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House votes to demand delivery of US bombs to Israel

By Stephen Groves and Seung Min Kim | Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday chastised President Joe Biden for stopping the shipment of bombs to Israel, passing legislation to force the arms transfer as Republicans worked to highlight Democratic divisions over the Israel-Hamas war.

Seeking to discourage Israel from its offensive on the populated southern Gaza town of Rafah, the Biden administration this month suspended a weapons delivery of 3,500 bombs – some weighing up to 2,000 pounds – capable of killing hundreds of people in populated areas. Republicans were outraged, accusing Biden of abandoning the United States’ closest ally in the Middle East.

Debate over the bill, rushed to the House this week by Republican Party leaders, showed Washington’s deeply divided view of the war between Israel and Hamas. The White House and Democratic leaders scrambled to rally support from a House caucus ranging from moderates frustrated that the president would allow any rapprochement between the United States and Israel to progressives outraged that he continues to send weapons.

The bill passed comfortably by a vote of 224 to 187, as 16 Democrats joined most Republicans in voting for it. Three Republicans voted against.

On the right, Republicans said the president should not blame Israel for the way it uses U.S.-made weapons that are instrumental in its war against Hamas. They are not happy that the Biden administration this week moved forward with a new sale to Israel of tank ammunition, tactical vehicles and mortars worth $1 billion.

“We are beyond frustrated,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. “I don’t think we should tell the Israelis how to conduct their military campaign, period. »

House bill condemns Biden for initiating pause on bomb shipment and would suspend funding to the State Department, Department of Defense and National Security Council until delivery is made .

The White House has said Biden would veto the bill if it passes Congress, and the Democratic-led Senate appears certain to reject it.

“This isn’t going anywhere,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said earlier this week.

The Republicans were not discouraged. Appearing on the Capitol steps before the vote Thursday morning, House Republican leaders argued that passing the bill in the House would increase pressure on Schumer and Biden.

“It is President Biden and Senator Schumer himself who are standing in the way of Israel getting the resources it desperately needs to defend itself,” President Mike Johnson said.

Biden suspended the transfer of the bombs this month, fearing that the weapons could inflict massive casualties on Rafah and deter Israel from the attack.

More than 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed as Israel attempts to eliminate Hamas in retaliation for its October 7 attack that killed 1,200 people in Israel and took about 250 others prisoner. Hundreds of thousands of people could be in danger of death if Israel attacks Rafah, the United Nations humanitarian aid agency has warned, as many have fled there for protection.

The heavy toll of the Israeli campaign has sparked intense protests on the left, including on college campuses across the country, and some aimed directly at Biden. In a rare scene on the Capitol steps Thursday, a group of about two dozen House aides gathered just as lawmakers entered the chamber to vote and unfurled a banner that read: “ Your staff demands that you save Rafah.”

At the same time, a group of moderate Democrats in Congress have expressed near-unconditional support for Israel. Last week, about two dozen House Democrats signed a letter to the Biden administration saying they were “deeply concerned about the message” sent by the bomb suspension.

Eager to reduce the numbers of Biden’s own party siding with Republicans in the vote, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and deputy national security adviser Jon Finer called Democratic lawmakers this week who could potentially defect.

Among their arguments, according to an administration official with knowledge of their conversations and granted anonymity to discuss them, was that the legislation would limit the president’s foreign policy powers. Sullivan and Finer also noted during these discussions that what Biden did – withholding aid in order to influence Israel’s actions – was similar to President Ronald Reagan’s 1982 decision to withhold military aid to Israel during its invasion of Lebanon.

National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said the legislation was aimed at “scoring political points, not helping Israel.”

“President Biden will not take second place in his support for Israel and will ensure that Israel has everything it needs to defeat Hamas,” she said. “President Biden also has a strong commitment to protecting innocent civilians. Most Americans agree on both points: Israel has the right and obligation to protect itself, but it must do so while avoiding civilian casualties. »

House Democratic leaders also worked hard to convince rank-and-file lawmakers to vote against the bill.

“The legislation introduced today does not constitute a serious effort to strengthen the special relationship between the United States and Israel,” said House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries.

He added that he supported efforts to “decisively” defeat Hamas while also advocating the goal of “Israel living in security alongside a demilitarized Palestinian state that allows for dignity and self-determination.” of the Palestinian people.”

As the general election campaign draws closer, the speaker has focused primarily on advancing partisan bills, including legislation on immigration, local policing and anti-Semitism, intended to force Democrats to take tough votes.

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