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House votes to require delivery of bombs to Israel in GOP-led rebuke of Biden policies

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House votes to require delivery of bombs to Israel in GOP-led rebuke of Biden policies
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House votes to require delivery of bombs to Israel in GOP-led rebuke of Biden policies

2024-05-17 07:38 Last Updated At:07:40

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House delivered a rebuke to President Joe Biden Thursday for pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, passing legislation that seeks to force the weapons transfer as Republicans worked to highlight Democratic divisions over the Israel-Hamas war.

Seeking to discourage Israel from its offensive on the crowded southern Gaza city of Rafah, the Biden administration this month put on hold a weapons shipment of 3,500 bombs — some as large as 2,000 pounds — that are capable of killing hundreds in populated areas. Republicans were outraged, accusing Biden of abandoning the closest U.S. ally in the Middle East.

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Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., center, flanked by GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., left, and Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., speak to reporters about President Joe Biden pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House delivered a rebuke to President Joe Biden Thursday for pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, passing legislation that seeks to force the weapons transfer as Republicans worked to highlight Democratic divisions over the Israel-Hamas war.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., joined at left by House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., speak to reporters about President Joe Biden pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., joined at left by House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., speak to reporters about President Joe Biden pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., joined from left by Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., speaks to reporters about President Joe Biden pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., joined from left by Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., speaks to reporters about President Joe Biden pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., joined from left by Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., speaks to reporters about President Joe Biden pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., joined from left by Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., speaks to reporters about President Joe Biden pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

From left, GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., speak to reporters about President Joe Biden pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

From left, GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., speak to reporters about President Joe Biden pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

FILE - Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks with reporters to discuss his proposal of sending crucial bipartisan support to aid Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan after weeks of inaction, at the Capitol in Washington, April 17, 2024. House Republicans plan to deliver a rebuke to President Joe Biden for putting a pause on a shipment of bombs to Israel that could be used in an assault on Rafah. They are voting Thursday on a bill that has practically no chance of being enacted but puts pressure on Democrats as it mandates delivery of the weapons. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)

FILE - Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks with reporters to discuss his proposal of sending crucial bipartisan support to aid Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan after weeks of inaction, at the Capitol in Washington, April 17, 2024. House Republicans plan to deliver a rebuke to President Joe Biden for putting a pause on a shipment of bombs to Israel that could be used in an assault on Rafah. They are voting Thursday on a bill that has practically no chance of being enacted but puts pressure on Democrats as it mandates delivery of the weapons. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)

Debate over the bill, rushed to the House floor by GOP leadership this week, showed Washington's deeply fractured outlook on the Israel-Hamas war. The White House and Democratic leadership scrambled to rally support from a House caucus that ranges from moderates frustrated that the president would allow any daylight between the U.S. and Israel to progressives outraged that he is still sending any weapons at all.

The bill passed comfortably 224-187 as 16 Democrats joined with most Republicans to vote in favor. Three Republicans voted against it.

On the right, Republicans said the president had no business chiding Israel for how it uses the U.S.-manufactured weapons that are instrumental in its war against Hamas. They have not been satisfied with the Biden administration moving forward this week on a new $1 billion sale to Israel of tank ammunition, tactical vehicles and mortar rounds.

“We’re beyond frustrated,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said. “I don’t think we should tell the Israelis how to conduct their military campaign, period.”

The House bill condemns Biden for initiating the pause on the bomb shipment and would withhold funding for the State Department, Department of Defense and the National Security Council until the delivery is made.

The White House has said Biden would veto the bill if it passes Congress, and the Democratic-led Senate seems certain to reject it.

“It’s not going anywhere," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said earlier this week.

Republicans were undeterred. Appearing on the Capitol steps ahead of voting Thursday morning, House Republican leaders argued that passage of the bill in the House would build pressure on Schumer and Biden.

“It is President Biden and Senator Schumer himself who are standing in the way of getting Israel the resources it desperately needs to defend itself,” Speaker Mike Johnson said.

Biden placed the hold on the transfer of the bombs this month over concerns the weapons could inflict massive casualties in Rafah and to deter Israel from the attack.

