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House Republicans Pass ‘Symbolic’ Bill to Arm Israel

The bill will never become law – but perhaps it was never meant to.

by | May 18, 2024 | Articles, Good Reads, Opinion, Politics

The GOP-led House of Representatives passed a bill to “force” President Joe Biden to send weapons to Israel. The Israel Security Assistance Support Act cleared the lower chamber on Thursday, May 16, by a vote of 224 to 187 largely along party lines, but it’s unlikely to go much farther. Even if the Democrat-controlled Senate were to pass it, the president has promised a veto should the legislation make it as far as the Resolute Desk. And in any case, Biden had already agreed to send the next shipment of weapons despite Israel clearly planning to ignore his warnings and move into Rafah.

But this “symbolic” bill isn’t necessarily about enacting actual legislation so much as putting members of Congress “on the record” – in other words, it’s more electoral politics than policy making. Meanwhile, as America’s government wavers back and forth on whether to support Israel, the crisis in the Middle East continues to intensify.

Supporting Israel or Political Campaigns?

The Israel Security Assistance Support Act states that “no federal funds may be used to withhold, halt, reverse, or cancel the delivery of articles or defense services to Israel.” Additionally, no funds may be used to pay the salary of any DOD or Department of State employee who acts to limit these deliveries, and any unobligated operation and maintenance funds for the offices of the secretaries of Defense, State, or the National Security Council would be locked until each office certifies to Congress that any withheld deliveries have been released and completed.

The message is clear: Let any who attempt to block funding or delivery of weapons to Israel in turn feel the squeeze themselves. But bold proclamations aside, the legislation is all bark and no bite. It almost certainly won’t pass the upper chamber – indeed, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has already said he won’t even bring it to vote – and even if he did, the Biden veto would await it.

The bill passed the House with the support of 208 Republicans and 16 Democrats, with three Republicans joining 184 Democrats in opposition. A total of 19 representatives didn’t bother to vote. There are a lot of reasons this bill will never become law, and none of them come as a shock to the lawmakers who voted either for or against it. First, as previously stated, the president has promised to veto the bill – no great surprise, given that it’s clearly aimed directly at his administration for the decision to withhold precision guided bombs from Israel for refusing to comply with Biden’s warning not to go into Rafah. Then there’s the mostly-party-line vote in the House, the partisan divide on the issue, and the demographics of the Senate – namely, that the Democrats are in control and have already said they won’t even hold a vote. Finally, Biden rendered the legislation mostly pointless when he released the next shipment of weapons to Israel in spite of the fact the IDF is going into Rafah.

For these reasons alone, the bill was never destined to succeed as legislation. It has, however, achieved the more political goals one might assume actually inspired it.

“The Biden Administration’s decision to withhold weapons is catastrophic and goes directly against the will of Congress,” House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) said in a statement, adding that the proposed act sends “a clear message of solidarity and support to Israel.” Whether Israel will feel the love or not, US voters certainly got the message that Republicans stand with America’s ally. The vote officially puts every member of the House on record in a way that those seeking re-election can use in the little time remaining to campaign. It also managed to splinter off 16 votes from the left, cracking the façade of unity House Democrats have worked so hard to create in the wake of Republican bickering over the speakership.

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