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House votes to punish Biden for pausing some bombs for Israel

House votes to punish Biden for pausing some bombs for Israel

Congress truly flexes its war powers — when it wants more war

Reporting | Washington Politics

The Israel Security Assistance Support Act that passed the House on Thursday is primarily a messaging and political bill — one aimed at emphasizing Republican support for Israel and dividing Democrats between those who want to support President Joe Biden’s decision to pause the delivery of a shipment of bombs to Israel and those who prefer to maintain Washington’s unconditional support for Tel Aviv’s war.

Despite reports that up to 40 Democrats could go against Biden and support the bill, in the end, only 16 voted for it. Three Republicans — Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) — joined with the rest of the Democratic caucus in opposition.

To be sure, if the legislation — led by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) — were to become law, it would be consequential, as it would restrict the budgets of the State Department, the Pentagon, and the National Security Council if Biden doesn’t deliver the withheld weapons. But after Biden pledged to veto the bill if it ever reaches his desk, senate Democratic leadership said it would not it take up.

There are plenty of policy, political, and legal reasons to oppose the legislation.

“Congressman Calvert’s bill would wipe away decades of US law and policy that set clear human rights and humanitarian standards for all recipients of US weapons. No country — including Israel — should get special exemptions from these standards,” John Ramming Chappel of the Center for Civilians in Conflict said in a press release on Tuesday. “No legislator who cares about human rights or the rule of law should support this proposal.”

“Under this bill, it may not be possible for the U.S. to even debate whether or not arms should be provided to units that have committed gross violations of human rights, and would seem to suggest that the U.S. cannot deny anything Israel might request, however inappropriate, from cluster bombs to ballistic missiles,” added former State Department official Josh Paul.

But some Democrats who oppose passage have instead argued that it would restrict the president’s ability to freely conduct foreign policy.

“The legislation would constitute an unprecedented limitation on President Biden’s executive authority and administrative discretion to implement U.S. foreign policy,” said Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), the House minority whip, in a note urging her caucus to oppose the proposal. “It prohibits the Biden Administration from withholding or suspending United States arms transfers to Israel. (...) The legislation eliminates any executive oversight or control on the flow of taxpayer funded U.S. arms.”

The administration repeated this line of thinking in its own statement, saying that the bill “would undermine the President’s ability to execute an effective foreign policy,” and could raise serious concerns about infringement on the President’s authorities under Article II of the Constitution, including his duties as Commander-in-Chief and Chief Executive and his power to conduct foreign relations.”

Other lawmakers offered more substantive disagreement with the policy. “]P]assing H.R. 8369 and attempting to rubber-stamp all arms sales to Israel regardless of the circumstances isn’t only reckless and short-sighted, it’s also an affront to our national security,” said Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) in a statement. “It would also supersede and nullify the Leahy Law that requires human rights vetting on security cooperation and assistance programs. We have to stay true to our values, especially when it’s difficult to do so.”

As is the case with the Israel Security Assistance Support Act, in the rare instances where Congress does decide to use a check on the president’s powers it is when the executive takes steps to claw militarization back.

During the Trump years, members of Congress from both parties passed a series of measures aimed at either expressing disapproval or restricting the president’s ability to wind down the American military presence in Syria, Afghanistan, and Germany.

The step that the Biden administration is taking is even smaller. The “pause” on shipments announced earlier this month is a blip in Washington’s continued support for Israel’s war, as the White House itself has consistently made clear. Administration spokespeople have walked back the significance of the decision, saying that Israel is still receiving the “vast majority” of what they need. The recent NSM-20 report from the State Department to Congress concluded that the United States was not required by law to suspend arms transfers to Israel. And on Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the administration had notified Congress of a new $1 billion weapons deal.
Israeli soldiers prepare shells near a mobile artillery unit, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Israel, January 2, 2024. (REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
Israeli soldiers prepare shells near a mobile artillery unit, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Israel, January 2, 2024. (REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
Reporting | Washington Politics
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