Israel Policy Pod

Ironing Out the Iron Dome

September 24, 2021 Israel Policy Forum
Israel Policy Pod
Ironing Out the Iron Dome
Show Notes Transcript

What happened in the U.S. Congress this week? In today’s episode, Israel Policy Forum’s Policy Director Michael Koplow gets the inside scoop from Government Relations Director Aaron Weinberg. 

This Thursday, the House overwhelmingly passed a standalone bill to provide $1 billion in new funding to replenish Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system. The final vote was 420-9-2, showing that support for Israel's security is still a firmly bipartisan position in Congress. This came after several progressive Democrats refused to vote in favor of the continuing resolution (emergency spending) bill on Tuesday if it included Iron Dome funding. Party leadership yielded to this demand, as there was no Republican support for the CR and the progressives’ votes were necessary for it to pass. Now that the additional Iron Dome funding has been approved, what does this story say about how fault lines within the Democratic party around Israel are shaping politics in Washington and public discourse? 

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Speaker 1:

Shalom and welcome to Israel policy pod. I am Michael Koplow Israel policy forums, policy director. And I am delighted today, not only to be taking over to the podcast, but to be joined by my illustrious colleague, Erin Weinberg , Israel policy forums , director of government relations. How are you doing Aaron

Speaker 2:

Shalom? I'm doing well, Michael . I just had to get that Shalom in there for the sake of the pot .

Speaker 1:

I think my cell was better than yours.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I think that's probably true. I remember when we , they used to compete about the different show loans . Those were the days.

Speaker 1:

So I guess, I guess we don't want to replicate that, but I'm just going to leave that record. My shotgun was better . Yeah. So Aaron , um, this has been a momentous couple of days in Congress when it comes to funding for Israel's security assistance. So , uh , for all of our guests who perhaps were out celebrating Sukkot , like I was , um , or haven't been paying as close attention. Tell us what happened over the past two days with regard to funding for iron dome.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it's been a very active and , uh , crazy if I may say a couple of days , uh, as everyone knows, the Congress funds the government, it has the power of the purse. And one of the things that , uh , Congress does is when it can't agree to an appropriations, the bills that funds the government it's , uh, basically, you know, when you write to your teacher and when you're in school , um, you asked for an extension for a paper, if something happens and you're running long. So Congress does that all the time and they do something called a continuing resolution and basically says we haven't finished our work on the appropriations bills yet. Um, but we need to, and we need a little bit more time. So extend the funding a little bit while we work out these issues. And so the continuing resolution , uh, was coming to the floor at the beginning of this week at the same time. Um, the app , there was a pledge , uh , on behalf of the Biden administration , um, as well as , um, uh, the Congress to pass , um, additional , uh , support for the iron dome system , uh, after the recent escalations this summer. Um, and so , uh, there was , uh , uh, that the notion was that it would be passed , uh, together with the first appropriations bill that quote unquote move, right? The first piece of legislation that included funding that would pass the house of representatives. And so this continuing resolution, which , uh, was an appropriations bill that it continued the funding to make sure the government wouldn't shut down was the first funding , uh , piece of piece of funding legislation that came before the house floor. And so they attached to $1 billion supplemental request to find out your dome after the recent escalation to that, to that bill. Now, the bill, because it had the debt ceiling and a variety of other provisions within it was a controversial one , uh , before the iron dome was Ashton. So , uh, it turned out that none of the Republicans in the house of representatives were be willing to vote for it. Um, and then as soon as the iron dome provision was added in , uh, somewhat at the last minute, a number of Democrats for a variety of reasons that we don't have to speculate about in this forum , uh , and have been reported on widely , uh, you know , threatening , not to vote for the continuing resolution. Um, you know, if, if the iron dome funding , uh , was included, you know, whether that's ideological or process-related, I'll let you read the variety of pundents on the matter, but for whatever reasons, it became clear that they weren't going to be able to fund the government. Uh, if they didn't take out this provision funding, iron dome, I want to be very clear this ,

Speaker 1:

