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HomeworldUS House approves nearly US$14.5 billion in military aid for Israel

US House approves nearly US$14.5 billion in military aid for Israel

WASHINGTON: The House approved a nearly US$14.5 billion military aid package on Thursday (Nov 2) for Israel, a muscular US response to the war with Hamas but also a partisan approach by new Speaker Mike Johnson that poses a direct challenge to Democrats and President Joe Biden.

In a departure from norms, Johnson’s package required that the emergency aid be offset with cuts in government spending elsewhere. That tack established the new House GOP’s conservative leadership, but it also turned what would typically be a bipartisan vote into one dividing Democrats and Republicans. Biden has said he would veto the bill, which was approved 226-196, with 12 Democrats joining most Republicans on a largely party-line vote.

Johnson, representative of Louisiana, said the Republican package would provide Israel with the assistance needed to defend itself, free hostages held by Hamas and eradicate the militant Palestinian group, accomplishing “all of this while we also work to ensure responsible spending and reduce the size of the federal government”.

Democrats said that approach would only delay help for Israel. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat-New York, has warned that the “stunningly unserious” bill has no chance in the Senate.

The first substantial legislative effort in Congress to support Israel in the war falls far short of Biden’s request for nearly US$106 billion that would also back Ukraine as it fights Russia, along with US efforts to counter China and address security at the border with Mexico.

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It is also Johnson’s first big test as House speaker as the Republican majority tries to get back to work after a month of turmoil since ousting Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican-California, as speaker. Johnson has said he will turn next to aid for Ukraine along with US border security, preferring to address Biden’s requests separately as GOP lawmakers increasingly oppose aiding Kyiv.

The White House’s veto warning said Johnson’s approach “fails to meet the urgency of the moment” and would set a dangerous precedent by requiring emergency funds to come from cuts elsewhere.

While the amount for Israel in the House bill is similar to what Biden sought, the White House said the Republican plan’s failure to include humanitarian assistance for Gaza is a “grave mistake” as the crisis deepens.

Biden on Wednesday called for a pause in the war to allow for relief efforts.

“This bill would break with the normal, bipartisan approach to providing emergency national security assistance,” the White House wrote in its statement of administration policy on the legislation.

It said the GOP stance “would have devastating implications for our safety and alliances in the years ahead”.

It was unclear before voting on Thursday how many Democrats would join with Republicans. The White House had been directly appealing to lawmakers, particularly calling Jewish Democrats, urging them to reject the bill.

White House chief of staff Jeff Zients, counsellor to the president Steve Ricchetti and other senior White House staff have been engaging House Democrats, said a person familiar with the situation and granted anonymity to discuss it.

But the vote was difficult for some lawmakers, particularly Democrats who wanted to support Israel and may have trouble explaining the trade-off to constituents, especially as the large AIPAC lobby and other groups encouraged passage. In all, two Republicans opposed the bill.

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