House GOP pushes bill to force Biden to continue transfer of weapons to Israel

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(WASHINGTON) — Fallout continues on Capitol Hill over President Joe Biden’s pause of a bomb shipment to Israel, and his warning the U.S. won’t supply weapons that could be used in an invasion of Rafah, a city in southern Gaza where more than a million civilians have sought shelter.

The House plans to vote this week on a Republican-led bill that would force the Biden administration to continue the transfer of certain weapons to Israel and would condemn Biden’s decision to hold back some American-made heavy bombs to Israel.

The measure, titled the Israel Security Assistance Support Act, urges the “expeditious delivery” of defense articles and services to Israel and would withhold funds for certain administration officials like secretary of defense and secretary of state until such articles are delivered.

The legislation also reaffirms Israel’s right to self-defense and calls on the Biden administration to allow all previously-approved arms transfers to Israel to “proceed quickly.”

The measure was introduced by Republican Reps. Ken Calvert of California, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Tom Cole, Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida and David Joyce of Ohio.

“Unlike the Administration, House Appropriators will not waver in our ironclad support for Israel,” the group of co-sponsors said in a statement. “The House and Senate acted on the will of the people, overwhelmingly providing Israel with the firepower to send a message: the U.S. and our allies will not cower to terrorist organizations like Hamas.”

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., also took aim at the administration, saying it’s “not President Biden’s job to dictate to Israel how they should go about defending their right to exist and deterring violence against their people.”

“House Republicans stand unequivocally with Israel in its war against terrorists and those that threaten its freedom,” Scalise said.

The chamber is expected to hold a vote on the bill either Wednesday or Thursday.

While it’s likely to garner overwhelming support among Republicans, the bill will force a difficult vote for Democrats — and clearly show the divide on where the party stands regarding Israel.

The measure could garner Democratic support specifically from the 26 lawmakers who wrote a letter to the White House last week raising concerns over Biden’s decision to halt sending bombs to Israel amid fears of civilian casualties in case of a large-scale invasion into Rafah.

But some Democrats have already voiced opposition to the legislation.

New York Rep. Dan Goldman, a pro-Israel Jewish Democrat, called it a “misleading” measure brought by Republicans he said were seeking to score election-year political points.

Goldman said the “Republicans’ latest messaging bill does nothing to materially help Israel’s security, fundamentally mischaracterizes the President’s statements and steadfast support for Israel since October 7, and simply requires commitments that the Administration has repeatedly made.”

“As an American Jew, I am offended by the politicization and partisan manipulation of these very serious issues,” Goldman said.

In a statement, the White House on Tuesday said it “strongly opposes” what it called an “unnecessary and unwise” bill and that the Biden would veto it.

The White House ramped up the rhetoric last week against Israel’s expected invasion of Rafah. In addition to Biden’s pointed warning, 3,500 bombs were withheld from Israel over fears that they could be used in a large-scale ground offensive in Rafah.

The move prompted outrage from Republicans, who deemed it a betrayal of a longtime U.S. ally during wartime. Speaker Mike Johnson called it a “senior moment” on Biden’s part, and expressed anger Congress wasn’t informed ahead of time.

In the Senate, Sen. Lindsey Graham led a group of GOP lawmakers in introducing a resolution condemning any actions by the Biden administration to withhold or restrict ammunition to Israel. Their resolution, though, is unlikely to advance in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

“I think Israel is in a fight for its life [and] that the reason so many Palestinians have been killed is because Hamas has command centers under hospitals. Don’t reward their behavior,” Graham said in a press conference last week.

The White House on Monday attempted to turn down the temperature when it came to the Israel-Hamas conflict. National security adviser Jake Sullivan, in lengthy remarks at the daily press briefing, said he wanted to get back to the “basics” as he reiterated the administration’s view on the war, including that Israel has a right to defend itself from the threat posed by Hamas but also it’s their duty to protect civilians and the need to secure a cease-fire deal in exchange for the release of hostages.

Previous presidents, including Republicans, have withheld aid to send a clear message to Israel and other allies.

On weapons transfers specifically, Sullivan said the administration is “continuing to send military assistance and we will ensure that Israel receives the full amount provided in the supplemental. We have paused the shipment of 2,000-pound bombs because we do not believe they should be dropped in densely populated cities. We are talking to the Israeli government about this.”

“The president was clear that he would not supply certain offensive weapons for such an operation were it to occur. It has not yet occurred,” Sullivan said. “And we are still working with Israel on a better way to ensure the defeat of Hamas, everywhere in Gaza, including in Rafah.”

Sullivan also sought to make clear that Biden’s “commitment to Israel is ironclad.”

“Ironclad doesn’t mean you never disagree, it means you work through your disagreements as only true friends can do. That’s exactly what we’ve done for the past seven months, and that’s what we’ll keep doing,” he said.

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