WASHINGTON ― Senate Democrats are discussing whether to pair new funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system with aid for the Palestinians after $1 billon for the system was cut from a stopgap spending patch that passed the House on Tuesday.
Sen. Chris Murphy, a progressive Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he wants to link the Palestinian aid with funds to replenish Iron Dome after Israeli forces used it against rocket attacks by Hamas in May. President Joe Biden has requested Congress appropriate the funding.
“I think a way forward here is to get the Iron Dome funding done, but partner it together with meaningful funding for the Palestinians,” Murphy, of Connecticut, told reporters Wednesday, adding it was “important to send a clear signal that the United States stands with Israel.”
Murphy said he pitched the idea to the Senate Democrats Tuesday at their weekly meeting, and “there would be support within the Democratic Caucus.”
Though Murphy said a meeting later in the day with the EU special representative for the Middle East peace process would help determine what amount of aid was needed, he said it could include humanitarian, economic development aid ― or existing aid placed on hold by Republicans.
On Wednesday, Defense News obtained a letter from Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, to Samantha Power, the administrator for the United States Agency for International Development, that he would clear his hold on $20.2 million in aid to the Palestinians, if it could be reprogrammed for food. Risch declined to comment on Murphy’s proposal.
The action came a day after House Democratic leaders yanked the $1 billion from their continuing resolution in order to placate progressive lawmakers who had complained behind closed doors.
House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., on Wednesday introduced an alternative bill to fund Iron Dome.
“While this funding would ordinarily be included in a year-end spending package, we are advancing this legislation now to demonstrate Congress’ bipartisan commitment to Israel’s security as part of a Middle East with lasting peace,” she said.
Progressives ― who have pushed to place stiffer conditions on U.S. military aid, criticizing Israel’s strikes on Gaza ― said they were surprised when the added Iron Dome funding was sprung on them at the last minute. Because Republicans unified against the CR over its inclusion of a debt-ceiling hike and Democrats hold a slim majority, progressives were able to use added leverage this time.
“It may not have been controversial had it been done in a normal way,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Congressional Progressive Caucus chair, said of the added Iron Dome funds, “but to pull it at the nth hour and put it in is simply not appropriate.”
Other skeptics include Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who acknowledged he initially opposed adding the Iron Dome funding to a CR instead of regular appropriations.
“The Israelis haven’t even taken the money that we already appropriated,” Leahy told reporters, accusing Israel of showing “mixed interest in money we already appropriated.”
Republicans and some centrist Democrats criticized the move, but Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he was not worried about getting the aid after receiving a call from the House’s No. 2 Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer. In the process, Lapid knocked former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“After years in which the previous government neglected Congress and the Democratic Party, causing significant damage to the Israeli-American relationship, we’re currently rebuilding relations of trust with Congress,” Lapid said on Tuesday.
Other lead Democrats have offered reassurances Congress will appropriate the funding somehow.
“It will get done because there’s broad bicameral support for it,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J. “Whatever the process is, it’ll get done. I have no concerns.”
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.