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Sen. Bernie Sanders to introduce resolution of disapproval on $735 million U.S. arms sale to Israel

The action comes as Biden calls for a ‘significant de-escalation of hostilities’ between Israel and Hamas

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) arrives before President Biden addresses a joint session of Congress on April 28. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced a resolution on Thursday disapproving of the U.S. sale of $735 million in precision-guided weapons to Israel, according to a draft obtained by The Washington Post.

The resolution aims to halt the planned sale to Israel by the Biden administration of JDAMs, or joint direct attack munitions, and small-diameter bombs, as the worst hostilities in years continue between Israel and Hamas. The resolution needs only a simple majority to pass the Senate, but if it were to be vetoed by President Biden, it would need a two-thirds majority in both chambers to take effect.

“At a moment when U.S.-made bombs are devastating Gaza, and killing women and children, we cannot simply let another huge arms sale go through without even a congressional debate,” Sanders said in a statement to The Post.

“I believe that the United States must help lead the way to a peaceful and prosperous future for both Israelis and Palestinians. We need to take a hard look at whether the sale of these weapons is actually helping do that, or whether it is simply fueling conflict.”

House Democrats, in disarray over arms sale to Israel, take complaints to Biden administration

Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) introduced a similar resolution on Wednesday opposing the sale of weapons to the Israeli government. House Foreign Affairs Committee Democrats are expected to summon a senior Biden administration official to a meeting as soon as Thursday to discuss the arms deal.

“For decades, the U.S. has sold billions of dollars in weaponry to Israel without ever requiring them to respect basic Palestinian rights,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement. “In so doing, we have directly contributed to the death, displacement and disenfranchisement of millions.”

Some Democratic lawmakers are criticizing Israel’s actions against Hamas, while others are following President Biden in saying it has a right to defend itself. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

The congressional action came after Biden on Wednesday bluntly demanded a de-escalation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, opening a rare rift between the United States and one of its closest allies. The president did so in the face of increasing criticism from some liberal Democrats who have loudly condemned what they see as American willingness to turn a blind eye to human-rights abuses Palestinians have experienced at the hands of Israel’s government.

It marks the first major dissension between liberals and Biden, who have been cheerleaders for the president’s ambitious economic agenda during the pandemic. But actually getting the resolution from congressional passage to enactment is a big hurdle.

Lawmakers have never successfully blocked a proposed arms sale through a joint resolution of disapproval, according to the Congressional Research Service, although it has passed them in recent years. President Donald Trump vetoed three resolutions passed by Congress in 2019 to stop arms sales benefiting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates after the House and Senate voted to block the arms deals worth more than $8 billion.

While Sanders’s resolution faces long odds, it appears to be guaranteed a vote in the Senate, according to procedures outlined in the International Security Assistance and Arms Export Control Act of 1976. “In some way or another, this starts the ball rolling with the Senate voting in one way or another on this sale to Israel,” said a source familiar with Sanders’s thinking.

But time is running out. According to the Arms Export Control Act, Congress has 15 days to approve a resolution of disapproval to block a direct commercial sale to an allied nation — a category that includes Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the members of NATO, in addition to Israel. That window closes on Friday.

Complicating matters further is the fact that a disapproval resolution like Sanders’s, though privileged, remains in the purview of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for up to 10 days. The panel would have to move speedily to send the resolution to the floor in order for it to procure a vote during Friday’s session.

And even if Sanders’s motion could get the majority support of the Senate — a tall order, considering the GOP firmly backs the sale and Democrats are divided — it would need to clear the House as well for Congress to attempt forcibly blocking the administration from clearing the sale. The House, however, is not currently in session — and is not scheduled to take another vote until June 14.

Sanders penned an op-ed for the New York Times last week, panning the U.S. government for being too accommodating toward Israel. The from Vermont also introduced a different resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire on Wednesday between the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas — an alternative to Sen. Rick Scott’s (R-Fla.) proposal to affirm U.S. support for Israel.

“The devastation in Gaza is unconscionable,” Sanders said on the Senate floor on Wednesday. “We must urge an immediate cease-fire.”

If the resolution does garner substantial backing from Senate Democrats, it would still need 51 votes (and passage in the House) to head to Biden’s desk. That 51st vote would have to come from Vice President Harris, who would be put in the awkward position of bucking her boss’s line on the conflict if she had to cast a tiebreaking vote.

Support for a cease-fire among Senate Democrats is growing.

Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Todd C. Young (R-Ind.) released a bipartisan statement last weekend calling for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a staunch defender of Israel, signed on to the statement and told reporters Monday that he wanted to see a cease-fire “reached quickly.”

Schumer is up for reelection in New York next year and has otherwise been quiet on the issue roiling the Democratic Party.