Over 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed as Israel tries to eliminate Hamas in retaliation for its Oct. 7 attack that killed 1,200 people in Israel and took about 250 more captive. Hundreds of thousands of people could be at risk of death if Israel attacks Rafah, the United Nations humanitarian aid agency has warned, because so many have fled there for safety.

The heavy toll of the Israeli campaign has prompted intense protests on the left, including on university campuses nationwide and some aimed directly at Biden. In a rare scene on the Capitol steps Thursday, a group of about two dozen House aides gathered just as lawmakers were entering the chamber to vote and displayed a banner that read, “Your staff demands you save Rafah."

At the same time, a group of moderate Democrats in Congress have expressed almost unconditional support for Israel. Roughly two dozen House Democrats last week signed onto a letter to the Biden administration saying they were “deeply concerned about the message” sent by pausing the bomb shipment.

Eager to tamp down the number from Biden's own party who would side with Republicans on the vote, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and deputy national security adviser Jon Finer got on the phone this week with Democratic lawmakers who could possibly defect.

Among their arguments, according to an administration official with knowledge of their conversations and granted anonymity to discuss them, was that the legislation would constrain the president’s foreign policy powers. Sullivan and Finer also noted in these discussions that what Biden did — pausing aid in order to influence Israel’s actions — was similar to President Ronald Reagan’s decision in 1982 to halt military aid to Israel amid its invasion of Lebanon.

National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said the legislation was intended to “score political points, not help Israel.”

“President Biden will take a back seat to no one on his support for Israel and will ensure that Israel has everything it needs to defeat Hamas,” she said. “President Biden is also strongly on the record for the protection of innocent civilians. Most Americans agree on both these points, Israel has a right and obligation to protect themselves, but they must do so while avoiding civilian casualties.”

House Democratic leadership also worked hard to convince rank-and-file lawmakers to vote against the bill.

“The legislation on the floor today is not a serious effort to strengthen the special relationship between the United States and Israel,” said House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries.

He added that he supported the effort to “decisively” defeat Hamas while also advocating for a goal of “Israel living in safety and security side by side with a demilitarized Palestinian state that allows for dignity and self-determination amongst the Palestinian people.”

With the general election campaign coming into focus, the speaker has mostly turned to advancing partisan bills, including legislation on immigration, local policing and antisemitism, that are intended to force Democrats into taking difficult votes.

“It's being done to score cheap political points,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat who signed onto the letter criticizing the pause, but voted against the bill. She added that it would potentially defund U.S. national security programs.

As an alternative, Rep. Michael McCaul, the Republican chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced a separate bill Thursday with some bipartisan backing that would require the president to notify Congress before holding the delivery of defensive weapons to Israel and allow Congress to override the hold.

Still, the 16 Democrats who voted for the bill showed a willingness to buck the president. The group consisted of both lawmakers vying for reelection in swing districts and those who are staunch supporters of Israel.

“The administration has been wavering so I’m going to vote for the bill when it comes to the floor,” Rep. Ritchie Torres, a New York Democrat, said ahead of the vote.

Another Democrat who voted for the bill, Rep. Jared Moskowitz of Florida, said this week he also considered the messages being sent to the Jewish community in the United States.

“My community right now is worried,” he said. “Things don’t happen in a vacuum.”

Historically, the U.S. has sent enormous amounts of weaponry to Israel, and it has only accelerated those shipments after the Oct. 7 attack. But some progressives are pushing for an end to that relationship as they argue that Israel's campaign into Gaza amounts to genocide — a characterization that the Biden administration has rejected.

“My fear is that our government and us as citizens, as taxpayers, we are going to be complicit in genocide,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat. “And that goes against everything we value as a nation.”

