House Passes Bill To Prevent Biden From Withholding Weapons To Israel As GOP Ramps Up Pressure On Democrats

An Israeli army battle tank moves near the border with the Gaza Strip at a location in southern Israel on May 13, amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and the Hamas movement. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

By Clare Foran, Kristin Wilson and Melanie Zanona, CNN

(CNN) — The House voted on Thursday to pass a GOP-led bill to compel the delivery of defensive weapons to Israel as Republicans ramp up pressure on President Joe Biden over his handling of the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

The bill would prevent Biden from withholding, halting, reversing or canceling weapons transfers that have been approved by Congress from the United States to Israel, and requires any that have been withheld to be delivered to Israel within 15 days of the bill’s enactment.

It is unlikely to be taken up in the Democratic-led Senate and the White House has said that Biden would veto the bill if Congress passed it. The House vote was 224 to 187. Three Republicans voted against the measure and 16 Democrats voted for it.

The legislation would cut off funds from several key executive-branch entities, including the State Department, the Defense Department and the National Security Council until any withheld weapons are sent to Israel.

The vote comes as Biden has faced pushback from lawmakers in both parties after he said during an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett last week that he would halt some shipments of American weapons to Israel if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu orders a major invasion of the city of Rafah, where more than a million civilians have been sheltering.

Biden said while the US would continue to provide defensive weapons to Israel, including for its Iron Dome air defense system, other shipments would end should a major ground invasion of Rafah begin.

The Biden administration on Tuesday began the early stages of a process to move ahead with a new $1 billion arms deal for Israel, according to two congressional sources.

The move comes as the Biden administration has paused the shipment of 2,000-pound bombs and 500-pound bombs to Israel, citing opposition to the weapons being used in the densely populated areas of Rafah.

House Democratic leaders were whipping their caucus to vote no on the GOP bill, saying in a notice sent to offices that it “would constitute an unprecedented limitation on President Biden’s executive authority and administrative discretion to implement US foreign policy.”

The president’s announcement that he was prepared to condition American military aid on Israel’s actions amounted to a turning point in the seven-month conflict between Israel and Hamas.  Biden has come under extraordinary pressure, including from some members of his own party, to limit shipments of arms amid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The Biden administration has assessed that Israel has amassed enough troops on the edge of Rafah to move forward with a full-scale incursion, but senior US officials are unsure whether it has made a final decision to carry out such a move in direct defiance of Biden, two senior administration officials have told CNN.

The House legislation also includes language condemning the Biden administration’s “decision to pause certain arms transfers to Israel” and calling for “all previously approved arms transfers to Israel to proceed quickly.”

Democratic Rep. Adam Smith, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement on the bill, “The Biden Administration’s policy and support of Israel has been ironclad and clear from Day One—Israel has the right to defend itself in the face of the existential threat that Hamas poses.”

Smith went on to say that the bill “is a blunt instrument that would have significant national security impacts.”

“By prohibiting the President’s ability to make foreign policy decisions regarding pauses in weapons transfers, in this case to Israel, it would set a ‘carte blanche’ precedent—removing checks, oversight, and accountability for arms sales. To do so would be tantamount to writing a blank check to unconditionally send weapons, something we cannot do no matter how close an ally or friend.”

CNN’s Haley Talbot, Kevin Liptak and Kylie Atwood contributed to this report. 

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