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Sixteen Democrats join Republicans to override Biden's halt on bomb transfers to Israel

Largely symbolic vote underscores the divide in the Democratic Party over support for Israel
Congressional aides from offices of Republican lawmakers hold American flags while waiting to counterprotest fellow aides advocating for a Gaza ceasefire, in Washington, on 16 May (Kent Nishimura/Getty Images/AFP)

Sixteen Democratic lawmakers joined Republicans to pass a bill that would force the US to expedite all approved arms shipments to Israel, including those that the White House has delayed over concerns about its assault on Rafah.

The largely symbolic vote in the House of Representatives passed by a vote of 224-187, but has little chance of becoming law because it must pass the Democrat-controlled Senate.

The Biden administration also said it would veto the bill, claiming it “undermines” the president’s foreign policy.

The bill’s passage in the House of Representatives is notable, however, because 16 pro-Israel democratic lawmakers joined with Republicans in a sign of defiance of Biden’s decision to pause a shipment of 2,000-pound and 500-pound bombs to Israel.

The lawmakers who broke ranks with their party include vocal democratic supporters of Israel such as Lois Frankel, Jared Moskowitz, Josh Gottheimer, and Ritchie Torres.

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Republican Senator Tom Cotton has introduced a companion bill, but Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer has said he will not put the bill on the floor for a vote. Senior Democrats in the House also whipped heavily against the bill.

notice shared by Democratic Congresswoman Katherine Clark said Biden had provided “ironclad” support for Israel but that the Republican legislation amounted to an “unprecedented limitation” of the president's executive authority and ability to implement foreign policy.

Israel’s war on Gaza has divided the Democratic Party, with progressives criticising Biden’s support for Israel. The tensions are already playing out in Democratic primary races.

This week pro-Palestinian Democratic Congressman Jamaal Bowman claimed his primary challenger was in the “pocket and bought and paid for by Aipac”, the pro-Israel lobbying group. Bowman, like some other progressives, has called Israel’s war on Gaza a genocide.

Biden's threat to withhold arms to Israel masks divisions over the fate of Hamas
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The focal point of Israel’s war has become Rafah, the southern Gaza border town where around 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering.

Biden warned last week he would delay the transfer of offensive bombs and artillery shells to Israel if they launched a full-scale assault on Rafah.

Biden's decision to follow through on that public threat is being tracked minute by minute by US voters, supporters and critics of Israel. The Biden administration has not clearly defined what they mean by a "full-scale invasion", as Israel has been heavily bombarding Rafah and has seized control of the crossing with Egypt.

The vast majority of arms transfers to Israel are continuing despite the Rafah threat and current freeze.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that the Biden administration plans to send over $1bn in additional arms and ammunition to Israel.

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