Aaron , I don't want to actually , um, I don't want to zoom past that , um, that, that question about whether it was ideological or process, like what are the, just without, without taking a stance as to, as to what you think it was layout that you arguments there, what would be the ideological argument and what would be the process argument ?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, sure, absolutely. Um, the process argument is the one , um, that basically is, is much more technical. Um, what it says is, you know, just as a , this continuing resolution was being passed because they hadn't finished doing their work on a number of the appropriations bills. Why should we then rush through , um, uh , a whole variety of funding for the iron dome that hadn't gone through? Um , the normal process of appropriation , um, when there wasn't time for offices , um , to properly vet the request to look into the details. And it was being sort of added at the last minute. What I, the , the counter argument to that is that this wasn't new , um, this request from the government of Israel has been on the books for quite some time. Um, but it definitely was not on the radar of offices. So whether or not they should have been paying attention, it was clear they weren't. Um, and so they needed more time in order to properly. Um , and also that the fact that it's much more to remain this kind of request doesn't belong in a temporary funding, it doesn't belong sort of an extension. It belongs in the, in the defense appropriations bill, in the bill that funds the rest of , uh, iron dome funding. And this is the point that I wanted to make just for , I wanted to be very clear this, this , um, this, this funding that, that was voted on , um, is a $1 billion request on top of the normal $500 million that the , um , United States gives. Uh , well, I should say, provides for iron dome. So this wasn't taking it out of this CR uh , we should be very clear, was not in any way defunding iron dome. It was simply not providing additional funding on top of the normal funding that is being provided. Uh , the ideological arguments , um, is , um, sort of easier to predict , uh, it's one that , um, you know, certain , uh, members , uh, the most , uh, uh, some of the, some of the members on the, on the farthest ends of the democratic caucus , um, didn't believe that , uh, in, in reaction to the violence that occurred in Gaza, that that more money should be sent , uh, to Israel , uh, whether it be for offensive or defensive weapons, they were taking a principled ideological stand , uh, for, for whatever it was worth that no additional funds should be sent to Israel regardless for , um, its purpose. So those were sort of the two reasons that at least publicly have been discussed. Again, we don't have any confirmation about which one it was or if it was something completely different. Um, but what was clear is there, there was a growing coalition of members who were willing to , uh, literally shut down the government over this. Um, and so it became very clear , um, that , uh, that, that house leadership needed to take out , uh , this funding from the CR , um, what happened after that

Speaker 1:

Funding. So once that, once that funding was stripped, there was obviously lots of reporting and commentary about what this meant for us support for Israel and , uh, security assistance, Israel. Um, so , uh, how did this, how did this DEP resolve?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, absolutely. So , um, you know , uh, the security assistance bucket was never in question. This is all about missile defense, which is technically a different bucket , um, and it falls under the defense appropriations as opposed to foreign assistance. And so how this got resolved was that there was first a pledge to include this in the final defense appropriations bill, which is one that would probably come to the floor in December, but that still did not quiet the criticism against that was being leveled against the democratic party. And so , uh , leader Hoyer, the majority leader of the house of representatives from Maryland , uh, came to the floor. I think it was two days ago at this point on either Tuesday or Wednesday, it's all starting to color in my mind, honestly. Um, and said that he , um, pledged to bring a $1 billion supplemental funding for iron dome to the floor , uh, today, which is Thursday , um, as a standalone bill under suspension, which means that it needs an even higher level and , and greater number of members of Congress to pass. And that's exactly what happened. Uh , just a few hours ago, the house of representatives voted , uh , 420 and favor , uh , nine opposed , um, in order , uh, to , with two voting presence in order to , um , approve , uh, the funding, the $1 billion supplemental funding for the iron dome package. Um, so I think, you know, there's, there's a number of conclusions that we can draw from that, you know, it should be noted that of the nine , uh , people who voted against eight were Democrats and one was a Republican. Um, and , uh, you know, it's clear that the, all of the hoopla and the panicked frenzy , um, that accompanied the headlines over the past 48 hours of the squad taking over the democratic party and progressive, no wanting to provide missile defense or security systems. Israel was simply not born out into hard facts , um , when it came down to it , um, even some of Israel's harshest critics in the United States, Congress , uh , voted to provide Israel with this defensive weapons system to save Israeli civilian lives. Um, and so , uh, when it comes down to it, this was probably one of the greatest showings of support for , uh , the state of Israel and for its security in the United States. Congress was chain amongst some of its some of the public greatest public outcry of the waning of such support.

