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House rejects Israel aid bill amid fight over bipartisan border package

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) makes a statement to reporters as Israeli Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana listens at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., February 6, 2024. 

Elizabeth Frantz | Reuters

The House failed to pass a standalone bill to provide aid to Israel amid congressional infighting over a bipartisan Senate border bill that also included foreign aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan.

The vote was 250-180. The bill needed a two-thirds majority to pass in the House under an expedited process for its consideration — a steep hurdle.

Democrats had argued the bill was politicized because a bipartisan group of senators has already agreed to a separate package that addresses aid to Israel, as well as the southern border and aid to Ukraine. Republicans, led by former President Donald Trump, have rejected that deal.

“Make no mistake. What we’re seeing today is a profoundly cynical, political maneuver,” said Democratic Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee on Intelligence, during a floor speech before the vote.

Rep. Betty McCollum, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee, concurred.

“This bill was introduced to get ahead of the Senate’s bipartisan security supplemental, which does address all of our national security priorities,” the Minnesota Democrat said on the House floor.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks with CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 16th, 2024.

Adam Galici | CNBC

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., on Saturday announced the vote on the separate Israel bill after the Senate reached a tentative immigration deal. The Senate released the text of the bipartisan border bill Sunday, which combines Israel and Ukraine with a package of stricter border security and asylum laws.

The standalone Israel bill includes $17.6 billion in military aid to the country “as well as important funding for U.S. Forces in the region,” Johnson’s office has said. The measure, known as the Israel Security Supplemental Appropriations Act and introduced by Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., does not contain spending offsets that Johnson said Democrats objected to in previous legislation.

“Now more than ever, we must stand firm with Israel,” said House Appropriations Committee chair Kay Granger, R-Texas, in a floor speech before the vote. “The bill sends a strong message that the United States supports our great ally.”

Early in Johnson’s speakership, the House passed a bill that would have provided $14.3 billion in aid to Israel but also included IRS cuts, which Senate Democrats and President Joe Biden opposed.

The Biden administration issued a formal veto threat Monday to the standalone Israel aid bill, saying it “strongly opposes” the measure after having worked with a bipartisan group of senators for months to come to an agreement on legislation that aims to secure the border and provide aid to Ukraine and Israel.

“Instead of working in good faith to address the most pressing national security challenges, this bill is another cynical political maneuver,” the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement of administration policy.

“The security of Israel should be sacred, not a political game,” the OMB statement added. “The Administration strongly opposes this ploy which does nothing to secure the border, does nothing to help the people of Ukraine defend themselves against Putin’s aggression, fails to support the security of American synagogues, mosques, and vulnerable places of worship, and denies humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians, the majority of whom are women and children.”

The Israel aid bill comes as Republican hard-liners try to thwart the $118 billion bipartisan Senate border bill. That measure includes provisions seeking to address record-high crossings at the southern border and contains foreign aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. Republicans have said they would support foreign aid to those countries if it is tied with new policies restricting U.S. immigration.

But Johnson said after the border bill was unveiled that it “will be dead on arrival” if it reaches the House. The top four House Republican leaders — Johnson, Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Majority Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota and Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik of New York — have also said they oppose the bill “because it fails in every policy area needed to secure our border and would actually incentivize more illegal immigration.”

House Democratic leadership came out against the stand-alone Israel bill Tuesday morning. In a letter to caucus members, Democratic leaders said the GOP bill “is not being offered in good faith.”

“We are prepared to support any serious, bipartisan effort in connection with the special relationship between the United States and Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East,” wrote Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Whip Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, and Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar of California. “Unfortunately, the standalone legislation introduced by House Republicans over the weekend, at the eleventh hour without notice or consultation, is not being offered in good faith.”

“Rather, it is 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,” they added.

After a Democratic caucus meeting Tuesday morning, lawmakers said leadership was not trying to whip members to vote a certain way.

The legislation also faced opposition from the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which criticized the bill’s lack of provisions to offset the spending with cuts elsewhere.

“Conservatives should not be forced to choose between borrowing money to support our special friend Israel or honoring our commitment to end unpaid supplemental spending that exacerbate our nation’s unsustainable fiscal crisis and further risks our ability to respond to future crises,” the House Freedom Caucus said in a statement before the vote.



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