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As bills stall in Congress, eight Senate Democrats call for halt in Israel aid

Democrats and Republicans filed competing discharge petitions to force a vote on foreign aid, as the Senate minority leader repeated his call for a regular floor vote.

U.S. Capitol. Credit: MotionStudios/Pixaby.
U.S. Capitol. Credit: MotionStudios/Pixaby.

Eight Democrat senators called on the Biden administration to halt aid to Israel, claiming that the Jewish state deliberately prevents U.S. aid from reaching Gazans.

Led by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the Tuesday letter cites U.S. President Joe Biden’s and Vice President Kamala Harris’s press statements to argue that it violates U.S. law to provide aid to Israel.

“Your administration has repeatedly stated, and the United Nations and numerous aid organizations have confirmed, that Israel’s restrictions on humanitarian access, both at the border and within Gaza, are one of the primary causes of this humanitarian catastrophe,” the senators wrote. “The Netanyahu government’s interference with humanitarian operations has prevented U.S.-financed aid from reaching its intended recipients in a safe and timely manner.”

“Federal law is clear, and, given the urgency of the crisis in Gaza, and the repeated refusal of Prime Minister Netanyahu to address U.S. concerns on this issue, immediate action is necessary to secure a change in policy by his government,” the senators added.

The octet claimed that Israel’s actions violate the U.S. Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act, which states that no foreign assistance money shall be given to a country that directly or indirectly prohibits or restricts U.S. humanitarian assistance.

The letter comes as regular and supplemental spending packages with billions of dollars in aid for the Jewish state remain stalled in Congress, and one day after Biden proposed a fiscal year 2025 budget with $3.3 billion in aid for Israel.

Biden signed six of 12 spending bills on Saturday to avert a partial government shutdown, but the more contentious government funding bills, including for defense and foreign aid, are still being negotiated. Current funding for those yet-unfunded government agencies runs out after March 22.

House Republican leaders rejected Biden’s $7.3 trillion budget proposal on Monday, calling it “misguided.”

“The price tag of President Biden’s proposed budget is yet another glaring reminder of this administration’s insatiable appetite for reckless spending and the Democrats’ disregard for fiscal responsibility,” House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and other House Republican leaders stated

“Biden’s budget doesn’t just miss the mark,” they added. “It is a roadmap to accelerate America’s decline.”

In February, House GOP leaders also rejected the Senate version of Biden’s $95 billion supplemental aid request, which included $14.1 billion for Israel, $60 billion for Ukraine and other money for Taiwan and humanitarian assistance in global hotspots, including Gaza.

Republicans and Democrats filed competing discharge petitions on Tuesday to force a vote on the House floor for the aid package. 

The one by Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), which House Democratic leaders backed, would bring the Senate-passed version of the aid bill to the floor. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) filed a petition for a version that includes a smaller $10.4 billion allocation for Israel. It also includes funding for U.S. border security measures and removes aid to Gaza.

A discharge petition is an unusual and rarely successful parliamentary maneuver, which aims to bypass the House leadership’s control of the floor agenda for votes.

At press time, McGovern’s petition had 86 of 218 required signatures. Fitzpatrick’s had nine. 

Despite the slower start, Fitzpatrick’s petition has bipartisan support while the Democratic-led petition is unlikely to gain the support of either Republicans or the Democratic caucus’s progressive wing that opposes aid to Israel.

If either petition gains 218 signatures, it could still take weeks to come to a vote, further delaying aid to Israel for weeks.

At his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) repeated his call for Johnson to put the Senate aid supplemental package to a House vote.

“The only way to get relief to the Ukrainians and the Israelis quickly is for the House to figure out how to pass the Senate bill,” McConnell said. “Anything that’s changed and sent back here, as you all know, even the simplest thing can take a week in the Senate. We don’t have time for all of this.”

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