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International Criminal Court AP-21062521050977
The International Criminal Court, or ICC, is seen in The Hague, Netherlands. Peter Dejong/AP

Republicans Were Negotiating With Democrats on ICC Sanctions. They Chose Politics Instead.

House Republicans put Democrats on the record about sanctioning the International Criminal Court, the latest way in which they’ve tried to divide Democrats over Israel.

On paper, House Republicans passed a bill on Tuesday that would place sanctions on the International Criminal Court over the ICC’s proposed charges for Israeli officials who, the court says, have committed war crimes in Gaza. But in practice, the bill was more of a political exercise.

The House passed the bill 247-155, with all 205 Republicans and 42 Democrats voting in favor of the legislation and 155 Democrats voting no. While most Democrats stayed with their leaders to oppose the bill, the 42 Democrats who broke with their party were a significant faction. And even though the measure is now on its way to the Senate, the House vote may very well be the final action on the bill — and the entirety of the point.

At least, it was the entirety of the point for some. The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, said he tried to produce a bill that could actually become law.

“A partisan messaging bill was not my intention,” McCaul said during the floor debate Tuesday, adding that it also wasn’t the intention of the ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York, to produce a partisan measure bound for a Senate filing cabinet.

“But that’s where we are right now,” McCaul said.

Republicans are fully aware that Senate Democratic leaders have little intention of taking up the legislation after the White House so forcefully came out against the bill in a statement on Monday.

But Senate Democrats couldn’t stop Republicans from putting their Democratic counterparts in the House on the record about Israel — and they can’t stop Republicans from using the vote as an election year cudgel.

Former Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who was on Capitol Hill to commemorate pro-democracy activists in China on Tuesday, was quick to describe most Democrats standing against the sanctions as an “unfortunate” choice to not stand in defense of Israel.

“It shows where the Democratic Party has gone,” McCarthy told NOTUS. “When Israel was created 75 years ago, America recognized them as our greatest ally. And for what Democrats say now and their actions, they broke from what all Americans firmly believe — that we should stand with Israel.”

Rep. Burgess Owens of Utah was also blunt, drawing a contrast with Republicans, who he said were “doing the right things,” and Democrats, who he said were not standing up “against institutions that don’t represent Americans.”

“I’m happy Americans are seeing where we both stand. We have the Republicans with ‘America First,’ and then the Democrats who are divided on all these issues, and all that comes down to them not really loving who we are,” he told NOTUS. “It’s nice for Americans to see that. It’s good to see that we’re standing strong on these issues, and Democrats are still figuring it out.”

With the Senate’s reluctance to take up the bill, and the White House also assuring Republicans that the administration “strongly opposes” the legislation, Republicans knew their measure was likely going nowhere. They had a chance to adjust the language in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where McCaul was negotiating with Democrats over potential punishments for the ICC after the court’s top prosecutor suggested charges for various Israeli officials.

But those talks fell apart. Rather than try to reach a consensus, Republicans forged ahead with their bill anyway, knowing the legislation was still a winner in one regard: messaging.

House Republicans have made a sport out of dividing Democrats and uniting their own party. Any time they can corral the GOP around a common cause and pit some Democrats against the rest of their party, Republicans have looked at it as a win.

But on this particular bill, Republicans also said it was important to send a message to Israel and the ICC.

“Personally, this is about showing the world who we stand for,” GOP Rep. Lisa McClain of Michigan told NOTUS. “I can’t say the same for the other side, and I definitely can’t say it about Biden.”

Her Michigan colleague, GOP Rep. John Moolenaar, also used a similar tone.

“It’s about, you know, respecting the autonomy of a government that has been attacked,” he said. “And the idea that there’s some international body that is going to penalize a sovereign nation for defending itself is outrageous.”

Tinashe Chingarande is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow. John T. Seward, a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow, contributed to this report.