Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) will this week introduce legislation to disapprove of a multimillion-dollar package of bomb equipment for Israel proposed by the Biden administration, a source familiar with her plans told HuffPost ― posing the first congressional challenge to the U.S.’s policy of uninterrupted and expanding military support for Israel amid its deadly campaign in Gaza.
Omar will by Wednesday file a bill known as a “resolution of disapproval” targeting a $320 million sale of gear for precision guidance kits for bombs, the source said, likely with a group of fellow Democratic lawmakers as co-sponsors. If the House of Representatives and the Senate both pass such a resolution, the administration would not be able to transfer the bomb equipment unless President Joe Biden vetoed the bill.
A spokesperson for Omar did not immediately provide comment for this story.
The Biden administration and Israel agreed on the arms deal earlier this year ― before the Gaza-based Palestinian militant group Hamas sparked the current fighting with a brutal attack inside Israel on Oct. 7 ― and Congress did not express objections then. But on Oct. 31, after Israel’s offensive in Gaza had already killed thousands, the administration told Congress it would begin transferring the gear, which helps makes bombs more advanced, The Wall Street Journal revealed.
For now, there is no guarantee Omar’s bill would come up for a vote: That depends on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which would need to pass it before it is considered by the full House. Committee chair Mike McCaul (R-Texas) and other Republicans, who control a majority in the House, overwhelmingly back military aid to Israel.
If a senator introduced a similar bill, however, that would set up an automatic vote in the upper chamber. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) used the process to try to force a Senate vote on aid to Israel during the country’s last large-scale campaign in Gaza, in 2021.
Josh Paul, a former State Department official who resigned over Biden’s Gaza policy, praised Omar’s move as a significant step.
“It is an important statement that there are those in the U.S. who care about this issue and are not willing to simply stand by,” Paul told HuffPost. The bomb equipment represents “the sort of capability Israel has been using for the last month to devastate Gaza.”
Paul, who previously oversaw discussions between Congress and the State Department over arms sales, described the attempt as “an uphill battle.”
“It marks the beginning, perhaps, of the turning of a tide that will take a long time to turn,” he said.
Some Capitol Hill observers expect additional resolutions in the coming days against various aspects of U.S. military support for Israel. Those bills would also face long odds given legislators’ broad bipartisan commitment to the country. Yet there are some indications lawmakers want to be clear they are not providing a blank check: Last week, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), the chief Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Washington Post he opposes the Biden administration’s bid to bypass normal oversight to rush additional weapons to Israel.
Former State Department lawyer Brian Finucane reacted to the news on X by saying it could be challenging for Biden to defend the sale Omar is targeting given statements from his aides that they are not assessing whether Israel is following the laws of war in its Gaza operation.
Biden administration officials say they expect Israel to uphold international norms in its conduct, arguing it can punish Hamas without disproportionately harming civilians, but they have not said there would be any consequences for the U.S. partner if it fails to do so. Human rights groups have suggested Israel is committing war crimes in its offensive.
Many U.S. officials, including counterterrorism experts and State Department personnel, are privately frustrated by the president’s unwillingness to do more to urge Israeli restraint, saying that undermines American values and risks long-term blowback from communities worldwide who are angry over the conflict.
The Israeli campaign has now killed more than 11,000 Gazans ― one out of every 200 people in the region. Since Oct. 7, more than 1,200 Israelis have also died, and more than 200 are still being held hostage by Hamas.