The United States House of Representatives has rejected a Republican-led bill to provide $17.6bn in assistance to Israel as a wider bipartisan bill that would also help Ukraine and ensure more money for border security looked to be in trouble as well.
The Tuesday vote on the Israel bill, which needed a two-thirds majority to advance, was largely along party lines.
Aid for Israel – one of the largest recipients of US foreign aid – has traditionally received strong bipartisan support. However, the bill’s opponents said it was a Republican ploy to distract from their opposition to the $118bn Senate bill combining an overhaul of US immigration policy and new funding for border security – measures Republicans had demanded – with billions of dollars in emergency aid for Ukraine, Israel and partners in the Asia Pacific.
House Democratic leaders called the Israel bill a “nakedly obvious and cynical attempt” to undermine the larger package, hammered out at the weekend after months of negotiations by a bipartisan group of senators.
Support for that bill has dwindled among Republicans with former President Donald Trump – who is likely to be the Republican candidate for November’s presidential election – pressuring them to avoid handing President Joe Biden, his probable Democrat rival, a legislative victory ahead of the poll.
Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson said the Senate bill was “dead on arrival” in the chamber even before it was introduced. Senate Republican leaders said on Tuesday they did not think the measure would receive enough votes to pass.
“It looks to me and to most of our members that we have no real chance here to make a law,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters.
Biden, who supports the Senate bill, had promised to veto the House’s Israel-only measure if it were passed.
On Tuesday, he urged lawmakers to back the wider bill, saying the clock was “ticking” for Ukraine two years since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of his country’s neighbour.
He called on them to “show some spine” and stand up to Trump.
Out of funds, the Pentagon is sending no more arms shipments to Kyiv even as Ukraine is struggling with ammunition and personnel shortages as Russia mounts relentless attacks.
“Every week, every month that passes without new aid to Ukraine means fewer artillery shells, fewer air defence systems, fewer tools for Ukraine to defend itself against this Russian onslaught,” Biden said.
“We can’t walk away now. That’s what Putin’s betting on,” Biden said. “Supporting this bill is standing up to Putin. Opposing this bill is playing into his hands.”
The immigration portion of the legislation, Biden added, included the “toughest set of reforms to secure the border ever”.
The Israel bill’s supporters insisted it was not a political stunt, saying it was important to move quickly to support the country, which launched an offensive on Gaza after members of the Hamas armed group launched an unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking dozens captive.
At least 27,585 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli onslaught, with thousands more injured.
“This bill simply provides necessary resources to our closest ally in the region and our own military,” said Republican Ken Calvert, who introduced the measure.
Some Democrats also condemned the House bill for failing to provide humanitarian assistance for Palestinian civilians.
Members of Congress have been struggling for months to reach an agreement on sending security assistance overseas, particularly to Ukraine.
Biden has twice sent Congress requests for emergency spending bills, most recently in October.
The Republican-majority House passed an Israel-only bill in November but it was never taken up in the Democratic-led Senate. Negotiators had worked on Biden’s request for a broader emergency security package and Republican demands that any security assistance be combined with changes in immigration policy and security at the border with Mexico.
The failed Israel House vote was the second in quick succession for Johnson’s Republican majority on Tuesday.
It came immediately after the chamber voted against impeaching Biden’s top border official, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.