House passes GOP bill to force Biden to continue weapons transfers to Israel

The bill is not likely to advance in the Senate; Biden said he would veto it.

May 16, 2024, 5:04 PM

The House on Thursday passed a Republican-led bill to condemn President Joe Biden's approach to Israel and force him to send arms shipments to the U.S. ally.

The final vote was 224-187. Sixteen Democrats voted for the bill, going against House Democratic leadership and President Biden

The measure is a culmination of the political fallout from Biden's recent pause of a bomb shipment to Israel and his pointed warning the U.S. won't supply weapons that could be used in an invasion of Rafah, a city in southern Gaza where more than a million civilians have sought shelter.

Republicans have seized on the actions to attack Biden, accusing him of betraying Israel due to political pressure. The White House and many Democrats have countered that the GOP-led bill is misleading and distorts Biden's policy on the Israel-Hamas war.

Earlier this week, the Biden administration informed Congress it's moving forward with more than $1 billion in new arms agreements with Israel. Speaker Mike Johnson, however, said the move wasn't going to stop Republicans from forcing a vote and putting members on record.

The bill, titled Israel Security Assistance Act, is largely symbolic as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has already said he won't bring it to the floor for a vote after the White House announced Biden would veto it should it make its way to his desk.

The legislation urges the "expeditious delivery" of defense articles and services to Israel, and reaffirms Israel's right to self-defense. It would withhold funds for certain administration officials such as secretary of defense and secretary of state until such defense articles are delivered.

The White House said the GOP bill was "unnecessary" and raised "serious concerns about infringement" on a president's authority.

PHOTO: Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., center, Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., left, and Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., speak at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, May 16, 2024, in Washington.
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., center, Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., left, and Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., speak at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, May 16, 2024, in Washington.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In a press conference earlier Thursday ahead of the vote, Johnson criticized Schumer and Biden for opposing the bill.

"It is clear that Biden and Schumer have turned their back on Israel," he said. "They are carrying water for Iran and its proxies."

On Biden's pause of some American-made heavy bombs to Israel out of fear they'd be used in heavily populated areas in Rafah, Johnson said the administration was "defying the will of Congress."

"We want the president to hear this loud and clear … This is a catastrophic decision with global implications. It is obviously being done with political calculation and we can't let this stand," Johnson added.

PHOTO: Israeli military vehicles are seen near the Israel-Gaza border, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in southern Israel, May 8, 2024.
Israeli military vehicles are seen near the Israel-Gaza border, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in southern Israel, May 8, 2024.
Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

While the bill garnered overwhelming support among Republicans, it forced a difficult vote for Democrats that put on display some of the differences within the caucus regarding Israel.

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House Democratic Caucus chairman Pete Aguilar, at the party's weekly press conference on Wednesday, downplayed divisions in the party.

"We understand that there's different viewpoints within our own caucus on this, but overwhelmingly House Democrats will reject this overly political bill," Aguilar said.

Aguilar added that the "important thing" is Democratic support to protect Israel, noting the party provided significant votes to help pass the foreign aid package and government funding bill -- both of which included funds for Israel.

"That's overwhelmingly where we stand on these issues," he said.

PHOTO: In this April 12, 2024, file photo, President Joe Biden speaks in Washington, D.C.
In this April 12, 2024, file photo, President Joe Biden speaks in Washington, D.C.
Alex Brandon/AP, FILE

The White House ramped up the rhetoric last week against Israel's expected invasion of Rafah, but attempted to turn down the temperature this week.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan, in lengthy remarks at Monday's daily press briefing, said he wanted to get back to the "basics" as he reiterated the administration's view on the war, including that Israel has a right to defend itself from the threat posed by Hamas but also their duty to protect civilians and the need to secure a cease-fire deal in exchange for the release of hostages.

On weapons transfers specifically, Sullivan said the administration is "continuing to send military assistance and we will ensure that Israel receives the full amount provided in the supplemental" -- which included $26 billion for the war-torn ally.

The administration has also sought to stress its overall support for Israel.

"The bill is a misguided reaction to a deliberate distortion of the Administration's approach to Israel," the White House said in a statement of administrative policy. "The President has been clear: we will always ensure Israel has what it needs to defend itself. Our commitment to Israel is ironclad."

ABC News' Mariam Khan, Selina Wang and Allison Pecorin contributed to this report.

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