Feb 7, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Inside the "very tough" vote for House Democrats on Israel aid

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, wearing a blue shirt, blue suit, and blue tie, standing at a microphone.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

The White House was calling Democrats to flip them against House Republicans' Israel aid bill, Axios has learned. But 46 voted for it anyway.

Why it matters: The agonizing choice between party loyalty and political safety has become a familiar dynamic for many Democrats on Israel votes.

  • "It was a very tough vote for most," said Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), who voted for the bill.

How it happened: The $17.6 billion aid package failed to get the required two-thirds majority to pass despite the large bipartisan crossover.

  • Democratic leadership blasted it as a "cynical" effort to undermine the Senate's bill to aid to Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan and Palestinian civilians.
  • In addition to threatening a veto, the White House made calls to key Democrats lobbying for a "no" vote, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.

Between the lines: The 46 breakaways were roughly in line with what leadership anticipated, senior Democrats said. One told Axios many members were "really conflicted."

  • The senior lawmaker chalked the defections up to a "natural instinct, for some, to support Israel" and a desire by some vulnerable members not to "fall into a Republican trap" by voting against Israel.
  • "Your constituencies are not going to know all the background of how you vote. They're going to know what you voted on, and if it's 'yes' or 'no'," said Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.).
  • Another Democrat pointed to pro-Israel groups like AIPAC being "very aggressive in their outreach," saying some swing-district members "are just scared of them."

Zoom in: The bill's near-certain demise freed up Democrats to take the less risky vote knowing it wouldn't change the outcome.

  • Republicans still seized on the outcome: "Whether they think this is a political vote or not," said swing-district Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), "how do you vote 'no' on sending aid to Israel?"
  • House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), asked about the Democratic breakaways, replied by pointing to the bill's failure: "What was the result of the Republican legislative effort yesterday?"

Zoom out: "Overwhelmingly most Democrats support Israel," said Frankel –but many struggled with the vote out of "respect for the president" and support for Ukraine.

  • Stevens, who also voted for the bill, said she respects "the president's vision" but "as a member of Congress in the minority in Israel's gravest moment, all I have is my vote."
  • "There are people here, and I completely respect them, who will always vote in favor of Israel regardless of context," said Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), a vocal opponent of the bill.

The bottom line: "The whole point of that vote by the GOP was to try to create divisions in the Democratic caucus," said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).

  • "They knew ... some people would not be willing to hang tough with the president because they didn't want their vote being misrepresented."
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