Feb 15, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Foreign aid bill resurfaces House Democrats' Israel tensions

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, wearing a black coat and standing in front of a multi-colored poster.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu via Getty Images.

As House Democrats push hard for a vote on the Senate's national security package, some progressive lawmakers are pushing back over Israel aid.

Why it matters: Israel has proven a consistent and often highly charged wedge in Democrats' otherwise unified front this congressional session.

What they're saying: Several members of the progressive "Squad" told Axios that they are firmly opposed the bill.

  • "There's no way I'm voting to send more money for war," said Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.).
  • Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said she would "vote no" on the bill.
  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) cited the bill's blanket ban on funding for UNRWA, a key Palestinian refugee agency, telling Axios "a lot [of] members find that rather offensive and appalling."

Zoom out: It's not just Squad members who have misgivings Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal told Axios, "I can't vote for aid to Israel."

  • Jayapal said the conditions on aid to Gaza, including restrictions on UNRWA funding, are also "troubling" and "would be a problem for me."
  • Rep. Greg Casar (D-Texas) said he is a "supporter of actual defensive capabilities for Israel," but "offensive operations like what's happening in Rafah [are] very hard for me."
  • "When you're seeing what's happening in Rafah, it's impossible for me to be able to fund something like that," said Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.).

State of play: House Republicans are refusing to hold a vote on the $95 billion package due to the lack of border security provisions.

  • In addition to $60 billion in aid to Ukraine and $14 billion in security assistance to Israel, the bill includes $9 billion in humanitarian aid to Palestinians and $5 billion to for the Indo-Pacific.

Zoom in: While progressive votes would likely not be needed to pass the bill, their opposition could undercut a possible Democratic effort to force a vote on it.

  • Democrats appear far short of the 218 signatures needed for what is known as a discharge petition, however.
  • House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) dismissed questions about the lack of progressive support on Tuesday, saying the "overwhelming majority" of Democrats support the bill.
  • "We are not the problem," he added.

What they're saying: Ocasio-Cortez expressed frustration about the foreign aid bill, as well as an earlier version that included strict border security policy, being negotiated in the Senate without buy-in from the left.

  • "We're giving up so much, and for what?" she said. "For a complete lack of certainty without having the vote, you're losing huge amounts of votes on the progressive side ... [and] you're not going to win any votes on the conservative side."
  • "You really need to be doing the math for both chambers while you're negotiating a package like this, and there just weren't the right people in the room that understood what was actually passable," she added.

The other side: Progressive Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) told Axios he is "very positively disposed" to the bill, noting that it includes humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in Gaza.

  • Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said she is undecided, telling Axios that she is concerned about the lack of UNRWA funding but that the inclusion of Palestinian aid is "huge."
Go deeper