WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives approved more than $14 billion in aid to Israel Thursday afternoon, setting up House Speaker Mike Johnson’s first major legislative clash with the Senate and White House.
The bill, titled “Israel Supplemental Security Appropriations Act,” passed the House by a vote of 226 to 196, with a majority of Republicans voting in favor of the legislation and a majority of Democrats voting against. Two Republicans defected and voted against the bill, while twelve Democrats voted in favor.
Aid to Israel, a close U.S. ally, as it wages war against Hamas militants, has won broad bipartisan support, but Johnson’s proposal to independently fund Israel has sparked considerable backlash from the U.S.-controlled Senate. the Democrats and the White House.
President Joe Biden called on Congress to pass a sweeping national security funding bill that includes money for Ukraine and U.S. border security. Johnson’s bill only includes aid for Israel, a clear opening salvo from the newly crowned president as he seeks to score conservative policy victories with a narrow Republican majority.
To pay for assistance to Israel, the bill includes a provision that takes away additional funding for the Internal Revenue Service that was originally appropriated from the Inflation Reduction Act, a law championed by Biden and congressional Democrats.
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Johnson has argued that while the United States must step forward to help Israel, “we also have to keep our House in order.” House Republicans, Johnson said in his first formal news conference Thursday morning, must return to “fiscal responsibility” and address the national debt.
Johnson has also argued that a stand-alone Israel funding bill without other foreign aid provisions for U.S. allies makes more sense because of the urgency of the war between Israel and Hamas, which broke out in early October.
However, Senate leaders have shown no interest in a stand-alone 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 that the Senate would craft a bipartisan foreign aid bill that appears to resemble Biden’s sweeping supplemental request. The Senate bill “will include funding for aid to Israel, Ukraine, including humanitarian aid for Gaza, and competition with the Chinese government.”
Some Democrats voted in favor of Johnson’s proposal, but made clear that they grudgingly supported it.
Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Fla., represents one of the most Jewish districts in the country. He was one of twelve Democrats who voted for the bill because he felt Israel needed bipartisan support following the October 7 attack, but said it was a “disgusting” political move to force Democrats to choose between funding Israel or to the IRS.
“Playing politics with Israel in its time of greatest need, our number one ally, the greatest attack on the Jewish people since the Holocaust, that’s what Mike Johnson wanted to be,” Moskowitz said. “It’s just disappointing for a guy who says he lives by the Bible, but wants to cause trouble in the Holy Land.”
Johnson hasn’t found antagonists only in Democrats, either: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has been adamant that Congress should pass far-reaching foreign aid legislation.
“We cannot afford to close our doors and hope that evil will leave us alone,” McConnell said Thursday morning in remarks on the Senate floor, appearing to launch a subtle attack on Johnson and other Republicans for pushing a bill of independent law on Israel. . “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 reaches his desk.
John Kirby, strategic communications coordinator at the National Security Council, said Thursday that Biden wants his entire funding request met. “We wouldn’t have presented it that way if we didn’t believe they were all unimportant and needed to be acted upon together.”
“The president would veto an exclusively Israeli bill. “I think we’ve made that clear,” Kirby said.
Kirby also took aim at Johnson’s legislation for omitting humanitarian assistance that would help bring food, water and medical assistance to the people of Gaza as Israel retaliates against Hamas. “That has to be a failure. That’s nothing more than partisan politics,” she said.
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., one of two GOP members who voted against the relief package, said he was concerned about the national debt. Massie told USA TODAY after the vote that “we can’t afford the money” to finance Israel, pointing to a debt watch he wears on his lapel that tracks the national debt.
The resistance of the Democrats will provoke a confrontation without a clear resolution that calls into question the destination of aid to Israel.
House Democrats seem happy to defer to the Senate and accept whatever legislation the upper chamber has to offer. Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., said in a statement before the House vote on the Israel bill that he would lead efforts to pass the Senate bill in the House.
“I cannot support the terribly flawed, weak and dangerous bill that President Johnson and Republicans have on the floor today,” Schneider said. “The Senate will pass a strong bipartisan relief package. “I will lead the charge to pass that package in the House as soon as humanly possible.”
Johnson, however, has signaled that he will not back down from the next fight. The Louisiana Republican said he has already met with the president, several Cabinet officials and senators and made it clear that “we’re going to do this responsibly.”
He defended the offset in the Israel bill rescinding IRS money even as Schumer dismissed it as a “poison pill.” Johnson, at the press conference, showed confidence that he could win.
“We’re trying to get back to the principle of fiscal responsibility here,” Johnson said. “We are going to defend that and I will continue to deliver that message to the American people. And you know what? I suspect they are with us in this.”
Appearing on Fox Business before 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 arguing 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 are in the business of building consensus here. We don’t have a full consensus on Ukraine yet.”