Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu rejects calls for cease-fire
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected calls for a cease-fire, calling it a “surrender to terrorism,” as war continues between Israel and Hamas.
WASHINGTON – House Republicans approved more than $14 billion in Israel aid Thursday afternoon setting up House Speaker Mike Johnson’s first major legislative clash with the Senate and White House.
The bill, titled the “Israel Security Supplemental Appropriations Act” cleared the lower chamber by a vote of 226-196 with most Republicans voting for the legislation and most Democrats voting against it.
Aid to Israel, a close U.S. ally, as it fights a war against Hamas militants, has garnered widespread bipartisan support, but Johnson’s proposal for standalone Israel funding has drawn considerable backlash from the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House.
President Joe Biden requested Congress pass a broad national security funding bill that includes money for Ukraine and U.S. border security. Johnson’s bill only includes assistance for Israel — a clear opening salvo from the newly-crowned speaker as he seeks to extract conservative policy wins with a narrow GOP majority.
To pay for the Israel assistance, the bill includes a provision pulling back additional funding for the Internal Revenue Service that was originally allocated from the Inflation Reduction Act, a law championed by Biden and congressional Democrats.
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Johnson has argued that while the U.S. must step up to aid Israel, “we have to keep our House in order as well.” House Republicans, Johnson said at his first formal news conference Thursday morning, must return to “fiscal responsibility” and address the national debt.
Johnson has also contended that a standalone Israel funding bill without other foreign aid provisions for U.S. allies is more sensible due to the urgency of the Israel-Hamas war, which broke out in early October.
Senate leadership however has shown no appetite for a standalone bill. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., derided Johnson’s bill as a “deeply flawed proposal” in a post on X, formerly Twitter.
Instead, Schumer promised the Senate would craft a bipartisan foreign aid bill that appears to resemble Biden’s broad supplemental request. The Senate’s bill will “include funding for aid to Israel, Ukraine, humanitarian aid including for Gaza, and competition with the Chinese Government.”
Johnson hasn’t found antagonists in only Democrats either – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has been adamant Congress should pass wide-ranging foreign aid legislation.
“We don’t have the luxury of closing our gates and hoping for evil to leave us alone,” McConnell said Thursday morning in remarks on the Senate floor, appearing to take a subtle shot at Johnson and other Republicans for pushing a standalone Israel bill. “America’s allies are waking up to that fact. Now is not the time for the leader of the free world to go to sleep.”
The White House issued a veto threat if the House bill makes it to his desk.
John Kirby, the coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council, said Thursday that Biden wants to see his entire funding request honored. “We wouldn’t have submitted it that way if we did not believe that they all weren’t important and should be acted on together.”
“The president would veto an only-Israel bill. I think that we’ve made that clear,” Kirby said.
Kirby also took aim at Johnson’s legislation for omitting humanitarian assistance that would help get food, water and medical assistance to the people of Gaza as Israel retaliates against Hamas. “That’s got to be a non-starter. That’s nothing more than partisan politics right there,” he said.
The resistance from Democrats will cause a standoff with no clear resolution bringing the fate of Israel aid into question.
House Democrats appear happy to cede to the Senate and take up whatever legislation the upper chamber has to offer. Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., said in a statement prior to the House’s vote on the Israel bill that he would spearhead efforts to pass the Senate’s bill in the lower chamber.
“I cannot support the terribly flawed, weak and dangerous bill Speaker Johnson and the Republicans have on the floor today,” Schneider said. “The Senate will pass a robust, bipartisan aid package. I will lead the charge to pass that package in the House as soon as humanly possible.”
Johnson however, has signaled he won’t back down in the coming fight. The Louisiana Republican said he has already met with the president, multiple cabinet officials and senators and made clear “we’re going to do this in a responsible manner.”
He defended the offset in the Israel bill rescinding money from the IRS even as Schumer dismissed it as a “poison pill.” Johnson, at the news conference, portrayed confidence he could win out.
“We’re trying to get back to the principle of fiscal responsibility here,” Johnson said. “We’re gonna stand for that and I’m going to continue to message that for the American people. And you know what? I suspect they’re with us on it.”
Appearing on Fox Business ahead of the vote, he rejected pressure to bring Biden’s full request to the floor, saying the president’s other requests “deserve a more sober look” and argued for separate debates and discussions.
“So we’re going to handle the Ukraine issue and the border issue probably together (on) the House side,” he said. “We’re in the consensus-building business here. We don’t have a full consensus yet on Ukraine.”