Fifty eight House members — 22 Democrats and 36 Republicans — are making a trip this month to Israel, right before Congress is set to consider the controversial Iran nuclear deal.
The trip is being paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation, the charitable arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
The foundation sponsors the travel every two years for freshman House members. But this year’s sojourn takes on extra importance after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vocally condemned the Iran deal negotiated by the Obama administration, which is the focus of a fierce fight in Congress.
AIPAC and a new group it is supporting, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, have emerged as some of the fiercest opponents of the nuclear agreement — the latter is spending up to $40 million to run ads in 35 states urging lawmakers to oppose the deal.
An AIPAC official said the regular trip was planned before there was an expected vote on the nuclear deal, and that no lobbying of lawmakers will take place.
The last time the foundation sponsored travel to Israel, in August 2013, it paid for 24 House Republicans and 36 Democrats, which cost about $1 million — roughly $18,000 per member, according to LegiStorm, which tracks congressional travel.
From Aug. 4 to 10, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) will lead Democratic contingent to the country and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will shepherd the Republican delegation. Hoyer and McCarthy’s offices declined to share the names of the lawmakers traveling on the trip, as did AIPAC.
But PowerPost confirmed the trip includes a number of House Democrats that many lobbyists consider critical votes on the deal, including Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Mark Takai (D-Hawaii), Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), Gwen Graham (D-Fla.), and Hoyer himself.
Democrats are expected to be the swing votes in the pact because most Republicans already oppose the agreement. Congress can vote to reject the nuclear agreement, but it would take a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to override a presidential veto of any attempt to derail the deal. Advocacy groups on both sides of the issue have launched expensive lobbying campaigns to convince legislators to vote in their favor.
Hoyer’s office said the delegation will meet with Israeli and Palestinian government officials, including Netanyahu, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. They will also meet with U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and military officials, and will visit historical and cultural sites including the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.
“I look forward to again traveling to Israel to reaffirm the United States’ unbreakable bond with our ally Israel and to continue learning more about the challenges in the region,” Hoyer said in a statement issued by his office Monday. “This trip gives Members of Congress an important opportunity to see the region first-hand and to meet with key Israeli and Palestinian leaders, which will give them a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities in the Middle East today, along with American interests in the region.”