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House passes bill to require ongoing flow of weapons to Israel

Measure would limit the president’s flexibility in delivering arms

Illinois Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on the floor Thursday that he backed continued military support for Israel but blamed Speaker Mike Johnson for offering “a partisan bill with no path forward.”
Illinois Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on the floor Thursday that he backed continued military support for Israel but blamed Speaker Mike Johnson for offering “a partisan bill with no path forward.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House on Thursday passed, 224-187, a bill that would force the Biden administration to continue supplying arms to Israel as U.S. officials weigh withholding certain offensive weapons.

Only 16 Democrats voted for the legislation after House Democratic leaders urged their members to remain united against the measure. Ultimately, even some Democratic lawmakers who staunchly support Israel in its war against Hamas had concerns about the bill, which effectively seeks to end President Joe Biden’s flexibility on delivering weapons to Israel.

“We must not send mixed signals to Israel’s enemy about U.S. support for the mission to end Hamas’ reign of terror over Gaza, to eliminate the threat to Israel, and to bring the hostages home,” Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said during floor debate on the bill.

But, he added, “Speaker Johnson’s approach is different. He drafted a partisan bill with no path forward. It didn’t even go through the Foreign Affairs Committee, where we could have fixed it.”

Schneider was one of 26 Democrats to sign on to a letter to the Biden administration earlier this week criticizing the Biden administration’s decision to withhold the weapons.

The administration this month paused a shipment of large bombs on the grounds that Israel would cause heavy loss of civilian lives using the munitions in the Gaza Strip. The move also sought to discourage Israel from deepening its ground invasion in the city of Rafah, where some 1 million Palestinians are sheltering in unsafe conditions.

U.S. defense officials have long warned that a full-blown ground invasion of Rafah would threaten U.S. support for the war, which has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians. Those numbers, provided by Gaza’s health ministry, don’t distinguish between combatants and civilians.

But Republican officials quickly came out in opposition to the decision, warning that the paused shipment would embolden Israel’s enemies in the region and weaken Israel’s hand as it seeks to rescue hostages held by Hamas.

“Israel needs these weapons to eradicate the terrorists who have vowed the destruction of Israel, and Israel needs it to protect itself and its people,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., a member of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said during floor debate Thursday. “Withholding vital resources jeopardizes not only Israel’s ability to defend itself but also our national security by harming and weakening our strongest ally.”

The legislation would order the secretary of State to promptly approve and ensure delivery to Israel of “all direct commercial sales of defense articles” for which delivery is “expected” in fiscal 2024 and fiscal 2025.

It would require the administration to deliver any paused weapons shipments within 15 days of bill enactment and would bar funding to the offices of the secretaries of State and Defense and to the National Security Council until those deliveries are made.

“The bill is a misguided reaction to a deliberate distortion of the administration’s approach to Israel,” the Biden administration said in a statement of administration policy earlier this week. “The president has been clear: we will always ensure Israel has what it needs to defend itself. Our commitment to Israel is ironclad.”

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