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House panel advances alternate bill to undo Biden’s Israel weapons pause

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The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday advanced a bill that would let Congress force the Biden administration to transfer stalled arms to Israel.

The new bill, which is a narrower rebuke of President Joe Biden than the bill that the House passed last week, won a handful of Democratic votes. Though it’s unlikely to receive consideration in the Democratic-led Senate, it represents another vehicle for the House GOP to pressure Biden and split Democrats.

The final tally was 33-13.

Background: It follows the White House’s decision to pause shipments of 2,000- and 500-pound unguided bombs out of fear that they could be used in an Israeli invasion in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians were sheltering.

Republicans argue the administration is thwarting the will of Congress after lawmakers passed more than $14 billion in funding to help Israel in its fight against Hamas. The bombs Biden paused were funded prior to the recent spending bill, however.

Partisan clash: After the White House threatened to veto the earlier House-passed bill and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he has no plans to take it up, Foreign Affairs Chair Mike McCaul (R-Texas) has said he hoped this new bill would have a better shot.

“This bill is intended to … restore the trust and transparency that has historically existed between our coequal branches of government when it comes to Israel,” McCaul said during a committee markup.

But ranking member Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), opposed the bill, saying it mischaracterizes the administration’s position and “continues the GOP’s unfortunate politicization of the United States-Israel relationship.”

Comparing the bills: The earlier House-passed bill would slash budgets for the offices of the defense secretary, secretary of state and National Security Council if Biden doesn’t deliver the stalled heavy bombs. McCaul’s new bill would give lawmakers a new tool to override such delays.

Before pausing an arms sale to Israel that was approved and paid for by Congress, a president would have to give 15 days’ notice to lawmakers, and also describe the equipment on hold, explain why and what it would take to lift the hold, and detail the hold’s effect on Israel’s qualitative military edge. Lawmakers would be able to bring up a joint resolution of disapproval to override the hold.

The panel agreed Wednesday to an amendment from Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) that softened the new McCaul bill’s language about Biden’s actions and listed cases of past presidents pausing security assistance to other allies.

GOP blasts Biden: During the markup, McCaul and other panel Republicans cast Biden’s decision to withhold the heavy bombs as wavering in his support for a close ally and upending Congress’ intent.

“This decision was made without consulting Congress. We had to learn about it from the media,” McCaul said.

Meeks pushes back: Most panel Democrats voted against the bill after Republicans, in a party-line vote, defeated an amendment from Meeks that would have broadened the scope of the bill to apply to any allies or presidential administration.

Meeks pointed to former President Donald Trump’s freeze on military aid to Ukraine while asking Ukrainians to find scandal fodder about his enemies. Meeks argued that Congress should have a tool to avert a repeat.

“Y’all know this is not a hypothetical. We’ve had a former president by the name of Trump take such actions,” he said.

Democrats split: Among Democrats who voted for the McCaul bill on Wednesday, Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) said he was doing so to register disagreement with the administration’s pause on the heavy bombs and to keep pressure on Hamas for a cease-fire and the release of Hamas’ hostages. Moskowitz also voted for the House-passed bill last week.

“For me, I think the way the pause on the specific weapon was announced became a message to the world that there was now daylight [between the U.S. and Israel], releasing pressure on Hamas,” Moskowitz said in a brief interview.