Speaker 1:

You raise the squad. And , uh, that raises an interesting question in its own, right? There are , uh , traditionally four , four members of the squad , uh, AOC Rashid is by Johann , Omar and Ayana Presley. And three of them voted no, and one of them voted, present. Um, so any, any insights you want to share on why you think AOC, who at least according to reporting was one of the people who touched off this entire episode by threatening to vote against the continuing resolution, any sense for why AOC may have voted present on the iron dome funding when the other squad members voted? No,

Speaker 2:

You know, in this moment, I don't really want to speculate. There certainly been a lot of conversation in the Twitter sphere about her , um, future political ambitions playing into it. Um, uh, I've heard some conversation about , um, you know, that, that she has received after votes like this , uh, previously , um, some very serious death threats , um, which is possible that it played into changing her votes. But I , I don't want to speculate because I don't know. Um, I will say that , um, I think that, that you were right to point out that it's very interesting that she broke from the other three, which , uh, notably , um, since , uh, I think it was two years ago or a year and a half at this point, there was a vote on Israel , um , in which one of the other members of the squad , uh, broke from the other three and got a lot of , um, really serious pushback from, from the main constituents , uh, from her constituents on that and for people within the progressive movement. So , and since then they have really voted as a block. So I think it is definitely notable , uh, that Congresswoman Ocasio Cortez did break from the other three members. Uh, but also let's remember that there are, there was another member voting presence and a variety of other , uh, uh , other members in addition to those three who voted no. Um, so it , there was company, no matter what position members of the squad took,

Speaker 1:

What are the larger lessons from this episode? Because again, really can't be stressed enough over the last couple of days. There has been so much breathless commentary about , um , what this portends and what it means for Israel and what it means for us as our relations, what it means for the democratic party. Um, and obviously, you know, from, if you, if you, if our listeners can tell already from this conversation, much of that, if not all of it was overblown, but I am wondering , uh, if you do have any 30,000 foot takeaways from this episode that may apply going through ,

Speaker 2:

Um , my 30,000 foot takeaways is that most of the 30,000 foot takeaways are overblown exactly. As you said , uh ,

Speaker 1:

Wouldn't that be a 60? Wouldn't that be a 60,000 for takeaway

Speaker 2:

Fair, Michael caught , let it be, let the record show that Michael cop Lao has yet once again, out sworn at me , um, the , the , you know, what I would say is, you know, this there's a lot of narratives that are floating around, right? The squad is taking over the progressors are taking over the democratic party. They take, you know , Pelosi's taking orders from them. The, the democratic party is no longer pro Israel. We're on a downward spiral. They don't even care about Israel security, but there's some real facts like what this provides, what this vote provides is real hard evidence. It's one of the first votes that I can remember that are, that is strictly and only with nothing else in the package with nothing else being considered at the same time, a straight up or down vote on providing Israel with additional missile defense for defensive measures, only on iron dome that we know saves lives. And when the rubber hit the road, we had 420 members of Congress voting in favor and nine voting against, and that's the reality of the United States Congress. So , um, I think, you know, one, one , um, one, one pointed out on Twitter that they can't really think of any other foreign policy issue or necessarily any other issue that gets voted in that voted on the floor of Congress that passes, you know, 420 to nine. And while there are , are a few that come to mind, there certainly, you know , far, there are certainly very, very few of them. And the fact that something that gets so much attention in the press and is seen as so controversial is Israel is one of those, I think, speaks a lot to , um, the reality, which is the vast majority of members of Congress, the vast majority of Democrats and the vast majority of Republicans, despite the craziness that has come , uh , with escalations , um , in the region, despite the craziness , that's common with the increased polarization and politicization of the Israel issue domestically, despite the craziness of changing administrations , um, and peace plans and annexation threats, despite all of that , um, uh , consensus remains within the Congress that Israel has a right to live in freedom, prosperity and security, and that , um, despite where people fall on the Israel Palestinian issue , um, civilian security and civilian, right to live free, both Israelis and Palestinians , uh, remains a tenant , um, of American foreign policy.

Speaker 1:

All right. Well, I don't , uh, I don't, I don't want to step on , on that , um, eloquent and, and ending , uh, cause I certainly could not say it any better myself. Um, when something happens in Congress and Aaron is the first person I turned to and call right away to explain to me what happened. So I'm glad that now Israel policy publishers get the same benefit that , uh, that I get , uh, just by working with Aaron . So , uh, with that, thank you Aaron so much for joining us , uh, thanks to all our listeners and we will see you on the next episode of Israel policy pod.