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House Democratic leaders urge caucus to oppose GOP’s Israel bill

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Top House Democrats plan to oppose GOP legislation compelling the delivery to Israel of defense equipment already approved by Congress — and are actively urging a no vote in their caucus, teeing up a fight over an issue deeply dividing the party.

“This is not a serious legislative effort. It is another partisan stunt by Extreme MAGA Republicans who are determined to hurt President Biden politically,” Minority Whip Katherine Clark’s (D-Mass.) office said in a notice sent to Hill offices on Tuesday.

The Republican legislation significantly escalates tension with the Biden White House over its planned holdup of certain weapons to Israel while the U.S. ally’s military prepares a push into the southern Gaza city of Rafah. Slated for consideration as soon as Wednesday, the GOP measure will force many Democrats to make a tough choice: Either rebuke their party leader’s approach to Israel or leave themselves open to GOP attacks.

The bill freezes budgets for the offices of the defense secretary, secretary of state and National Security Council if Biden doesn’t deliver the weapons being withheld. The House Rules Committee plans to tee it up for consideration during a Tuesday meeting. The Biden administration has publicly said it would oppose the legislation and is likely to issue a statement of administration policy and could threaten a veto, which might help solidify Democratic opposition.

The latest furor over Israel policy came after Biden told CNN last week that his administration would stop deliveries of bombs and other munitions to conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government if it proceeded with a major invasion of Rafah, prompting an immediate condemnation from Republicans in Congress. After his remarks, Republicans accused Biden of abandoning a top ally and hurting U.S. foreign policy.

House Appropriations Committee Republicans unveiled the legislation over the weekend; it would compel the delivery of defense equipment already approved by Congress. It also includes a section that “condemns the Biden Administration’s decision to pause certain arms transfers to Israel.”

The Democratic-controlled Senate is unlikely to act on the legislation after it passes the House.

A group of several dozen House Democrats sent a letter last week pushing back on Biden’s decision, but not all 26 Democratic signatories are guaranteed to defect on the House floor. And the whip operation is going into effect with some Democrats still on the fence.

Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.), a signatory of the letter, is “still reviewing the Calvert bill but would strongly disagree with a purely political approach to ensuring that Israel has the weapons they need to eliminate Hamas as the bill appears to be,” said his spokesperson, Jayce Genco.

Some national security-minded Democrats indicated opposition to the legislation, with House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) calling it “a blunt instrument” that would be “tantamount to writing a blank check to unconditionally send weapons, something we cannot do no matter how close an ally or friend.”

“It ties the hands of the president in a vain effort to score political points at home,” he said in a statement.

Centrist Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) was the only Democrat to sign onto a letter to Biden, co-signed by 103 Republicans, seeking an explanation for the delayed weapons shipments and asking the president why his administration is “working to prevent Israel from eliminating remnants of an evil terrorist group” in Hamas.

“Through actions and words, your administration, President Biden, has made our allies unsure about our loyalty to them,” the mostly GOP group wrote. “The U.S. must stand with Israel throughout their conflict and support them until they accomplish their goal of dismantling Hamas.”

Daniella Diaz, Joe Gould and Connor O’Brien contributed to this report.