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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

House GOP plans vote on Israel aid as Senate tries to close broader deal



House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) delivers remarks during a press briefing on Capitol Hill, in Washington on Jan. 30, 2024. Johnson pledged, on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, that the House would hold a vote next week on legislation to speed $17.6 billion in security assistance to Israel with no strings attached, a move likely to complicate Senate leaders’ efforts to rally support for a broader package with border security measures and aid to Ukraine. (Anna Rose Layden/The New York Times)

By Karoun Demirjian


Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., pledged Saturday that the House would hold a vote this week on legislation to speed $17.6 billion in security assistance to Israel with no strings attached, a move likely to complicate Senate leaders’ efforts to rally support for a broader package with border security measures and aid to Ukraine.


Johnson’s announcement to members of his conference came as senators were scrambling to finalize and vote on a bipartisan national security bill that has taken months to negotiate. The move could further erode GOP support for the emerging compromise, which was flagging under criticism from party leaders including Johnson and former President Donald Trump.


Johnson has said that the Senate package would be dead on arrival in the House, arguing that its border security measures are not stringent enough to clamp down on a recent surge of immigration. He said the House would instead focus its efforts on the impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas — a vote on which is now expected to take place this week.


In a letter to his members Saturday, Johnson said the House would also prioritize its own approach to helping Israel’s war effort against Hamas, regardless of what — if any — related legislation the Senate might produce.


“Their leadership is aware that by failing to include the House in their negotiations, they have eliminated the ability for swift consideration of any legislation,” Johnson wrote, adding that “the House will have to work its will on these issues and our priorities will need to be addressed.”


Senate negotiators have been working on a national security funding bill to address Republican demands that any legislation sending military aid to Ukraine also significantly improve security at the southern border with Mexico. The emerging legislation, which includes measures making it more difficult to claim asylum and increasing both detentions and deportations, would also send more military aid to Ukraine and Israel, dedicate humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in Gaza and fund efforts to counter Chinese threats to the Indo-Pacific region.


Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced this past week that the Senate would vote no later than Wednesday on whether to take up the bill, the text of which negotiators are expected to publicize no later than Sunday.


But the measure is facing stiff headwinds from Senate Republicans who think the border enforcement provisions ought to be tougher, as well as those loath to take a politically challenging vote for a bill that is all but assured to die at the GOP-led House’s door.


Several Republicans in the Senate and House have clamored for a split approach that would address Israel’s war effort separately from Ukraine and the border. Late last year, the Democratic-led Senate rejected a GOP attempt to force a vote on an earlier Israel aid bill backed by the House. Democrats objected to the way the House GOP bill sought to pay for it, by making cuts to the IRS.


In his letter Saturday, Johnson acknowledged that history.


“Democrats made clear that their primary objection to the original House bill was with its offsets,” he wrote, adding that with the new Israel package, “the Senate will no longer have excuses, however misguided, against swift passage of this critical support for our ally.”


The new bill, which was unveiled by House appropriators, is larger than the House’s previous Israel measure, which totaled $14.3 billion. President Joe Biden had sought that amount for Israel as part of a larger request he made in October for supplemental funds to address various global crises, including Ukraine.


But it does not include any funding for humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians in Gaza, which many Democrats have insisted must accompany any military aid for Israel. Several left-wing Democrats are also pressing for conditions to be attached to whatever military assistance Congress approves for Israel, to guarantee U.S.-supplied weapons are used in keeping with international law and that aid shipments to Palestinian civilians are not hindered.


The $17.6 billion House measure would direct $4 billion to replenishing Israel’s missile defense systems known as Iron Dome and David’s Sling, as well as $1.2 billion to counter short-range rocket and mortar attacks. An additional $8.9 billion would go toward supplying Israel with weapons and related services, helping it produce its own and replenishing defense stock the United States has already provided; while $3.5 billion would go toward supporting U.S. military operations, embassy security and efforts to evacuate American citizens in the region.

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