Updated May 15, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Democrats rage at GOP over "tough vote" on Israel arms sales

Rep. Greg Landsman, wearing a blue suit with his fingers interlocked as he sits in a chair in front of picture frames on a wooden wall.

Rep. Greg Landsman. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Image.

House Democrats are venting fury at Republicans for holding a vote to force President Biden to unpause weapons shipments to Israel.

Why it matters: Some centrist Democrats — particularly Jewish ones — are sick of being forced to choose between their party and their support for Israel on what they see as little more than partisan messaging bills.

Zoom in: "I'll vote for it, but they should pull the bill and work with one of us to write it in such a way that it gets support from the vast majority of the House," Rep. Greg Landsman (D-Ohio) said in a statement.

  • In an interview with Axios, Landsman said it's the "third or fourth" such vote he's had to take in recent months, accusing Republicans of "using this critically important strategic partnership as a political weapon."
  • Staunchly pro-Israel Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) said he is undecided on the vote, citing "major problems" with the measure and saying "this thing is dead anyway" in the Senate.

Driving the news: The House is set to vote Thursday on the Israel Security Assistance Support Act, which would require the "prompt delivery" of all congressionally mandated aid to Israel.

  • If the Biden administration does not comply, the bill would restrict funding to the Pentagon and the State Department as a cudgel.
  • The White House vowed to veto the bill on Tuesday, and House Democratic leadership is actively whipping against it.

Yes, but: Biden has faced bipartisan criticism for withholding a shipment of bombs to Israel to try to stop an invasion of Rafah.

  • 26 House Democrats signing a letter saying they are "deeply concerned" about the move.
  • Several Democrats who nearly always vote for pro-Israel measures — such as Landsman and Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) — say they aren't about to break their streak with this latest bill.

What they're saying: Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East, told Axios it's "bad policy" but a "tough vote [for Democrats] because of the optics."

  • Phillips added, "There's a lot of consternation about it, and that's the sad truth about the institution. It's more about political optics and putting people in tough positions instead of doing what's right."
  • Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) compared House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and staunchly anti-Israel Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), arguing they "have the same message: You can't be a pro-Israel Democrat."
  • "Rashida, at least she doesn't say she's trying to help Israel. But Johnson does," Sherman added, calling the bill "incredibly harmful" to Israel.

The other side: In a statement on Wednesday morning, Johnson said Biden "has turned his back on Israel and is now carrying water for Hamas and Iran."

  • "Now that Israel is fighting for its very survival, he is withholding weapons and threatening to veto legislation that would give the Israelis what they need to adequately defend themselves," he added.

Zoom out: Since the onset of the Israel-Hamas war, House Republicans have repeatedly held votes on Israel and antisemitism-related legislation that has split House Democrats.

  • The National Republican Congressional Committee often doubles the pain by going after swing-district Democrats who vote against the legislation.
  • In a statement on the latest vote, Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) called it a "despicable and shameful pattern of using Israel and Jews as political pawns."

What to watch: One senior House Democrat said Goldman's statement "indicates that it won't fall into, necessarily, conventional buckets" — in other words, that the bill won't garner the dozens of Democratic votes pro-Israel measures often do.

  • That dynamic is already taking shape: Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.), one of Democrats' most reliable pro-Israel votes, signaled that she is a no.
  • The lawmaker acknowledged there are "still going to be a number" of defections, but said the White House's veto threat and strong opposition from top House Democrats "puts pressure on others."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a statement from House Speaker Mike Johnson.

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