GOP sets political trap for Democrats with Israel bill


House Democrats will face a tough vote this week when Republicans, led by newly minted Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), consider a $14.3 billion Israel aid bill that includes cuts to IRS funding to pay for the package but no assistance to Ukraine.

The vote is sure to highlight the long-standing chasm between Israel’s staunchest Democratic allies, including President Biden, and pro-Palestinian liberals who have accused Israeli leaders of human rights abuses and war crimes in Gaza. Illustrating that divide, 15 Democrats last week declined to endorse a nonbinding resolution proclaiming U.S. support for Tel Aviv following Hamas’s deadly attacks last month. 

But Republicans’ inclusion of the IRS cuts adds an additional complication, forcing the bulk of Democrats into the no-win scenario of sacrificing one priority in defense of another.

The bill is not expected to move beyond the House — leadership is eyeing a Thursday vote — but Republicans are already signaling their intent to hold Democrats to account if they oppose it. 

“I understand their priority is to bulk up the IRS,” Johnson told Fox News this week. “But I think, if you put this to the American people, and they weigh the two needs, I think they’re going to say standing with Israel and protecting the innocent over there is in our national interest and is a more immediate need than IRS agents.”

Separately, Republicans will also consider a resolution this week censuring Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Congress’s only Palestinian American member, for her statement in the wake of the Hamas attacks that criticized U.S. aid to Israel as helping fuel the violence. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) moved to force a vote on the legislation last week.

House Democrats have been broadly supportive of additional aid to Israel following Hamas’s unprecedented attack on the U.S. ally last month, which triggered a war between the two sides. During the three-week Speaker saga, Democrats pushed their Republican colleagues to coalesce around a leader so the House could return to business and send aid to Tel Aviv.

But the GOP’s proposed cuts to the IRS funding that was approved as part of President Biden’s marquee spending bill — and the exclusion of Ukraine aid — are driving opposition among many Democrats, who want funding for the two embattled nations to move through Congress together and are hammering the GOP effort to blunt the IRS’s powers to pursue tax dodgers.

The converging dynamics are setting the scene for a complicated vote for Democrats later this week. And they are an early signal that Johnson, who is in his first full legislative week on the job, intends to put the unification of his feuding GOP conference ahead of any effort to reach across the aisle in search of bipartisan deal-making.

“Speaker Johnson is failing his first test,” Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.) wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “Conditioning aid to Israel on helping the rich avoid taxes is cynical partisanship, not leadership.”

House Republicans unveiled their Israel bill Monday afternoon, marking one of the first big legislative pushes under Johnson’s Speakership. The package is a significant departure from the White House’s $100 billion supplemental request, which includes funding for Israel, Ukraine, border security and allies in the Indo-Pacific.

Democrats and several Republicans — including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — have been adamant that funding for Tel Aviv and Kyiv must be linked, with many concerned that support for Ukraine may not make it over the finish line if it is considered by itself. Growing GOP skepticism of Ukraine aid has threatened to stymie efforts to support the embattled ally 20 months after Russia’s invasion. 

The House bill, to be sure, is dead on arrival in the Democratic-led Senate, where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) blasted the proposal Tuesday as an “insulting” gift to wealthy tax avoidersHe’s pushing the Senate to approve the entirety of the White House’s $100 billion supplemental request.

But the House GOP’s strategy presents Democrats with a dilemma nonetheless, designed both to highlight the internal Democratic divisions when it comes to Israel aid, and to put Democrats on record opposing one of two items most tend to support. 

Voting against the package will open Democrats to charges that they failed to assist their closest Middle Eastern ally in a time of crisis. Voting for it would undermine their position that the IRS funding is vital for modernizing the tax collection agency and empowering it to go after wealthy tax cheats — a key piece of their 2022 Inflation Reduction Act.

Asked Tuesday if Democrats will support the bill, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) told CNN in an interview, “We’re gonna have a leadership meeting to discuss it tomorrow, and then on Thursday morning we’ll convene as a caucus.”

Some lawmakers made clear heading into the vote that they won’t take the bait. 

“They’re setting a political trap,” Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.), who said he will support the bill, told CNN on Tuesday. “It’s completely outrageous. It’s not serious policy.”

“This is what Republicans are doing while there are American hostages. They’re going to politicize funding for Israel in their greatest time of need in 50 years, and that’s why we’re calling out,” he added. “That being said, listen. I’m not going to fall for their trap. I am going to support Israel’s funding because it’s super critical in the world we live in today that we give Israel the support that they need.”

The White House was quick to note that emergency funding does not typically include offsets, with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre arguing that the House GOP bill “would be a break with the normal, bipartisan process and could have devastating implications for our safety and alliances in the years ahead.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), a prominent Jewish lawmaker, sounded a similar note, writing in a statement before the text was revealed: “When your neighbor’s house is on fire, you don’t haggle over the price of the garden hose.”

Many Democrats quickly accused Johnson of risking aid to Israel by attaching it to “poison pill” provisions that would ensure its failure. 

“It is unconscionable that the Majority would try to seize on the trauma and urgency of this moment to push for partisan offsets,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) wrote in a statement. “The price for these political points will be paid in Jewish lives.”

Republicans, for their part, are also looking at some small divisions when it comes to the Israel aid package.

Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Greene announced earlier this week, before text for the package was unveiled, that they will not support additional Israel funds, voicing concern with the ballooning deficit. Marc Goldwein, the senior policy director for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said the Israel bill would add roughly $30 billion to the deficit.

Johnson said he reached out to Massie to discuss the matter.

And Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, joined three Democrats in petitioning Johnson to bring the White House’s full supplemental to the floor.

But as Johnson, nonetheless, barrels towards a vote on the controversial legislation, House Democrats are once again lashing out at Republicans — a sign that the bitter partisanship is unlikely to subside despite a new man in charge of the GOP conference.

“There is no issue, not even an international catastrophe, that House Republicans will not manipulate,” Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight, said in a statement. “Advancing a partisan bill now is a disgrace and will not help Israelis.”

“I cannot say I am surprised but I am still almost speechless by the audacity,” he added. “There is no bottom for House Republicans.”

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