US lawmakers on Tuesday voted to reject a standalone Israel aid bill denounced by critics as a “cynical” bid to thwart a cross-party border security and foreign assistance package that would include cash for war-torn Ukraine.
Republicans in the House of Representatives scheduled the vote after the Democratic-led Senate released a bipartisan bill on Sunday pairing billions of US dollars for Israel and Ukraine with some of the strictest immigration curbs in decades.
However, support for that US$118 billion package has dwindled, with former US president Donald Trump — who is running for a second White House term — pressuring Republicans to avoid handing US President Joe Biden a legislative victory ahead of November’s election.
Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson said after the border and foreign aid bill was unveiled that it would be “dead on arrival” if it reached the lower chamber of Congress.
The standalone Israel bill would have provided US$17.6 billion in military aid for the country, which is strongly supported by the vast majority of lawmakers in both parties as it responds to the deadly Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas militants.
However, 167 Democrats voted no after Biden had threatened to wield his veto, angered that the legislation appeared aimed at undermining the larger package, hammered out after months of negotiations with a bipartisan group of senators.
The standalone bill was also opposed by 13 Republicans as it did not contain budgetary offsets that conservatives have been pushing for with every proposal for new spending.
One of Johnson’s first actions when he took office in the fall was to shepherd a bill through the House that would have provided US$14.3 billion to Israel. However, it included steep cuts to the Internal Revenue Service, which Biden opposed.
The ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus blasted Johnson for “surrendering” to pressure for an even larger package which is not offset by cuts.
Biden’s Office of Management and Budget had said the Republican “ploy” would undermine efforts to secure the US border and support Ukraine against Russian aggression, while denying humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians caught in the crossfire of the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Johnson countered at a news conference that it was “outrageous and shameful” Biden would suggest vetoing support for Israel “in their hour of greatest need.”
House Democratic leaders called the bill a “nakedly obvious and cynical attempt” to undermine the larger package, which ties the Israel cash to US$60 billion aid for Ukraine and US$20 billion for US border security, but is deadlocked in Congress.
“Unfortunately, the standalone legislation introduced by House Republicans over the weekend, at the 11th hour without notice or consultation, is not being offered in good faith,” House Democratic Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said in a letter to colleagues.
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