The U.S. Senate was poised to take up legislation to impose new sanctions on Syria, boost security assistance to Israel and reauthorize defense cooperation with Jordan.
However, some Senate Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., hope to block it on a procedural vote Tuesday, arguing the chamber should not consider any bills until it votes on House-passed legislation to end the partial government shutdown.
The impasse is fueled by a partisan dispute over border wall funding sought by President Trump.
Called the “Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act,” the bill promises to be a boon to Israel and potentially to American precision-guided munitions manufacturers. It rolls together four bills Democrats and Republicans supported in the last Congress but weren’t enacted before that Congress ended.
For Israel, the legislation would authorize the $3.3 billion in U.S. security assistance under the two nations’ 2016 memorandum of understanding, and authorize new U.S.-Israel cooperation in anti-drone technologies, cybersecurity and space.
The legislation would extend authorization for the U.S. War Reserve Stockpile in Israel by five years, authorizing an additional $1 billion in stocks. It would also authorize the president to add precision-guided munitions to the stockpile for potential Israeli use in a conflict with Hezbollah.
The bill would authorize a joint assessment of the quantity and type of precision-guided munitions necessary for Israel to defend itself against Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist groups, and the bill would support rapid acquisition and deployment procedures for such munitions.
The legislation would also press the Trump administration to expedite export licensing for Israel by adding it to the list of nations eligible for the Strategic Trade Authorization Exception, according to a summary published by American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Outside of the Israel provisions, the bill would reauthorize the U.S.-Jordan Defense Cooperation Act of 2015 and impose new sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government in response to alleged human rights violations.
“It is in America’s national security interests to ensure that our allies in the Middle East like Israel and Jordan remain secure amid the region’s growing destabilizing threats posed by Iran and Syria’s Assad regime,” Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, who introduced the bill, said in a statement.
The package’s backers include the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who expedited the bill and made it the first legislative priority of the new Congress, or S.1.
Schumer and a bloc of at least eight senators are opposing the bill because the shutdown remains unresolved, according to Jeff Stein, of the Washington Post. The action was started by Maryland Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen whose state is home to thousands of federal employees working without paychecks during the shutdown.
Monday saw a Twitter tiff between Cardin and Rubio after Rubio claimed that Democrats want to block the bill because of intra-party divisions over a provision that grants state and local governments legal authority to boycott any U.S. companies which themselves are participating in a boycott against Israel.
Not so, Cardin tweeted in response.
“The government shutdown is a crisis, impacting millions of Americans and our economy,” Cardin said. “We can’t simply proceed with business as usual. Reopening the government must be our first priority. #EndTheTrumpShutdown.”