Associated Press writer Farnoush Amiri contributed.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., center, flanked by GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., left, and Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., speak to reporters about President Joe Biden pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., center, flanked by GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., left, and Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., speak to reporters about President Joe Biden pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., joined at left by House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., speak to reporters about President Joe Biden pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., joined at left by House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., speak to reporters about President Joe Biden pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., joined from left by Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., speaks to reporters about President Joe Biden pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., joined from left by Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., speaks to reporters about President Joe Biden pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., joined from left by Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., speaks to reporters about President Joe Biden pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., joined from left by Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., speaks to reporters about President Joe Biden pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

From left, GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., speak to reporters about President Joe Biden pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

From left, GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., speak to reporters about President Joe Biden pausing a shipment of bombs to Israel, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 16, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

FILE - Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks with reporters to discuss his proposal of sending crucial bipartisan support to aid Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan after weeks of inaction, at the Capitol in Washington, April 17, 2024. House Republicans plan to deliver a rebuke to President Joe Biden for putting a pause on a shipment of bombs to Israel that could be used in an assault on Rafah. They are voting Thursday on a bill that has practically no chance of being enacted but puts pressure on Democrats as it mandates delivery of the weapons. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)

FILE - Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks with reporters to discuss his proposal of sending crucial bipartisan support to aid Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan after weeks of inaction, at the Capitol in Washington, April 17, 2024. House Republicans plan to deliver a rebuke to President Joe Biden for putting a pause on a shipment of bombs to Israel that could be used in an assault on Rafah. They are voting Thursday on a bill that has practically no chance of being enacted but puts pressure on Democrats as it mandates delivery of the weapons. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — During daytime, entire districts of Ukraine's capital are disconnected from the power grid to save energy. Traffic lights stop, choking traffic, accompanied by the constant rumble of generators installed outside cafes and shops.

Ukraine, including Kyiv, is struggling to cope with a new wave of rolling blackouts after relentless Russian attacks took out half the country’s power generation capacity.

Residents and businesses of Kyiv are adapting to the absence of electricity using generators, power banks, and flashlights and even recalculating their bathroom visits. Heavy damage inflicted to the country’s power system has left millions feeling uncertain about Ukraine’s ability to meet the national electricity demand after the warm weather months are over and the weather turns cold.

“I light my apartment as our grandparents used to — with candles and small flashlights,” said Rudoy, a 40-year-old insurance agent from Israel who relocated from Tel Aviv to Kyiv in 2023 after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.

He said that he wanted a new life despite the war — to live side-by-side with old friends and reside in a milder climate — but he hadn't foreseen the inconveniences of living without power. Rudoy bought an apartment on the seventh floor of a newly built 25-story high rise with no gas system or water supply that's wholly dependent on electricity.

“I have to adjust my life to the blackout schedules, otherwise it is impossible to live normally — not even to use a toilet at times,” Rudoy told The Associated Press.

A friend in a nearby district typically has power when he doesn’t, which makes his life easier. Work often gets done at a cafe that has a generator, but there’s a catch.

“Even if you find a free table at a cafe nearby, working generators are very noisy and spread diesel fumes," he said. "That’s why not many cafes that operate during blackouts are actually good to work in.”

Ukraine is struggling to meet electricity demand as systematic attacks on its power infrastructure have intensified since March, forcing utilities to ration household supplies over the last three months. The country’s top officials repeatedly called on allied countries to provide more air defense systems to protect its power plants from Russian missiles and drones, but tangible damage had already been inflicted.

The blackouts in Kyiv are the worse since the early months of the war when Russian strikes on the country’s power grid led to major winter-time blackouts that led to authorities setting up communal heating areas and hundreds of emergency points where residents could drink tea, recharge their phones and get help.

“As of today, due to missile and drone attacks, we have lost 9.2 gigawatt of electricity (generating capabilities),” Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said in early June. Despite having the capacity to import 2.2 gigawatts of electricity from European countries, Ukraine is importing 1.7 gigawatts, Shmyhal said.

Apart from direct imports, Ukraine is working to attract foreign investment to its private energy sector. At a summit in Berlin this month, Ukraine presented investment projects that could enable additional capacity of 1 gigawatt, said Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, the head of power utility Ukrenergo.

But in the short-term, Ukraine’s readiness before next winter looks highly uncertain considering the damages to its energy system, the feasible outlook for reconstruction, and electricity demand.

Constant blackouts bring disruption to many city residents’ daily rituals. Official power outage schedules published regularly by Ukrainian energy operators make it easier to plan the day. But energy companies often resort to unscheduled emergency blackouts when the city overconsumes electricity at the peak hours.

