Politics

Democratic angst over deadly strike on aid workers points to more foreign aid problems on the Hill

The Israeli airstrike that killed seven humanitarian workers in Gaza this week hasn’t prompted the White House to change course on unconditional aid. But congressional Democrats may be a different story.

Democratic lawmakers were growing more vocal about the need for concrete policy shifts by Israel — and clearer red lines that would put its access to unrestricted U.S. aid at risk — even before the World Central Kitchen workers were killed. After President Joe Biden urged “accountability” and chided Israel for the attack, however, members of his party are starting to sound their own alarms.

Asked if U.S. policy toward Israel should be revisited, close Biden ally Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told CNN on Thursday that “I think we’re at that point.”

“The challenge is to make it clear that we support the Israeli people, that we want to and will continue to have a strong and close relationship with Israel, but that the tactics by which the current prime minister is making these decisions don’t reflect the best values of Israel or the United States,” Coons said.

Coons’ office, asked for comment on his Thursday remarks, noted that he floated the idea of conditioning aid in February if Israel mounted “a full-scale ground campaign into Rafah” without concern for civilian lives. But his comments underscore increasing Democratic frustration with how Israel is conducting its efforts to counter the terrorist group Hamas.

If more Democratic foreign policy hands and Israel defenders join Coons in calling for a shift in U.S. posture toward Israel, that would spell serious political problems for Biden’s multi-billion-dollar emergency foreign aid plan — which has stalled on the Hill for months. That’s because, while the Senate passed its own plan to direct aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan with 70 votes, Speaker Mike Johnson has yet to announce how the House will proceed beyond resisting the Senate-passed bill.

Johnson’s desire to pass his own legislation, however, raises the prospect of a new nightmare scenario for the foreign aid plan. A growing number of House Democrats are already wary of rubber-stamping new aid to Israel without conditions, and the aid workers’ killing may make it harder for Johnson to get the scores of Democratic votes he’d need to pass a broader package.

“A lot of us are looking for … what the White House can do around conditions,” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) said in an interview. “Because I do think there are a number of people who might have a hard time just voting for the Senate bill as is, especially given what just happened. And I know the White House is aware of that.”

Johnson could take up separate bills on Israel and Ukraine aid, relying on largely GOP votes for the first and Democratic votes for the second. But that risks leaving him short of the Republican support he’d need to pass Ukraine aid, since assistance for Israel is the higher priority for many in his party. When the House took up $300 million for Ukraine in September — a small fraction of the $60 billion that’s now on the table — 117 House Republicans voted no.

Not to mention that if Johnson holds separate votes on Israel and Ukraine aid, he’ll still have to reconcile his work with the Senate’s combined legislation.

In short, Republicans who want to avoid a Democratic push for new conditions on Israel may find that their best chance to do so is what Johnson wants to avoid: a House vote on the Senate foreign aid package.

And frustration with Israel has gone beyond Democrats who’ve argued for months for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Even former President Donald Trump conceded during a Wednesday interview with Hugh Hewitt that “Israel is absolutely losing the PR war.”

Nicholas Wu contributed.