House votes down standalone bill giving funds to Israel, imperiling future of aid package
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House votes down standalone bill giving funds to Israel, imperiling future of aid package

Democrats have been championing a bipartisan Senate package that pairs aid to Israel and Ukraine with measures to clamp down on the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Emergency National Security Supplemental Appropriations Act in the State Dining Room of the White House, Feb. 6, 2024. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Emergency National Security Supplemental Appropriations Act in the State Dining Room of the White House, Feb. 6, 2024. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A bid to rush wartime emergency assistance to Israel failed in the U.S. House of Representatives, running into opposition from a trio of factions who opposed the bill for widely divergent reasons.

The bill for $17.6 billion in emergency assistance needed a two-thirds majority under a special House procedure. It garnered 250 votes in favor, with 180 opposed, a majority but short of what it needed. Those in favor included 10 Jewish Democrats, out of the body’s 24.

Democrats have been championing a bipartisan Senate package that pairs aid to Israel and Ukraine with measures to clamp down on the U.S.-Mexico border. Many House Republicans, in addition to their likely presidential nominee, Donald Trump, oppose the bill because they say it does not go far enough on halting migrant crossings.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, Republican of Louisiana, presented the standalone Israel aid bill as an alternative. Its failure was the second of the evening for Johnson, who narrowly failed in a bid earlier in the evening to impeach the Jewish Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas.

The Israel bill’s achilles heel was a demand for the two-thirds vote by Republicans in the party’s hardline right Freedom Caucus, which argued that a major spending bill requires a two-thirds majority under rules governing expedited bills. Johnson acceded to the demand. Freedom Caucus Republicans, who are hawks on fiscal responsibility, were behind a failed effort last year to attach spending offsets to an earlier aid package for Israel.

Fourteen Freedom caucus members voted against the bill, while 46 Democrats voted for it.

Another headwind came in the form of President Joe Biden, who said he would veto the bill, because it does not address his demands for security assistance for Ukraine in its bid to repel Russia’s invasion, and does not improve controls on the U.S.-Mexico border — the goals of the Senate bill.

“The Administration spent months working with a bipartisan group of Senators to reach a national security agreement that secures the border and provides support for the people of Ukraine and Israel, while also providing much-needed humanitarian assistance to civilians affected by conflicts around the world,” read a statement from the White House. “Instead of working in good faith to address the most pressing national security challenges, this bill is another cynical political maneuver.”

Hakeem Jeffries, the New York Democrat who is minority leader, opposed the bill for the same reason. In a statement, he called it a “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.”

Jeffries also cited the bill’s omission of funds for humanitarian assistance for Palestinians who have been devastated by the war between Israel and Hamas.

Another group of progressive Democrats opposed the bill, saying that aid to Israel should be contingent on American demands, including allowing through humanitarian assistance to Palestinians, and ensuring accountability over how American weapons are used.

Johnson after the vote made clear that the majority of Democrats’ decision to vote against the bill would be held against them.

“Democrats have been unable to present any substantive policy objection in the current legislation,” he said in a statement. “It is clear they are now committed to using Israel aid as leverage to force through other priorities that do not enjoy nearly the same degree of consensus. Leveraging Israel aid as it fights for survival is wrong. The White House and Congressional Democrats should be ashamed.”

In a previous bill that he proposed, Johnson attached aid for Israel to funding cuts for the IRS, a longstanding Republican priority.

Among the Democrats voting for the aid were prominent Jewish Congress members, who said they favored the bill because it rushed aid to Israel at a time of need, even while criticizing Republicans for not addressing other issues, including aid to Ukraine and assistance for Palestinians.

“We must all remember that what is happening in Israel is directly linked to what is happening in Ukraine,” said Rep. Kathy Manning, a Jewish North Carolina Democrat, explaining her vote in favor. “Iran is funding Hamas terrorists and sharing weaponry with Russian forces as they attempt to dismantle democratic nations and inflict horrors upon civilians. Ukraine’s ability to defeat Vladimir Putin is crucial to maintaining the world order, protecting democracy, and safeguarding U.S. national security interests.” PJC

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