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Jim Risch, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

The Senate’s tussle over punishing the ICC

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is mired in a partisan feud that’s threatening to grind the panel’s business to a halt.

The dispute centers around an effort to impose sanctions on the International Criminal Court in response to its targeting of top Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for potential arrest warrants.

This is news: Sen. Jim Risch (Idaho), the committee’s top Republican, is refusing to give his consent for the panel to take up any legislation or nominations until Democrats agree to move forward on an ICC bill — either in committee or on the floor.

Republicans say Democrats aren’t engaging in a serious way on a bipartisan ICC bill and are trying to give political cover to the White House, which opposes sanctions. Republicans also point to the House’s passage of an ICC sanctions bill that dozens of Democrats supported as another reason to press the issue.

Risch’s ultimatum is significant because the committee operates largely on comity. For instance, the panel’s business meetings usually aren’t scheduled until both sides sign off on the agenda. Democrats see Risch’s move as another example of Republicans trying to use Israel as a political weapon.

In a statement, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Ben Cardin (D-Md.) told us that Republicans’ “political maneuvering” is jeopardizing bipartisan efforts to punish the ICC:

The backstory: After the ICC’s top prosecutor announced on May 20 that he was seeking arrest warrants for Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials, a dozen senators from both parties got on a conference call and vowed to draw up legislation to punish the ICC, according to sources familiar with the situation.

However, since that call, there’s been no substantive movement toward a bipartisan deal in the Senate. Last week, the House passed a GOP-led ICC sanctions bill that got 42 Democratic votes despite White House opposition. Senate Republicans saw an opening.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer declined to say whether he’d take up the House bill, with a spokesperson deferring to an ongoing “bipartisan negotiation.” Republicans viewed this statement as a deflection. In their view, there’s no actual negotiation occurring because GOP offers have gone unanswered.

When things really blew up: Schumer’s statement, coupled with the fact that the House bill received some Democratic support, caused Risch to tweet the following from the committee’s X account:

The tweet set off a firestorm inside the committee. Senate Democratic leaders maintained that the House-passed bill doesn’t represent a bipartisan compromise.

Risch’s team then told Cardin’s staff that the Idaho Republican wouldn’t sign off on a committee-level business meeting until there’s a definitive path forward on ICC legislation.

Alex Nguyen, Schumer’s spokesperson, said the majority leader and Cardin were already scheduled to meet later today to discuss a bipartisan path forward on an ICC bill.

“This is essentially the same Tuberville-type strategy that doesn’t work,” Nguyen added of Risch’s move. That’s a reference to Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) months-long blockade of military promotions.

Cardin feels the squeeze: Risch has forced Cardin into an uncomfortable spot. The Maryland Democrat, who’s retiring at the end of this Congress, is loath to engage in partisan spats over foreign policy.

But Cardin told us it was “deeply disappointing to see House Republicans push a divisive partisan bill… rather than pursuing a sensible, bipartisan approach.”

Congressional Democrats and the Biden administration joined Republicans in forcefully condemning the possible ICC arrest warrants for both Israeli and Hamas officials, saying it drew a false equivalency between the staunch U.S. ally and a terrorist group. The House GOP bill does, however, give the president the authority to waive some sanctions.

A few more news nuggets:

White House sources told us that they expect to announce Christy Goldsmith Romero as the new head of the FDIC this week. Much more on this in the Midday edition. WSJ scooped Romero’s candidacy.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee delayed its markup of the American Privacy Rights Act. It was scheduled to be marked up this week. Here’s what the E&C Committee sent to its members and aides last night:

— Andrew Desiderio, Jake Sherman and Brendan Pedersen

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