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U.S. House rebukes Biden administration over pause in heavy bomb shipments to Israel


U.S. House rebukes Biden administration over pause in heavy bomb shipments to Israel

May 16, 2024 | 5:57 pm ET
By Jennifer Shutt Ashley Murray
U.S. House rebukes Biden administration over pause in heavy bomb shipments to Israel
A bill passed Thursday, May 16, 2024, by the U.S. House says military assistance withheld from Israel “shall be delivered to Israel not later than 15 days after” the bill becomes law and requires the secretaries of Defense and State to obligate all funding for Israel within 30 days of the bill becoming law. (Jennifer Shutt | States Newsroom)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House passed legislation Thursday rebuking President Joe Biden’s decision to withhold some military assistance from Israel amid its ongoing war in Gaza.

The 224-187 vote approved a bill released over the weekend by a handful of Republicans that, in part, “calls on the Biden Administration to allow all previously approved arms transfers to Israel to proceed quickly to ensure that Israel can defend itself and defeat threats from Iran and its proxies, including Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthis.”

The measure says withheld military assistance “shall be delivered to Israel not later than 15 days after” the bill becomes law and requires the secretaries of Defense and State to obligate all funding for Israel within 30 days of the bill becoming law.

The legislation now goes to the Senate, but it’s unlikely that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, will bring it up for a vote. The White House issued a veto threat for the bill.

“The president has already said he’d veto it, so it’s not going anywhere,” Schumer said Wednesday.

At a Thursday morning press conference outside the U.S. Capitol, House Speaker Mike Johnson accused Biden of emboldening Iran and “using his authority to defend himself politically.”

“Israel needs to finish the job and America needs to help Israel extinguish the flame of terror that is wrought by Hamas. It wasn’t that long ago when President Biden called for the elimination of Hamas. But he’s not doing that anymore. And now it’s clear that Biden and Schumer have turned their back on Israel. They’re carrying water for Iran and its proxies,” Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, said.

House Appropriations Chairman Tom Cole, of Oklahoma; Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert, of California; State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mario Díaz-Balart, of Florida; and Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman David Joyce, of Ohio, released the nine-page bill this weekend.

Quiet pause

The legislation comes weeks after the Biden administration quietly paused one shipment of heavy bombs to Israel over concerns that more civilians in Gaza could be killed by U.S.-supplied weapons.

The death toll has reached more than 35,000 in Gaza, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Biden is facing severe opposition from progressives, including high-profile protests on college campuses, over Israel’s continued offensive following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.

The previously scheduled single shipment that was paused in late April contained 1,800 2,000-pound bombs and 1,700 500-pound bombs, according to a Pentagon update on May 9.

Pentagon spokesman Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters on May 9 that the administration has “not made a final determination on how to proceed with this shipment.”

“And as you know, we’ve provided billions of dollars in security assistance to Israel. We’ve supported their efforts to defend themselves, most recently (during) Iran’s unprecedented attack. So there should be no question that we will continue to stand by Israel when it comes to their defense,” Ryder said during a press conference.

The U.S. and allies shot down dozens of drones and missiles launched by Iran at Israel in mid-April, according to the Pentagon.

Israel has been the largest cumulative recipient of financial support from the U.S. since World War II, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

Some House Democrats, including Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, expressed concern over the administration’s paused shipment, though she voted against the bill Thursday.

“President Biden has been ironclad in his commitment to Israel over the last seven months. His Administration must stay the course and avoid any impression that our support is wavering,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement Friday.

“Targeting remaining Hamas fighters while minimizing harm to civilians will require the best of our combined efforts. I share the President’s concern for Palestinian civilians used as human shields and understand the risks posed by a full-scale invasion of Rafah. However, we must remember that Hamas is eager to sacrifice as many Palestinian lives as possible and wants to maximize the civilian toll of this operation as part of their cowardly PR campaign,” she continued.

Numerous media reports are citing congressional aides who say the White House is poised to sign off on a $1 billion arms transfer to Israel.

When asked by reporters Thursday about the reported deal, Johnson criticized it as “window dressing” to provide Biden with “political cover.”

White House ‘strongly’ opposes bill

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday during the press briefing that the administration didn’t support the legislation.

“We strongly, strongly oppose attempts to constrain the president’s ability to deploy U.S. security assistance consistent with U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives,” she said.

Jean-Pierre added the Biden administration plans “to spend every last cent appropriated, consistent with legal obligations.”

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said during the same press briefing the administration had “paused a shipment of 2,000-pound bombs because we do not believe they should be dropped in densely populated cities.”

“We still believe it would be a mistake to launch a major military operation into the heart of Rafah that would put huge numbers of civilians at risk without a clear strategic gain,” Sullivan said. “The president was clear that he would not supply certain offensive weapons for such an operation, were it to occur.”

Sullivan said the Biden administration was working with the Israeli government “on a better way to ensure the defeat of Hamas everywhere in Gaza, including in Rafah.” He also noted that the U.S. is “continuing to send military assistance” to Israel.

The White House released a statement of administration policy on Tuesday further criticizing the legislation and issuing a veto threat.

“The bill is a misguided reaction to a deliberate distortion of the Administration’s approach to Israel,” it states. “The President has been clear: we will always ensure Israel has what it needs to defend itself.”