US Republicans launch bid to force House vote on BDS
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US Republicans launch bid to force House vote on BDS

Controversial bill meant to oppose the anti-Israel boycott is held up in part because Democrats say it poses a threat to First Amendment free speech protections

Members of Congress arrive before the start of the 116th Congress and swearing-in ceremony on the floor of the US House of Representatives at the US Capitol on January 3, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)
Members of Congress arrive before the start of the 116th Congress and swearing-in ceremony on the floor of the US House of Representatives at the US Capitol on January 3, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Republicans want to force a vote on a controversial bill meant to oppose the anti-Israel boycott.

The bill, which earlier this year passed the Senate, has been held up in part because the Democrats, who control the US House of Representatives, say it poses a threat to First Amendment free speech protections.

The bill would uphold the right of states to ban Israel boycotters from doing business with the states, and protect the states from lawsuits.

Florida Rep. Brian Mast on Wednesday filed a discharge petition to get a majority of House members — 218 — to back bringing it to the floor, one of the only means the minority party has of forcing a vote.

Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the minority whip, must now persuade the entire GOP caucus and at least 21 Democrats to back the petition. He is backed by the minority leader in the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, and the majority leader in the Senate, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

US President Donald Trump, center, accompanied by from left, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., Vice President Mike Pence, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, at Camp David, Md., Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Other notable backers of the effort include Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-ranked Republican in the House, and the only two Jewish Republican lawmakers, Reps. Lee Zeldin of New York and David Kustoff of Tennessee.

Republicans have pushed anti-boycott measures in part as a means of embarrassing Democrats, who are grappling with a left wing that is increasingly critical of Israel and that includes two House members who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.

“House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has let the legislation languish on her desk,” McCarthy and McConnell wrote in an op-ed appearing Wednesday on The Washington Post website. “House Republicans, recognizing that Congress should not remain silent on this subject, are employing a rare procedural tool to attempt to force an up-or-down vote on the measure.”

Democrats similarly have used anti-Semitism as a cudgel against Republicans, noting Trump administration rollbacks in programs targeting white supremacists and affiliations between some on the GOP’s right wing and the far-right.

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