May 15, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Democrats seek escape hatch on increasingly toxic Israel vote

Rep. Kathy Manning, wearing a red blazer, sitting with her head on her hand at a committee hearing.

Rep. Kathy Manning. Photo: Haiyun Jiang/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

Some House Democrats are trying to get creative in the face of pressure from both pro-Israel groups and the Biden administration on a bill to force weapons shipments to Israel, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Many moderate and Jewish Democrats are under enormous strain as they try to balance their loyalty to their party and president with their support for Israel.

State of play: Rep. Kathy Manning (D-N.C.) told Axios she has introduced two amendments to make the bill more palatable to Democrats.

  • One of the amendments would strip out language around cutting the salaries of Pentagon and State Department officials. The other would require the prompt delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza as well.
  • Rep. Greg Landsman (D-Ohio), who has said he will reluctantly vote for the measure, has beseeched Republican leaders to pull the bill altogether.
  • Rep. Wiley Nickel (D-N.C.) said he is "strongly leaning towards voting for" the bill, but for an unusual reason: "I'm really concerned that if Trump becomes president, he could do the same thing to Ukraine."

The details: The bill would require the "prompt delivery" of arms to Israel and restrict funding to the State Department and Pentagon if they refuse.

  • It's a response to President Biden pausing a shipment of large bombs to Israel to try to prevent an invasion of the southern Gazan city of Rafah.
  • That decision has met with bipartisan backlash, but some Democrats have stopped short of supporting the bill for fear of setting a broader precedent.
  • The White House has threatened a veto, and House Democratic leadership is actively whipping against the bill.

Between the lines: The bill is on track to pass the House on Thursday in a bipartisan vote, but it's still highly unlikely to become law.

  • But it's a political win for Republicans as they force vulnerable Democrats to take a tough vote.

What we're hearing: The pro-Israel group AIPAC has been making calls to members urging them to support the bill, according to several Democratic sources. One House Democrat said they are "whipping hard."

  • On the other side, sources told Axios that Biden officials, including National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, are making calls against the bill, which were first reported by Punchbowl News.
  • House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Jim Himes (D-Conn.) also spoke forcefully against the bill at a closed-door Democratic Caucus meeting on Wednesday morning, according to multiple lawmakers.
  • "I explained to the caucus that these bombs are ... powerful munitions, very very difficult to use without massive collateral damage," Himes told Axios.

Zoom in: Democratic leadership is bullish they can keep their defections to a minimum.

  • Asked on Tuesday if she anticipates most Democrats will vote against the bill, House Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) told Axios: "Yes, I do."

The bottom line: "I really am asking them to take a beat – you have the time – and pull the bill," said Landsman told Axios.

  • Landsman said GOP leadership should "pull one of us [pro-Israel Democrats] aside ... and within about 15 minutes, we will have a bipartisan bill that will send the most compelling message."
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