House Passes Bill to Force Weapons Deliveries to Israel

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

House Passes Bill to Force Weapons Deliveries to Israel. On May 16, the House passed H.R.8369. A response to the Biden administration’s recent pause on delivering certain offensive weapons to Israel, the bill prevents any federal funds from being used to “withhold, halt, reverse, or cancel the delivery of defense articles or defense services to Israel or to pay the salary of any Department of Defense (DOD) or Department of State employee who acts to limit defense deliveries to Israel.” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) introduced companion legislation, S.4337, on May 15. President Joe Biden has already said he would veto the legislation. Despite the current back and forth between Biden and Republicans, the administration reportedly has told Congress that it is moving forward on a new $1 billion arms and ammunition sale to Israel, to be delivered within the next two to three years. According to the Department of State, the administration has not yet formally notified Congress of the proposed sale.

More Legislation Targeting Alleged Anti-Semitism in US Higher Education. On May 14, Rep. Marcus Molinaro (R-NY) introduced H.R.8389, which requires higher education institutions to “report to the Secretary of Education each incident of antisemitism reported to campus security authorities or local police.” On May 17, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) introduced H.Res.1239, which condemns “the rise of antisemitism on campuses” and urges the executive branch to withhold federal funds from universities that are not complying with federal antidiscrimination law.

HFAC Holds Markup for Yemen Legislation. On May 16, the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) held a markup—a formal process of debate or amendment of proposed legislation—on 15 bills. These included H.R. 8001, which would impose sanctions on the Houthis for attacks on international shipping.

Rep. Tlaib Recognizes Nakba and Palestinian Rights. On May 15, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) introduced H.Res.1231, a resolution to “commemorate the Nakba through official recognition and remembrance; denounce the ongoing Nakba of the Palestinian people; support the resumed provision of social service to Palestinian refugees through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East; support the implementation of Palestinian refugees’ rights as enshrined in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and reject bigoted efforts to question, dismiss, or otherwise deny the existence of Palestinians and their humanity.”

House Bill Supports US Citizens Fighting in Israel. On May 17, Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) introduced H.R.8445, which would “extend the benefits of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) to American citizens serving in the Israel Defense Forces.”

2) Personnel and Correspondence

“Assad Cannot Be Trusted,” Says SFRC Ranking Member. On May 14, Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) ranking member, released a statement ahead of the Arab League summit in Bahrain denouncing Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and calling on the Senate to pass the Assad Regime Anti-Normalization Act.

Republicans Continue to Target Pro-Palestine Protests. On May 14, House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer (R-KY) and Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) sent a letter to Department of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen requesting “all suspicious activity reports (SARs) connected to 20 organizations that are reported to be leading, financing, and participating in the pro-Hamas, antisemitic, and anti-American protests occurring on college campuses across the US.” On May 15, a bicameral group of Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, demanding “information as to whether and how the Department will hold universities accountable for their failures” to crackdown on campus protests, among other requests.

Republicans Pressure Biden on Israel Weapons Pause. On May 14, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Secretary of State Blinken seeking clarification for the administration’s decision to pause shipments of large bombs  to Israel. On the same day, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-ID) also wrote to President Biden, according to a press release, “pressing him on his administration’s tendency to undermine the regular order associated with arms sales, particularly as it relates to Israel.” McCaul also introduced a bill on May 16 to provide for more congressional oversight of any proposed changes to Israel arms sales. An additional letter, led by Rich McCormick (R-GA), was sent to Biden on May 13 signed by a bipartisan group of 104 House members. Also delivered were a May 15 letter to Attorney General ​​Merrick Garland, demanding that he appoint a special counsel to investigate Biden for pausing the delivery of certain offensive weapons to Israel, and a May 16 letter to Secretary Austin and Secretary Blinken, “urging them to reconsider their decision to halt the shipment of precision-guided weapons to Israel.”

Senate Democrats Ask for Additional Sanctions on Israeli Extremist Settlers. On May 15, Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), the Senate Foreign Relations Committe chair, Jack Reed (D-RI), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Mark Warner (D-VA), chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a letter to Secretary Blinken and Secretary Yellen, urging the administration to sanction “foreign actors who have engaged in or supported acts that threaten the peace, security, or stability of the West Bank” and to “continue to issue and enforce sanctions against those complicit in extremist settler violence.”

Bicameral Letter Criticizes “Anti-Israel” Bias in US Patent Approval. On May 15, Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-CA) sent a letter to Patent and Trademark Office Director Kathi Vidal, calling for an investigation into an alleged instance of potential “anti-Israel bias” in the office’s patent examination process.

Bipartisan Letter Seeks Sanctions Against UNRWA Employees. On May 16, Representatives Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and French Hill (R-AR) led a bipartisan group of 51 congressmembers in a letter to Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary Yellen to take action against UNRWA employees accused of involvement with Hamas’s October 7 attack by designating them as Specially Designated Global Terrorists.

