House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) surprised progressive and restraint-leaning foreign policy circles on Monday saying he would ask the White House to pause an arms sale to Israel amid its ongoing military campaign in Gaza, only to quickly backtrack the request.
The reversal comes as progressives and Democrats on Capitol Hill are putting pressure on the Biden administration to do more to foment a ceasefire between Hamas and the Israeli military amid mounting civilian casualties on both sides, including children.
The administration notified Congress of the sale on May 5, but Meeks said Monday he was unaware of the sale and that he would send a letter to the White House asking the president to place a hold for further congressional review.
“The United States should not stand idly by while crimes against humanity are being committed with our backing,” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said of the arms deal. “It would be appalling for the Biden administration to go through with $735 million in precision-guided weaponry to [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu without any strings attached in the wake of escalating violence and attacks on civilians.”
But now Meeks — who recently took over as HFAC chair after staunchly pro-Israel and more hawkish Rep. Eliot Engel lost his seat last November — said he has withdrawn the letter, saying he got what he wanted without it.
“What we wanted to do is to have a dialogue,” he said. “The purpose of the letter initially was to make sure that there was dialogue.”
Progressives chided Meeks for the reversal.
“Not sure who needs to hear this,” Win Without War Executive Director Stephen Miles said, “but a briefing is not a pause on the sale.”
A progressive House aide told CNN: “This is what we should have expected in electing Meeks. He sent us a little flash bulb of progressive hope last night. We genuinely feel dumb believing it was real.”