In late March, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told attendees at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference that “support for Israel in Congress remains ironclad and bipartisan.” After the troubling events of the last several months, reasonable observers might question that statement. Now, House Republicans are ready to test just how deep bipartisan support for Israel still runs.
On February 5, the Senate passed S. 1, the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019, by a vote of 77 to 23. That’s typically considered broad agreement for the Senate. However, given the historic bipartisan commitment to Israel, the number of senators opposed — a group that included every Senate Democrat running for president, save Amy Klobuchar — was striking. That’s especially so when you consider that 22 of the 23 nays were Democrats.
The package of four bills shouldn’t have been controversial, but in the current political climate, the Combating BDS Act of 2019 made it so. Democrats have had a growing generational divide on Israel for some time, but it has generally not had much of a legislative impact — until now. The boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS), which seeks to isolate and delegitimize Israel, has become politically complicated for Democrats.
H.R. 336, the House’s companion bill to S. 1, has languished since Texas Rep. Michael McCaul introduced it on January 8. Pelosi has opted not to call a vote, because it would presumably divide her caucus, much as S. 1 split Senate Democrats. But bad optics shouldn’t stop a vote on a national security bill so many House members support.
With that in mind, Rep. Brian Mast of Florida introduced a discharge petition for H.R. 336 on Wednesday. This parliamentary procedure is the Republicans’ opportunity to force the majority to vote on this measure. In order to do that, though, they must first collect 218 signatures.
With strong Republican support a given, the petition is expected to need 21 Democratic supporters. Given that 27 Democrats co-sponsored similar legislation in the last Congress, and 2018 swept Democrats into typically red and purple districts, reaching that target number should be manageable. Some of those votes may need to be shaken loose with the help of constituents, though.
As of the close of business on Wednesday, Republicans had collected 161 signatures. So if you support a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and oppose economic warfare against Israel, this is an opportunity to make a difference. The House clerk has posted a petition tracker online where you can check the number of signatories and whether your member is among them.
In a statement, Rep. Lee Zeldin observed, “The American people deserve to know where each and every one of us stand and what we are willing to do about it.” He’s right. We do.
Let’s see members go on the record, not only with this discharge petition, but also with H.R. 336 itself. Americans should know where Congress stands on our relationship with our nation’s closest Middle Eastern ally, as well as whether Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib are really the only two members of the House who support BDS.
As Sen. Marco Rubio, who is the main sponsor of the Senate bill, remarked, “If Speaker Pelosi is serious about supporting Israel and strengthening U.S. security in the Middle East, she should bring this important, bipartisan bill to the floor immediately.” Call your member of Congress. Let’s make this happen.