US House passes bill requiring delivery of bombs to Israel in GOP-led rebuke of Biden

16 Democrats join nearly all Republicans to approve measure, which Schumer has pledged isn’t ‘going anywhere’ in the Senate and the president has vowed to veto

From left, GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, House Speaker Mike Johnson, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise and Majority Whip Tom Emmer speak to reporters about US President Joe Biden pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, Washington, May 16, 2024. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
From left, GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, House Speaker Mike Johnson, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise and Majority Whip Tom Emmer speak to reporters about US President Joe Biden pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, Washington, May 16, 2024. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — The US House of Representatives delivered a rebuke to President Joe Biden Thursday for pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, passing legislation that seeks to force the weapons transfer as Republicans worked to highlight Democratic divisions over the Israel-Hamas war.

Seeking to discourage Israel from its offensive against Hamas in the crowded southern Gaza city of Rafah, the Biden administration this month put on hold a weapons shipment of 3,500 bombs — some as large as 2,000 pounds — over concerns about their use in populated areas. Republicans were outraged, accusing Biden of abandoning the closest US ally in the Middle East.

Debate over the bill, rushed to the House floor by GOP leadership this week, showed Washington’s deeply fractured outlook on the Israel-Hamas war. The White House and Democratic leadership scrambled to rally support from a House caucus that ranges from moderates frustrated that the president would allow any daylight between the US and Israel to progressives outraged that he is still sending any weapons at all.

The bill passed comfortably 224-187 as 16 Democrats joined with most Republicans to vote in favor. Three Republicans voted against it.

On the right, Republicans said the president had no business chiding Israel for how it uses the US-manufactured weapons that are instrumental in its war against Hamas, which was triggered by the terror group’s October 7 onslaught. They have not been satisfied with the Biden administration moving forward this week on a new $1 billion sale to Israel of tank ammunition, tactical vehicles and mortar rounds.

“We’re beyond frustrated,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said. “I don’t think we should tell the Israelis how to conduct their military campaign, period.”

The House bill condemns Biden for initiating the pause on the bomb shipment and has said it would withhold funding for the State Department, Department of Defense and the National Security Council until the delivery is made.

The White House has said Biden would veto the bill if it passes Congress, and the Democratic-led Senate seems certain to reject it.

“It’s not going anywhere,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said earlier this week.

US President Joe Biden, center, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, left, talk to reporters before a lunch with Senate Democrats on his budget and political agenda, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, March 2, 2023. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Republicans were undeterred as they tried to highlight Democratic divides on the Israel-Hamas war. Appearing on the Capitol steps ahead of voting Thursday morning, House Republican leaders argued that passage of the bill in the House would build pressure on Schumer and Biden.

“It is President Biden and Senator Schumer himself who are standing in the way of getting Israel the resources it desperately needs to defend itself,” Speaker Mike Johnson said.

Biden placed the hold on the transfer of the bombs this month over concerns the weapons could inflict massive casualties in Rafah. The move underscored growing differences between his administration and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government over its handling of the war.

Israel launched its offensive against Hamas with the aim of destroying it and retrieving the hostages taken on October 7, when Palestinian terrorists killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 252 captives.

According to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, over 35,000 Palestinians have died in the conflict, though only some 24,000 fatalities have been identified at hospitals. The Gaza health ministry figures are unverified and do not differentiate between civilians and combatants, and includes some 15,000 terror operatives Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

279 soldiers have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border. A civilian Defense Ministry contractor was also been killed in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian death toll in Gaza has prompted intense protests on the left, including on university campuses nationwide and some aimed directly at Biden. At the same time, a group of moderate Democrats in Congress have expressed almost unconditional support for Israel. Roughly two dozen House Democrats last week signed a letter to the Biden administration saying they were “deeply concerned about the message” sent by pausing the bomb shipment.

A rocket launcher after it was destroyed by troops in southern Gaza’s Rafah, in a handout image published May 16, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Faced with the potential for a significant number of those Democrats voting for the GOP House bill, the White House reached out this week to lawmakers and congressional aides about the legislation, including a classified briefing on the security situation.

House Democratic leadership also worked hard to convince rank-and-file lawmakers to vote against the bill.

“The legislation on the floor today is not a serious effort to strengthen the special relationship between the United States and Israel,” said House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries.

He added that he supported the effort to “decisively” defeat Hamas while also advocating for a goal of “Israel living in safety and security side by side with a demilitarized Palestinian state that allows for dignity and self-determination amongst the Palestinian people.”

With the general election campaign coming into focus, the speaker has mostly turned to advancing partisan bills, including legislation on immigration, local policing and antisemitism, that are intended to force Democrats into taking difficult votes.

Ahead of voting on Thursday, several Democrats who have been openly critical of Biden’s hold on the bomb shipment came out in opposition to the House bill.

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat who signed the letter criticizing the pause, said she was voting against the bill because it threatened to defund US national security programs.

“It’s being done to score cheap political points,” she said in a floor speech.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a New Jersey Democrat, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, attend a vigil for Israeli victims of Hamas’s October 7 massacre on the steps of the US Capitol Building, October 12, 2023. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images via JTA)

As an alternative, Representative Michael McCaul, the Republican chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced a separate bill on Thursday with some bipartisan backing that would require the president to notify Congress before holding the delivery of defensive weapons to Israel and allow Congress to override the hold.

Still, the 16 Democrats who voted for the bill showed a willingness to defy the president’s handling of the US relationship with Israel.

“The administration has been wavering so I’m going to vote for the bill when it comes to the floor,” Representative Ritchie Torres, a New York Democrat, said this week.

Another Democrat who has criticized the pause on the bomb shipment, Representative Jared Moskowitz of Florida, said this week he was also considering the messages being sent to the Jewish community in the United States.

“My community right now is worried,” he said. “Things don’t happen in a vacuum.”

Historically, the US has sent enormous amounts of weaponry to Israel, and it has only accelerated those shipments since the October 7 attack, which Biden has called the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust. But some progressives are pushing for an end to that relationship as they claim Israel’s campaign into Gaza amounts to genocide — a characterization that the Biden administration has rejected.

“My fear is that our government and us as citizens, as taxpayers, we are going to be complicit in genocide,” said Representative Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat who has faced repeated accusations of antisemitism related to her criticism of Israel. “And that goes against everything we value as a nation.”

Before the vote, far-left staffers for Democratic members of Congress held a protest on Capitol Hill urging Biden to “stop funding Israel’s war against Palestinian civilians.”

Roughly two dozen staffers participated many wearing masks to hide their identities.

From photos of the event posted online, there appeared to be nearly as many reporters covering the protest as demonstrators.

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