Democrats press Blinken on arms sales to Israel without congressional approval

A bicameral coalition of nearly 20 Democrats urged the State Department on Monday to provide information on the Biden administration’s decisions to sell arms to Israel amid its ongoing war with Hamas without explicit congressional approval.

The letter, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), increases pressure on the Biden White House from Democrats concerned with the U.S. role in the Gaza conflict, which has raged since Hamas’s attack in early October.

The Biden administration has bypassed congressional notification on Israel arms sales twice, raising concerns among the lawmakers.

The members of Congress “shared the world’s horror” over the violence of Hamas militants but are also “deeply disturbed” over Israel’s “indiscriminate bombing” of Palestinians in Gaza, the letter says.

“It is essential for Congress to be able to conduct oversight of these arms transfers and determine whether they are consistent with humanitarian principles and U.S. law, and whether they advance or harm U.S. national security,” the letter reads.

“It is highly unusual for the president to bypass congressional oversight through an emergency declaration,” it continues. “In fact, since the [Arms Export Control Act] was passed into law, an emergency declaration authority has only been used 18 times in nearly 50 years.”

The lawmakers drew attention to the mass civilian casualties in the conflict, and the use of U.S. munitions in strikes that killed civilians. More than 25,000 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

“We are also troubled by the decision to provide equipment for 155mm shells, which over 30 U.S.-based civil society organizations warned poses ‘a grave risk to civilians’ and are ‘inherently indiscriminate’ when used in densely populated areas like Gaza,” the letter reads.

Specifically, the letter demands Secretary of State Antony Blinken provide official explanations for why the administration chose to pursue emergency transfers of arms instead of the standard procedure of congressional notification.

“Congress and the American public deserve thorough answers on how this policy was applied for these two emergency transfers,” the lawmakers continued. “Use of a national emergency waiver does not exempt the U.S. government from assessing whether arms sales are consistent with these policies.”

Warren and McGovern were joined on the letter by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Maxine Waters (D-Fla.), and 11 other lawmakers.

The Biden administration is looking to slow future weapons sales to Israel in order to force the Israeli military to temper its military operation in Gaza, NBC News reported Monday.

The move is the strongest indication of the administration’s pressure on the Israeli government to ease up on its military operation and potentially work toward a Palestinian civilian government in Gaza, which Israeli officials have rejected.

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