“When Congress had the chance to increase funding for Iron Dome, [Democratic member of Congress] voted against it. Shamefully she voted no, even as terrorist rockets rained down on Israeli cities.”

— ad released by American Action Network (AAN), a conservative advocacy group, May 25

There are serious votes — and then there are messaging votes. The messaging votes are designed for attack ads.

The ad above is a classic example of the genre, in which a parliamentary action is turned in a “shameful” vote against the security of Israel. AAN is running digital ads against Democratic lawmakers who are generally considered supporters of Israel, including Reps. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia, Susan Wild of Pennsylvania and Elaine Luria of Virginia.

Democrats recently engineered a rule change that was intended to thwart the GOP’s ability to run such ads. But that hasn’t stopped this conservative group from running the attack anyway.

The Facts

In the House of Representatives, one type of messaging vote is known as the Motion to Recommit. This is a motion to send a bill back to committee so additional language can be added.

The minority has little power in the House, so this had been one way to offer an amendment to a bill designed to make the other side sweat. In a rule change, Democrats removed the ability to say what instructions — i.e. , what amendment — would be given to the committee.

So now the vote is just to send the bill back to committee.

On May 20, the House debated an emergency supplemental appropriation to respond to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, a bill that only narrowly passed by one vote. As expected, Republicans offered a motion to send the bill back to committee before the final vote took place.

The new House rules did not stop Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Tex.) from announcing that the amendment he would offer in committee would provide at least $73 million to the Iron Dome system, a mobile missile-defense system first supplied during the Obama administration. The amendment would have also provided another $254 million for other military systems.

“If we adopt the motion to recommit we will instruct the Committee on Appropriations to consider my amendment to H.R. 3237. It would provide emergency funding for the Iron Dome defense system to ensure that Israel has the system it needs to continue defending against these attacks,” Gonzales said in remarks during the debate on underlying bill. The Congressional Record also included a copy of the amendment, immediately after the motion, as Gonzales had requested during his speech.

In other words, the GOP acted as if nothing had changed. But vote question, unlike such motions before the rule change, makes no mention of any amendment involving Israel’s security. Under the rules of the House, Gonzales was only speaking about a draft amendment. No vote took place on his amendment.

As is usual with such messaging votes, the vote to send the bill back to committee failed on a near-party line vote, with one Republican joining all Democrats in rejecting it.

AAN tries to get around the fact that the amendment was not referenced in the vote by using careful language such as “when Congress had the chance to increase funding.”

Regular readers know that at The Fact Checker we take a dim view of ads that use such minor procedural votes as the basis for an attack on a lawmaker’s policy positions. In 2018, we gave Four Pinocchios to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for pretending that a Republican lawmaker who voted to save the Affordable Care Act actually opposed it because he opposed three procedural votes that referenced the ACA. Those votes did not count — whereas he took a big political risk to oppose repeal of Obamacare when its fate was in the balance.

We face a similar situation here. AAN’s ads imply that these Democrats turned their back on Israel when “terrorist rockets rained down on Israeli cities.”

First of all, a cease-fire between Israel and the Hamas militant group was declared on the day of the vote.

Second, Congress is not supposed to just hand money to Israel without a request in hand.

According to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Israel and the United States reached in 2016, for the fiscal years 2019-2028, the United States is expected to provide $500 million every year for missile defense. Israel committed not to seek additional funding for missile defense “except in exceptional circumstances as may be jointly agreed by the U.S. administration and Israel, such as in the event of major armed conflict involving Israel.”

In other words, if there is a conflict, Israel is expected to make a request and then the two sides reach an agreement on the amount. A few hours after the vote, when announcing the cease-fire, President Biden noted that he had spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “I assured him of my full support to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome system to ensure its defenses and security in the future.”

Israel is expected to ask for about $1 billion in funding — far more than the Gonzales amendment would have sought. In the House, a bipartisan group of 55 lawmakers — including Luria and Wild — have signed a letter expressing support for a rapid fulfillment of the request.

Calvin Moore, spokesman for AAN, said that it was “abundantly clear” that the motion to recommit was about funding for Israel. He noted that the organizer of the bipartisan letter, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), switched his vote from “yea” to “nay” after being approached on the floor by House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), according to an account in the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website that reports frequently on policy toward Israel.

“Give me a break," said James Adams, a spokesperson for Gottheimer. "It’s the Free Beacon, a right-wing hit-job publication. He hit the wrong button and fixed it when he realized.”

The leading pro-Israel group, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is never shy about making clear its position on important votes involving Israel’s security. But the organization ignored the motion to recommit. “We do not take positions on procedural votes.” said AIPAC spokesman Marshall Whitman.

The Pinocchio Test

If the word “shamefully” needs to be used, it applies to this ad. The motion to recommit was designed for precisely this ad, as the Republicans knew Democrats would stick together on a procedural vote. Never mind that the amendment that would have been offered in committee was not even officially part of the motion and thus not the subject of the House vote.

As we noted, both parties have used procedural votes for attack ads. Maybe it was bit cute for Democrats to think that detaching the amendment would dissuade Republicans from playing this game.

But, in this case, the GOP amendment would have put the cart before the horse. Under regular process outlined in a MOU, after a conflict Israel and the United States are expected to reach agreement on the level of funding needed to replenish Israel’s defense. Only then Congress acts to provide the appropriation.

That’s the vote that counts — and the vote that AIPAC would score. If lawmakers oppose funding then, it would be possible material for an ad. But, for now, AAN earns Four Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

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