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Israel weapons bill a problem for Democrats

Another week, another tricky vote on Israel for House Democrats.

The House Republican leadership will put a bill on the floor Wednesday that forces lawmakers to take a position on condemning President Joe Biden for pausing “certain arms transfers to Israel as Israel faces unprecedented threats.”

The GOP-drafted legislation calls on the Biden administration to allow previously approved arms transfers “to proceed quickly.” And it also requires the administration to “utilize all congressionally appropriated funds for security assistance for Israel as Congress intended.”

Speaker Mike Johnson and GOP leaders have gotten somewhat adept at putting House Democrats in a bind over Israel as the war in Gaza continues.

The controversy here involves Biden’s decision to block the transfer of heavy bombs to Israel as Israeli forces continue their assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to go ahead with the offensive despite the U.S. opposition.

With Capitol Hill in an uproar over the issue, nearly every single House Republican is expected to support this bill, which is being considered under a rule and will only need a simple majority for passage.

House Democratic leadership sources say as many as 40 lawmakers could vote for the bill, which would be a stunning rebuke of the president. With lawmakers not returning to Washington until today, it’s been hard for House Democratic leaders to get a fix on how many votes they’ll lose — or what level of pressure they need to apply to flip them.

It remains to be seen how heavily the White House engages in trying to whip Democrats against this bill. It wouldn’t surprise us to see the White House release a Statement of Administration Policy to help move the needle among Democrats.

Here’s what White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday:

The Israeli government isn’t lobbying House Democrats on this bill, according to multiple sources familiar with the issue.

But let’s be clear: The Israeli Defense Forces are proceeding with the Rafah operation against the White House’s recommendation. Biden ordered the Pentagon not to provide Israel with 3,500 heavy aerial bombs over fears of a new wave of Palestinian casualties. More than 30,000 Palestinians have died in the conflict, which began following Hamas’ terror attacks on Israel on Oct. 7.

Egypt has heavily criticized the Israeli move, as has Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who met with Biden in Washington last week. Qatari officials, the mediator in ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas, warned the Rafah campaign has set those negotiations “backwards.”

Top administration officials from Biden on down have been remarkably open in venting their frustration with Israel over Rafah and the broader situation in Gaza, an exceptional display of diplomatic displeasure with a key ally.

On Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned on NBC’s “Meet The Press” that Israel “is on the trajectory potentially to inherit an insurgency with many armed Hamas left, or, if it leaves, a vacuum filled by chaos, filled by anarchy, and probably refilled by Hamas again.”

However, Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said Monday that U.S. officials don’t believe what is happening in Gaza is a genocide.

“We have been firmly on record rejecting that proposition,” Sullivan said at a White House briefing.

The Israeli government maintains that it has kept the Biden administration in the loop about its plans for Rafah. Sullivan said the IDF told the Biden administration that its operations in Rafah are limited.

“We’ll make our own judgment on that,” Sullivan said. “It’s not a mathematical formula or a mechanical determination. It’s something we will judge based on what we see, and the president will then make his determinations. We have not seen that happen yet.”

— Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan

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