May 13, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Democrats face rupture over vote to force Israel arms shipments

Rep. Ritchie Torres, wearing a gray suit, white shirt and red tie, sitting at a committee dais with his hand over his mouth.

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

Democratic divisions are already emerging on a GOP bill to force the Biden administration to release its hold on weapons shipments to Israel.

Why it matters: The White House came out forcefully against the bill on Monday, but at least one pro-Israel Democrat is signaling plans to vote for it.

  • "I have a general rule of supporting pro-Israel legislation unless it includes a poison pill—like cuts to domestic policy," Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) told Axios when asked how he plans to vote on the legislation.
  • Torres pointed to his vote against House Republicans' Israel aid package last fall because it included cuts to the IRS.

Driving the news: White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a press briefing on Monday, "We strongly, strongly oppose attempts to constrain the president's ability to deploy U.S. security assistance."

  • Jean-Pierre stressed that the U.S. has paused "only one" shipment of bombs and plans to "spend every last cent" of $17 billion in Israel aid passed by Congress last month.
  • Biden has warned, however, that more shipments of offensive weaponry could be halted if Israel invades the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Zoom in: Biden's decision to withhold arms shipments was applauded by many fellow Democrats, but also saw some bipartisan backlash.

  • A group of 26 pro-Israel Democrats signed onto a letter to Biden last week saying they are "deeply concerned about the message the Administration is sending to Hamas and other Iranian-backed terrorist proxies."
  • Several of those Democrats are reviewing the GOP legislation, their spokespeople told Axios.

Zoom out: Democrats have found themselves repeatedly at each other's throats over Israel since the onset of the Israel-Hamas war last October.

  • Republicans have repeatedly put Israel-related bills on the floor during that period – often symbolic "messaging" bills that Democrats complain are mainly meant to divide them.
  • This bill, however, would have a real impact: Forcing the administration to stop withholding weapons shipments and choking off funding for the Pentagon and State Department if they refuse to comply.

Reality check: Jean-Pierre's Monday statement signals the bill, if passed by the House, would likely face a veto if it reached Biden's desk.

  • It's unclear if it would get a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate. A spokesperson for Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) did not respond to several requests for comment.
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