May 11, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Congress plans all-out brawl with Biden over pausing Israel arms transfers

President Biden, wearing a blue suit, standing in front of American flags and speaking at microphones.

President Biden at an event in Sturtevant, Wisconsin on May 8, 2024. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images.

The Republican-controlled House is priming a multi-pronged effort to combat President Biden's pauses on transfers of weapons to Israel.

Why it matters: The plan includes a vote next week on a bill to break the administration's holds on congressionally appropriated military aid — which is likely to divide Democrats.

  • "I assume they are trying to divide us. I also expect that some Democrats will vote with them," one senior House Democrat told Axios.
  • The lawmaker added that it will be a difficult vote for "some" House Democrats.

Driving the news: House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) said the House will vote as soon as Wednesday on the Israel Security Assistance Support Act.

  • The bill would prohibit the administration from withholding military aid to Israel passed by Congress and require the "prompt delivery" of any aid.
  • Any weapons currently being withheld would have to be shipped within 15 days.
  • As an enforcement mechanism, the bill would restrict funds for the Pentagon and State Department — including the salaries of individual officials — until the agencies comply.

The backdrop: The Biden administration has paused shipments of ammunition and bombs to Israel to signal its concern over a possible ground operation in Southern Gazan city of Rafah.

Between the lines: The vote is likely to highlight Democrats' divisions on the pauses — and potentially resurface broader Democratic tensions on Israel.

  • Biden faced mounting pressure from Democrats in recent weeks to stop sales of offensive weaponry to Israel, increase the flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza and forestall an invasion of Rafah.
  • But on Friday, 26 House Democrats signed a letter saying they are "deeply concerned about the message the Administration is sending to Hamas" by withholding the arms transfers.

What we're hearing: The senior House Democrat who spoke to Axios on the condition of anonymity said Democratic support for Republicans' bill "could be more limited" than the "consistently pro-Israel group" that often votes for the GOP's Israel-related bills.

  • "The question is whether they want to restrict [Biden's] authority entirely or not. ... Whether leadership whips is one question, but then it's also difficult to tell how far they would go in constraining the authority of the president under any circumstances," the lawmaker said.
  • Not all 26 Democrats who signed the letter to Biden are guaranteed votes for the bill: Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) will "be reviewing it in the coming days," a spokesperson told Axios.

Zoom in: In addition to the vote, the House Oversight Committee on Friday launched an investigation into the paused aid shipments.

  • Republican members of the panel wrote in a letter to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan that they are "alarmed" by the administration's willingness to play political games with U.S. taxpayer funded assistance."
  • The letter includes requests for documents, a briefing about the decision to pause the aid and "the decision to keep the pause in weapons delivery out of the public eye" and a legal analysis.
  • Some Republicans have also raised the specter of impeachment as a cudgel against Biden.

The other side: White House spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Friday that Biden has been "clear for several weeks that we do not support a major ground operation in Rafah."

  • "That is a choice Israel will have to make ... the argument that somehow we're walking away from Israel, we're not willing to help them defeat Hamas just doesn't comport with the facts," he said.
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