Republican senator blocks expedited US passage of Iron Dome funding

Rand Paul’s move slows Democrat Bob Menendez’s effort to advance legislation by unanimous consent to grant $1 billion for missile defense system, but bill still certain to pass

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Sen. Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, speaks during a virtual Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing, Tuesday, May 12, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Win McNamee/Pool via AP)
Sen. Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, speaks during a virtual Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing, Tuesday, May 12, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Win McNamee/Pool via AP)

NEW YORK — Republican Rand Paul on Monday blocked the US Senate from fast-tracking $1 billion in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense program, but the bill is still certain to pass.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Democrat Bob Menendez, brought the Iron Dome funding bill to the Senate floor to be approved by unanimous consent after the House voted overwhelmingly to advance the legislation earlier this month. Approving the bill unanimously would have expedited its passage, obviating the need for a more formal debate and vote on the matter.

But Paul objected to Menendez’s effort, saying his own version of the bill — which requires the Iron Dome funding to come from $6 billion in proposed US assistance to Afghanistan — should be adopted instead.

Menendez rejected Paul’s proposal, and the Senate found itself at a standstill on the issue.

The Iron Dome funding bill is still certain to pass, but it will require a more formal floor vote, akin to the one held by the House earlier this month when the measure passed 420-9 with two abstentions. Democratic leadership in the Senate will be tasked with scheduling that floor vote, and it could still take place later this week. The Senate is out of session next week and could be out even longer if the debt ceiling is not raised by October 18.

Once the bill is approved by the Senate, it will be brought to US President Joe Biden for his signature. The president has already vowed to approve the funding.

An Iron Dome anti-rocket battery seen in the city of Haifa, August 30, 2013. (Gili Yaari /Flash 90)

Addressing the Senate after introducing the unanimous consent resolution on Monday, Menendez said, “There is no conceivable reason why anyone in this chamber on either side of the aisle should stand in the way of US support for this life-saving defense to be fully ready for the next attack.”

“The only reason [the bill is] being held up in this body is because of [Paul’s] amendment. It is not a member of the Democratic caucus. This is a defensive life safety system built on years of cooperation with our ally Israel. I’m disappointed we’re in this situation,” he added.

A spokesman for Paul told The Times of Israel, “Democrats are the ones who blocked Dr. Paul’s proposal to fully fund Iron Dome using money that would have otherwise gone to the Taliban. All Republican senators supported Dr. Paul’s proposal.”

Menendez refuted his assertion that money was going to the Taliban.

“Let me be clear, and echo what the Administration has said: No US foreign aid will go to a Taliban-controlled Afghan government. This does not mean that we remain any less committed to supporting the Afghan people,” he said on the floor.

“Senator Paul’s amendment would undermine US national security, it would abandon the Afghan people in their darkest hour, and it would betray the American people’s commitment to supporting our Afghan allies,” he said.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., speaks during a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on the CARES Act on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021 in Washington. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee sided against the Republican senator from Kentucky, tweeting that he had “joined” House Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Thomas Massie “in not supporting emergency funding for Iron Dome.”

“Their objections to funding Iron Dome undermine Israel’s security, cost innocent lives, make war more likely, and embolden Iran-backed terrorists,” AIPAC added.

The opposition of eight progressive Democrats to the legislation’s passage in the House, along with their earlier efforts to have the $1 billion in funding stripped from a government spending bill, sparked a significant outcry among mainstream US Jewish groups as well as concern from the Israeli government over the possibility that the entire party might be coopted by a small minority of vociferous Israel critics.

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