastating hunger. “So to vote against a good bill, because of what’s not in it — you know, every bill I vote for doesn’t have a train through the Sepulveda Pass,” he added, alluding to a potential transit project in his district.

‘We cannot walk away from Ukraine’

President Joe Biden said Monday he would veto the bill if sent to his desk on the grounds that it does not fulfill most of his supplemental funding request, adding an additional layer of pressure on Democrats. 

“Obviously, I care about democracy in Israel. But it has no provisions for humanitarian aid for the civilians in Gaza, or in Ukraine,” said Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H. “We cannot walk away from Ukraine. In fact, I would venture to say thousands of American lives will be lost if we do.”

The bill’s consideration marks the second time the House has attempted to pass Israel aid. In November, Republicans brought to the floor legislation to provide $14.3 billion in aid for Israel, offset by funding cuts to the Internal Revenue Service. All but 12 Democrats voted against it. 

Johnson, R-La., acknowledged Tuesday that the new version, which does not include offsets and includes added resources for U.S. military operations in the Middle East, is an effort to bring more supporters on board at a time when tensions in the region are at an all-time high. 

“We understand now that in the couple of months that have transpired since we passed it the first time, this situation has gotten much more dangerous,” he told reporters. “We need to stand with Israel right now, and we cannot wait any longer, and that’s why, as desperate times call for desperate measures, that’s exactly what we’re gonna do.” 

Republicans, meanwhile, face headwinds of their own in building support for the bill. Several members in the party’s conservative wing oppose the bill’s lack of funding offsets. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., said “quite a few” Republicans would join him in opposing the legislation.

“It’s too much money,” he said. 

The House bill’s consideration comes as senators mull the $118.3 billion supplemental package released over the weekend by appropriators and a trio of border and immigration policy negotiators.

Many Senate Republicans are against the measure, suggesting there may not be enough votes to advance it. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who had teed up a cloture vote on the bill for Wednesday, said on the Senate floor Tuesday that he would consider delaying the vote until Thursday to accommodate Republicans who want more time to consider the bill. 

But the House’s approach may not fare any better. 

“You give people information, you give them the facts. You tell them where you are, which is what I did, and others did, so forth, and they’ll make up their own minds,” DeLauro said. “But I think that the Democratic votes will not be there.”

Aidan Quigley contributed to this report.

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