Dems lining up against GOP bill to undo Biden’s Israel weapons freeze

House Democrats are lining up to oppose a Republican proposal to reverse President Biden’s recent pause on the delivery of certain weapons to Israel, saying it’s merely a messaging “stunt” designed to divide Democrats without actually helping Israel defend itself.

“It’s just another political stunt to try to go after Joe Biden,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks (N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Wednesday morning as he emerged from a closed-door meeting in the Capitol basement. “That’s all it really is.”

GOP leaders have bashed Biden’s weapons freeze, framing it as a dangerous setback to Israel’s ability to root out Hamas militants in the wake of the group’s deadly attack on Oct. 7. Their bill, which requires the delivery of the weapons affected by the freeze within 15 days of enactment, is set to hit the House floor Thursday.

But Democrats are balking, arguing the bill would, in fact, undermine Israel’s standing in the United States by turning the traditionally bipartisan issue of Israeli defense into a partisan affair. The list of opponents includes some of Congress’s most prominent Jewish lawmakers and Israel allies, who are framing the GOP proposal as a cynical effort to appear to support Israel without actually doing so.

“The bill is an attack on Israel at its weakest point,” said Rep. Brad Sherman (Calif.), a Jewish Democrat and vocal Israel proponent. “Israel has the weapons it needs to carry out everything it’s doing in Gaza.”

Sherman, a senior member of the Foreign Affairs panel, said Israel’s strength hinges largely on two factors: “Bipartisan support in the United States and its image around the world.”

The GOP bill, he said, would damage both.

“I may be more willing to criticize the Biden administration than others,” Sherman said, “but I’m not willing to attack Israel on its two most vulnerable points.”

Providing Democrats with plenty of political cover, the Biden administration has vowed to veto the bill if it reaches the president’s desk.

The GOP measure comes in response to Biden’s announcement last week that he’s prepared to withhold certain offensive weapons systems from Israel if Washington’s ally proceeds with its plan to advance on Rafah, a final Hamas stronghold where more than 1 million Palestinians have sought refuge after months of Israeli strikes across other parts of Gaza.

The move was designed, at least in part, to quell the outcry from liberals in Biden’s party that Israel, in its hunt for Hamas militants, has done far too little to protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza, where roughly 35,000 people have already been killed since Oct. 7. Simultaneously, however, the administration is readying roughly $1 billion in new military help for Tel Aviv, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

But GOP leaders have continued to focus on the weapons freeze, rather than the planned release of more help.

“It’s important for us to express, again, the will of Congress on the matter. And so I don’t think we’ll be changing what we do on the legislation,” Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday evening.

Meeks, who spoke against the Republicans’ bill in the Democratic Caucus meeting Wednesday morning, said the proposal violates existing laws designed to prevent the transfer of weapons to a foreign country — even a close ally — if the administration deems there to be credible evidence that that country has committed “gross” human rights violations.

In a report delivered to Congress last week, State Department officials said it was “reasonable to assess” that Israel has violated international human rights laws, though they stopped short of accusing Israel of clear wrongdoing, citing the difficulty in reaching “conclusive findings on individual incidents” amid the fog of war.

“When it comes to the use of weapons, concerns about incidents where given the totality of the damage that’s been done to children, women, men, it was reasonable to assess that, in certain instances, Israel acted in ways that are not consistent with international humanitarian law,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Still, a number of Democrats have opposed Biden’s weapons freeze, and 26 of them wrote to the president last week with warnings that Congress has “a duty to continue to equip Israel with the resources she needs to defend herself.”

“With democracy under assault around the world, we cannot undermine our ally Israel, especially in her greatest hour of need,” they wrote.

Some of Israel’s staunchest Democratic allies are expected to break with the party and back the GOP bill.

Others, however, bashed Republican leaders for pushing partisan legislation with no chance of becoming law.

“It’s an unserious piece of legislation, one that is cynically designed to divide people,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), a prominent Jewish Democrat who endorsed last week’s letter to Biden.

Democratic leaders have acknowledged Thursday’s vote might be a tough one for some in their party. Still, they’re predicting that a vast majority of the caucus will support Biden when the bill hits the floor.

“Overwhelmingly, House Democrats will reject this bill,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

Mychael Schnell contributed.

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