The circumstances force businesses and households to rely on alternative sources of electricity and light to get through a day as the summer heat makes more and more people use air conditioners. And many are worried the situation could get even worse.

Small businesses don’t always keep up, with the energy situation rapidly changing every week.

Oleksandr Solovei, the 25-year-old owner of Informatyka coffee shop in Kyiv, just plans to buy a generator, which typically costs around $1,000, to keep his business open during blackouts.

In the meantime, he must improvise. “We prepare hot water in advance, to cook matcha and teas. Cooking coffee at times like this is impossible. The coffee machine consumes too much energy,” Solovei told the AP.

A fiber-optic internet cable and a power bank that keeps the router on attract patrons to Informatyka, where they can work on their laptops. Still, customers have thinned out since the blackouts began.

“We think the situation will get worse (by winter),” Solovei said. “We already plan to buy a generator, powerful enough to brew coffee, light the space, and charge the devices of our visitors. We are preparing for a hard winter.”

Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

A general view of the central district of the city is seen during a blackout in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, June 7, 2024 (AP Photo/Alex Babenko)

A general view of the central district of the city is seen during a blackout in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, June 7, 2024 (AP Photo/Alex Babenko)

A man is working on his laptop at a coffee shop, which operates during blackouts in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, June 7, 2024. Ukraine is experiencing rolling blackouts as Russia intensified strikes targeting energy infrastructure over the past three months. (AP Photo/Alex Babenko)

A man is working on his laptop at a coffee shop, which operates during blackouts in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, June 7, 2024. Ukraine is experiencing rolling blackouts as Russia intensified strikes targeting energy infrastructure over the past three months. (AP Photo/Alex Babenko)

Oleksandr Solovei, 25, the owner of the coffee shop Informatyka, poses for the portrait during a blackout in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, June 7, 2024. Solovei plans to buy a generator, which typically costs around $1,000, to keep his business open during blackouts. (AP Photo/Alex Babenko)

Oleksandr Solovei, 25, the owner of the coffee shop Informatyka, poses for the portrait during a blackout in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, June 7, 2024. Solovei plans to buy a generator, which typically costs around $1,000, to keep his business open during blackouts. (AP Photo/Alex Babenko)

Friends sit in a coffee shop during a blackout in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, June 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Alex Babenko)

Friends sit in a coffee shop during a blackout in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, June 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Alex Babenko)

A barman speaks with clients at a coffee shop during power cuts in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, June 7, 2024. Ukraine, including Kyiv, is struggling to cope with a new wave of rolling blackouts after relentless Russian attacks took out half the country’s power generation capacity. (AP Photo/Alex Babenko)

A barman speaks with clients at a coffee shop during power cuts in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, June 7, 2024. Ukraine, including Kyiv, is struggling to cope with a new wave of rolling blackouts after relentless Russian attacks took out half the country’s power generation capacity. (AP Photo/Alex Babenko)

Kateryna Barannyk, 30, a sales consultant of the outdoor equipment store "Gorgany" poses for the portrait during a blackout in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, June 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Alex Babenko)

Kateryna Barannyk, 30, a sales consultant of the outdoor equipment store "Gorgany" poses for the portrait during a blackout in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, June 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Alex Babenko)

A man looks for a backpack in an outdoor equipment store during blackouts in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, June 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Alex Babenko)

A man looks for a backpack in an outdoor equipment store during blackouts in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, June 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Alex Babenko)

People walk along a road during a blackout in central Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, June 6, 2024. (AP Photo/Alex Babenko)

People walk along a road during a blackout in central Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, June 6, 2024. (AP Photo/Alex Babenko)

A barman is seen working through the window of a coffee shop during power cuts in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, June 7, 2024. Ukraine, including Kyiv, is struggling to cope with a new wave of rolling blackouts after relentless Russian attacks took out half the country’s power generation capacity. (AP Photo/Alex Babenko)

A barman is seen working through the window of a coffee shop during power cuts in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, June 7, 2024. Ukraine, including Kyiv, is struggling to cope with a new wave of rolling blackouts after relentless Russian attacks took out half the country’s power generation capacity. (AP Photo/Alex Babenko)

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