© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute
Elise Stefanik, Mike Johnson, Tom Emmer
House Speaker Mike Johnson speaks to reporters about President Joe Biden pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The House GOP Tries to Use Israel to Divide Senate Democrats

House Republicans don’t have any actual legislative leverage to force a vote on freeing the aid to Israel that Biden blocked, but they’re ramping up the political pressure.

When House Republicans passed a bill Thursday mandating that President Joe Biden deliver all of the military aid to Israel that Congress recently approved — including the bombs that Biden blocked in response to Israel going on the offensive in the southern part of Gaza — it looked like a classic political maneuver to divide House Democrats.

Now, House Republicans are running a similar play on Democrats in the Senate too.

House GOP leaders are ramping up a pressure campaign to get the Senate to take up the Israel bill, even as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer swears his chamber won’t give the legislation a vote.

Republicans may not have any legislative leverage to force a vote, but that isn’t stopping them from taking their case to the voters.

“We’re calling this out because we think the American people should be calling their senators over there, the Democrat senators, beginning with Leader Schumer, and letting him know what they feel about this,” House Speaker Mike Johnson said during a Thursday morning press conference specifically convened on “urging Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.”

Whether Schumer gives the bill a vote or not, the legislation has already put some vulnerable Democrats in a tricky position, as they face questions about whether they would support the measure if it came to a vote.

For Democratic Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, he’s deferring to Schumer.

“That’s his job, and it’s up to him on that,” Fetterman said. “So until I’ve got something under my nose, I don’t really have anything to vote on.”

While Democratic Sen. Jon Tester said he’s been clear that all aid should be released to Israel, he also wouldn’t comment on the bill. (Tester is in a tough reelection bid in the increasingly red state of Montana.)

Another Democratic senator in a close race — Bob Casey of Pennsylvania — said he also disagreed with Biden’s decision to hold back some aid, telling NOTUS Israel shouldn’t have any constraints on its “strategic imperative to destroy or at least badly disable” Hamas. But he wouldn’t comment on the House bill itself because, he said, he hadn’t read it yet.

For House GOP leaders, the bill — and the decision of whether or not it receives a vote — is binary. As Johnson told reporters Thursday, “You’re either with Israel, or you are not.”

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise said he thought the “public pressure” campaign would ultimately force Schumer to take up the bill.

“When that bill comes over to the Senate, there’s gonna be a lot of other people that are going to have a say in whether or not he sits on that bill or sides with Hamas,” Scalise said.

Republicans insist the bill wouldn’t just draw some Democratic support — allowing the measure to clear a 60-vote threshold to get on the floor — but that it would actually pass, though Biden could still veto it and dare lawmakers to muster the votes to override his thumbs-down.

“It would most definitely pass,” GOP Sen. Marco Rubio told NOTUS. “If it doesn’t pass, it’s because Chuck Schumer won’t let it be voted on.”

Katherine Swartz is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.