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House Dems confident of few defections as Israel weapons vote draws closer

House Democrats are projecting confidence that they’ll be able to limit floor defections this week on GOP legislation that’s aimed at compelling President Joe Biden to deliver heavy bombs to Israel amid its ongoing war with Hamas.

Democratic lawmakers, including several staunchly pro-Israel ones, view the bill as a poorly-drafted attempt to jam Biden — even as they view his support of the key U.S. ally as unwavering despite his pause on the heavy bomb shipment. The White House has urged Democrats on the fence to vote no, working to keep the number of defections to a minimum even as lawmakers were loath to admit the lobbying would sway their votes.

“This bill is very ill-advised, and it’s not in Israel’s best interest,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), former House majority leader, told POLITICO. “I think — I hope — there aren’t going to be a lot of Democratic defections.”

House Republicans are expected to bring up their legislation compelling Biden to deliver the weapons for a vote as soon as Thursday. The measure freezes budgets for the offices of the defense secretary, secretary of state and National Security Council if Biden doesn’t deliver the weapons that are being withheld, and it also includes language condemning “the Biden Administration’s decision to pause certain arms transfers to Israel.”

Biden and Speaker Mike Johnson haven’t spoken this week about Israel or other matters, according to a person familiar who was granted anonymity to speak candidly.

“I think that you will see that Democrats will vote no on this, because we understand it’s a political ploy,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), the party’s top member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He delivered a presentation opposing the legislation at Wednesday’s private Democratic caucus meeting.

House Democratic leaders have also whipped against the legislation, and the White House has weighed in with a veto threat too.

“Overwhelmingly Democrats will reject this overly political bill,” Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) said on Wednesday.

Not every Democratic lawmaker was ready to tip their hands on how they’d vote, however, and many rejected the idea that White House lobbying would affect their decision.

“It’s an unserious piece of legislation, and one that is cynically designed to divide people,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), a staunch Israel ally who nevertheless didn’t reveal whether she’d ultimately support it.

She wasn’t alone.

“I’m gonna just reject the entire premise of your question because the idea of Democratic defections — we vote how we want to,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.). “We’re a free-thinking caucus. Sometimes we agree. Sometimes we disagree. Certainly it’s important to hear the opinion of the White House.”

The GOP-led legislative effort comes as the Biden administration informally notified Congress of a potential $1 billion sale of weapons to Israel, an announcement made soon after it said the president would veto the House bill in the unlikely event it reached his desk.

Republicans strongly rejected the Democratic characterizations of the legislation and said Biden could avoid the showdown with Congress by delivering the congressionally-approved weapons.

“If he wants to change course on that, he should come talk to us or put something on the floor. But Israel’s being held to a double standard right now,” Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, said. “If, after 9/11, people tried to dictate to us how to protect ourselves from al-Qaeda, I think you know how we would have responded.”

Despite that push, many Democrats see the bill as a politicized attempt to micromanage the president’s ability to navigate foreign affairs.

“It’s sort of a nakedly partisan effort to attack Biden,” said Rep. Glenn Ivey (D-Md.). “The United States had a 200-plus year tradition of the President — the executive branch — taking the lead on foreign policy. This would be a bill that preempts that in very dangerous ways, including defunding key national security and defense leaders, which is insane. It’s a ridiculous bill and it deserves to be voted down.”

Nicholas Wu and Olivia Beavers contributed. 

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