Latest News

Progressives cheer Biden’s Israel weapons pause while Republicans fume

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

Progressives in Congress hailed the administration’s pause on a shipment of bombs to Israel, with some crediting the pressure Democrats placed on President Joe Biden to get Israel to change the way it is waging war in Gaza.

But lead Republicans were quick to condemn Biden, accusing him of appeasing his party’s fringe and undermining the will of Congress after it passed a multibillion-dollar aid package for Israel last month.

The large shipment of weapons was put on hold over concern about possible Israeli military action in Rafah, the southern Gaza city where more than 1 million Palestinians are sheltering. Biden is pushing for a cease-fire deal to avert a major assault.

Some Democrats have been intensifying their calls for Biden to withhold or set conditions on weapons for Israel in an effort to secure more humanitarian aid and avert more civilian casualties. Last month, 56 House Democrats — including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — urged the move in a letter to Biden.

Wednesday saw a major change in tone among those progressives.

“I think this is really speaking to the large swath of the Democratic Caucus that needs to see a change,” said Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.), who was among 37 House Democrats who voted against last month’s Israel aid bill.

“It has been very satisfying to see the message, I believe, is getting through, it’s getting delivered,” even if the administration isn’t going as far as some progressives would like, Balint said in an interview.

“We’re trying to turn the Titanic,” she said. “Israel is a strong ally of ours, I think most Americans support Israel as a sovereign, secure Jewish state, and they’re also holding this deep despair about the way [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu has conducted the offensive in Gaza.”

Rep. Jonathan Jackson (D-Ill.), another Democrat who voted against Israel aid, said in an interview that the pause was “absolutely the right decision” and not too little too late.

“You can’t be airdropping in food and hand-delivering missiles, that’s wrong,” Jackson said.

Democrats who are also strong Israel backers said they disagree with the pause and were seeking more information from the administration.

“I don’t think there should be a pause. So if that’s the case, then that’s concerning,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said in an interview. “But I’m also not that worried because this is a country in which we’re regularly speaking with every single day, and we’re literally embedded with one another in terms of our [military] cooperation.”

Meanwhile, Speaker Mike Johnson, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Foreign Affairs Chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas) all voiced frustration with the move and said the administration must explain itself.

McConnell, in a floor speech Wednesday, jeered the administration’s professed ironclad commitment as bending “under the heat of domestic political pressure from his party’s anti-Israel base and the campus Communists who decided to wrap themselves in the flags of Hamas and Hezbollah.”

Senate Intelligence Vice Chair Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in an interview that Biden just made a cease-fire harder to get.

“I’m sure Hamas is happy,” Rubio said. “When we do that, [Israel’s] enemies are encouraged. I think it probably makes a realistic ceasefire less likely. If you’re Hamas and you think they’re not going to have weaponry, you probably think you have more leverage and less urgency.”

Johnson and other House Republicans drew a parallel with former President Donald Trump’s freeze on military aid to Ukraine while asking Ukrainians to dig up dirt on his enemies. The move led to his first impeachment.

Johnson said Republicans will “get down to the bottom of” the holdup, which he compared to accusations Trump politicized military aid. He accused Biden of trying to “placate the pro-Hamas element of his party.”

“Administration officials have assured Congress, and have assured me personally very recently … that there would be no delay in assistance to Israel,” Johnson told reporters Tuesday.

“This is an underhanded attempt to withhold aid without facing accountability. It’s undermining what Congress intended and has acted to take care of by authorizing the aid to Israel,” Johnson said. “And so if the president truly wanted to defeat Hamas like he’s said in the past, he wouldn’t be standing in the way preventing it from happening.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also faced questions Wednesday from Republicans on Capitol Hill. GOP senators argued that in withholding the weapons, the Biden administration was sending the wrong signal in the Middle East and not giving Israel the weapons it needs to defeat Hamas.

“If we stop weapons necessary to destroy the enemies of the state of Israel at a time of great peril, we will pay a price. This is obscene. It is absurd,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) fumed to Austin. “Give Israel what they need to fight the war they can’t afford to lose. This is Hiroshima and Nagasaki on steroids.”

Austin said the U.S. has paused the shipment amid concerns that a looming invasion of Rafah could cause heavy civilian casualties. He added that, despite criticisms that the administration is defying the will of Congress, the shipment is unrelated to $95 billion in aid for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan that passed last month.

The Pentagon chief added that no final decision has been made on the weapons transfer, though Republicans weren’t satisfied with the explanation that the holdup doesn’t constitute a change in U.S. policy toward Israel.

“I would suggest to you that pausing or delaying the delivery of weapons to Israel is a decision, and it’s a decision that most members of Congress would take issue with,” said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the top Senate Appropriations Republican.