In a statement supporting additional US funding for Israel's Iron Dome system, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell calls for Democrats to support 'a sensible, bipartisan solution that can be passed quickly' — signaling apparent opposition to Democrats' emergency spending bill plan. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)
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WASHINGTON — The Senate’s top Republican supports doubling US funds for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense program, but just how the extra $225 million passes the chamber remains unclear.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky issued a lengthy statement endorsing plans to increase Iron Dome funding, saying the missile interceptor system “has played a critical role in defending Israel’s population from the rocket attacks launched by Hamas from within the Gaza Strip.”
The endorsement and public statement show how election-year politics can influence even a Senate leader’s public comments about a weapons program. So publicly embracing spending funds not requested by the White House on the Iron Dome program likely will play well back home, where McConnell will need Republican voters to turn out in big numbers if he hopes to defeat a tough Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes.
A recent Pew Research Center poll found large numbers of Republicans support Israel in its latest conflict with Hamas. Pew found 73 percent of Republicans have more sympathy for Israel than for Palestinians. Only 44 percent of Democrats shared that stance.
“Republicans are united in support of our ally Israel,” McConnell said. “We have legislation that would allow Congress to meet [Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s request for additional Iron Dome funding]. And we hope our friends on the other side will join us in coming to a sensible, bipartisan solution that can be passed quickly.”
McConnell did not mention Senate Democrats’ current plan for the additional Iron Dome funding. They are proposing to include it in a non-war supplemental spending measure that would provide monies for several things in addition to Israel’s missile program, including the controversial US-Mexico border crisis and fighting domestic wildfires.
But the minority leader’s use of “sensible” and “bipartisan” in his call for some kind of legislation that could pass with the Iron Dome funds appeared a signal he is opposed to the Democrat’s emergency spending bill.
Capitol Hill-focused publication Roll Call reported Thursday that McConnell wants to strip the extra Iron Dome dollars from the Democratic-written supplemental and push a stand-alone measure instead.
The $225 million would be on top of the $176 million the Obama administration already requested for the program in its fiscal 2015 defense budget plan. House and Senate defense and appropriations panels already have proposed doubling the Pentagon’s 2015 Iron Dome request to $351 million. The House passed its bills already; the full Senate has yet to take up either measure.
The Iron Dome system is built by Israeli companies Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries, and many US lawmakers and officials want Boeing to soon begin co-production of the system.
McConnell’s statement referenced a letter Hagel sent to lawmakers urging them to approve the $225 million to accelerate production of Iron Dome missile-defense components to ensure Israel will have adequate stockpiles to protect itself from rockets launched by Hamas militants in Gaza.
“By passing a bipartisan measure to meet the secretary’s request, we can send a message to Hamas that its terrorist tactics and its attempts to terrorize Israel’s populace will not succeed,” McConnell said.
Over in the House, a squabble over changing a 2008 immigration law is threatening to kill the non-war supplemental in that chamber.
But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Friday she remains “forever hopeful” that enough Republicans will side with her party on the immigration issues to pass the non-war supplemental before Congress leaves for its month-long August recess.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has yet to comment on a stand-alone Iron Dome bill. Instead, he is advocating the Senate Appropriations Committee-written supplemental that includes the additional Iron Dome funds. And he is warning House Republicans to include only immigration language that could pass the Democratic-controlled Senate.
“I think that if you are focusing on the House, they are going very bad over there because the Republicans can’t agree what they want,” Reid told reporters on Tuesday. “The Democrats aren’t going to support some of their crazy ideas, and the Republicans can’t agree which crazy idea they want to put forward. Over here, my caucus is doing just fine.”
Reid was asked if he has the 60 votes needed to pass the Appropriations Committee supplemental before the August break. He replied: “I need a little help from my Republican friends.” ■