Apr 20, 2024 - Politics & Policy

"Challenging” Israel aid vote tears Democrats apart

Rep. Gregory Meeks.

Rep. Gregory Meeks. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images.

House Democrats are grappling bitterly with a $26 billion bill providing military aid to Israel that's set to take place on Saturday.

Why it matters: Concerns about Israel's conduct in Gaza and the inclusion of aid for Gaza and other humanitarian crisis spots have made it a hard vote for many progressive lawmakers.

  • "I think it's challenging for everyone," said Rep. Greg Casar (D-Texas), a leading progressive who is opposing the bill.
  • The bill is part of a four-bill foreign aid package the House is voting on Saturday.

What we're hearing: One senior House Democrat told Axios they expect roughly 40 to 50 Democrats to vote against the bill, but that number is very much in flux.

  • Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), a progressive and outspoken advocate for Palestinians who also leads Democrats on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, said in a statement she will vote for it.
  • Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said he will vote for the bill "with some discomfort in my stomach."

Zoom in: At House Democrats' caucus meeting ahead of the vote on Saturday, House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) argued for the bill, two senior House Democrats said.

  • "The undercurrent of Meeks' comment was trying to convince the people who are holding out on Israel by talking about the $9.2 billion in humanitarian aid," said one of the lawmakers.
  • Meeks also noted that the aid is not just for Gaza, but Sudan, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and other global hot spots.

What they're saying: "Three quarters of what's in that package is stuff that I support … but it comes, for me, down to looking at Netanyahu's prosecution of this war," said one undecided House Democrat.

  • Casar told Axios "there are many people who will be voting yes on this bill who share many of my concerns about [Israel] ... there will be many people voting against it who, obviously, all support the humanitarian aid."
  • "So this isn't easy for anyone," Casar said.
  • "If it were just offensive aid for Israel, it would be easy ... the giving with one hand and taking away with the other becomes complicated," said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.).

Yes, but: Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), a pro-Israel lawmaker who has also championed global humanitarian aid, said he's not letting colleagues off the hook for voting against the package.

  • "The humanitarian part of this bill is going to save hundreds of thousands of lives. Put another way: If you vote against this bill, you're voting against those hundreds of thousands of people continuing to live," he told Axios.
  • "The entire country, right, left and center, seems to think that the only thing happening in the world and the only people dying and living are in Israel and Gaza. God! We've got eight billion people on this planet."

The bottom line: The dynamic highlights a dilemma that has been dividing Democrats since the onset of the Israel-Hamas war – and will likely continue to do so as long as the war rages.

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