Omar and Warren Demand Clampdown on Banking Discrimination Against Muslim Americans. On May 16, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) sent a letter to the heads of US financial regulatory agencies, “urging them to clamp down on discrimination in banking by combating ‘de-risking,’— a practice that may disproportionately affect Muslim Americans and immigrant communities.”

Rep. Stefanik Addresses Israeli Parliament. On May 19, House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-NY) addressed a caucus of Israel’s parliament. In her speech, Rep. Stefanik stated that the United States should provide “Israel with what it needs, when it needs it, without conditions to achieve total victory in the face of evil.”

3) Hearings and Briefings

House Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing on Campus Protests. On May 15, the House Subcommittee on the Constitution and limited government held a subcommittee hearing on “antisemitism on college campuses.” Republican lawmakers discussed ways to target higher education institutions and student protestors, including cutting federal funding and revoking visas of international students. Democrats on the committee warned against taking actions that might threaten students’ freedom of speech and right to assemble.

SFRC Holds Hearing on Arms Control and Deterrence. On May 15, SFRC held a hearing titled “The Future of Arms Control and Deterrence.” Featuring testimony from Bonnie Jenkins, the Department of State’s Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, the hearing addressed, among other topics, weapons transfers to Israel, Saudi nuclear capabilities, and threats posed by Iran.

HFAC Examines Budget Request for Africa. On May 15, HFAC held a hearing to review the Department of State’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2025 operations in Africa. Committee members focused on the ongoing crisis in Sudan and posed questions to Molly Phee, assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, and to Monde Muyangwa, USAID’s assistant administrator for the Africa Bureau.

HFAC Holds Hearing on “US Aid to Terrorists.” On May 17, HFAC held a subcommittee hearing entitled “Eliminating U.S. Aid to Terrorists – New Policies for the U.S. Gov’t & Its Partners.” The hearing featured testimony from prominent critics of UNRWA as committee members discussed US aid to Palestine, UNRWA’s operations, and possible replacements for its services.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

White House Officials Meet with UNHCR Head. On May 13, the White House announced that Assistant to the President and Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer met with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. Finer and Grandi discussed efforts to address humanitarian and displacement crises, particularly in Sudan and Syria.

White House Issues Notice on Continuation of National Emergency in Yemen. On May 14, the Biden administration announced that it would extend the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13611 regarding Yemen for another year. The White House stated that “the actions and policies of certain former members of the Government of Yemen and others in threatening Yemen’s peace, security, and stability continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

White House Acknowledges the Beginning of “Limited, Targeted Operations” in Rafah. On May 14, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that Israel has shared with the administration that it has begun “limited, targeted operations” in Rafah. President Biden has previously said that the administration would not support a “major invasion” of Rafah.

US and Iranian Officials Hold Indirect Talks in Oman. On May 17, Axios reported that US and Iranian officials held talks through intermediaries in Oman during the week of May 13, the first such discussions since Iran’s April attack on Israel. The US delegation reportedly included Brett McGurk, the White House’s top Middle East official, and Abram Paley, the Department of State’s acting special envoy for Iran.

NSA Jake Sullivan Meets with Saudi and Israeli Officials. On May 18, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan traveled to Saudi Arabia, where he met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to “discuss bilateral and regional matters, including the war in Gaza and ongoing efforts to achieve a lasting peace and security in the region.” On May 19, Sullivan traveled to Israel for meetings with senior Israeli officials to discuss the war on Gaza. Among the topics of conversation, Sullivan proposed “a series of concrete measures to ensure more aid surges into Gaza,” in addition to discussing the need for more effective deconfliction measures. Sullivan “reaffirmed the need for Israel to connect its military operations to a political strategy that can ensure the lasting defeat of Hamas, the release of all the hostages, and a better future for Gaza.”

2) Department of State

Department Doubles Down, No Determination That Israel Has Violated International Law. On May 13, addressing questions related to the release of the Department’s NSM-20 report, Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel reiterated that “we do not determine that Israel has violated international law,” though he did clarify that “there have been instances that are inconsistent with its international humanitarian law obligations.” Patel said that the US government will continue to use available tools to investigate incidents of concern.

Special Envoy for Sudan Meets with Regional Officials. On May 13, the Department of State spokesperson issued a press release announcing that Special Envoy for Sudan Tom Perriello departed for travel to Uganda, Kenya, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia on May 11 to “meet with key regional partners to advance efforts to end the Sudan conflict and avert further mass atrocities, address the immediate and dire humanitarian needs of the Sudanese people, and map a path toward a transition to a civilian-led democratic government.” The press release also stated that Perriello would meet with Sudanese civilians, “including civil society, resistance committees, local response networks, women, youth, grassroots organizations, and other local parties.

Assistant Secretary for Energy Resources Travels to Jordan and Iraq. On May 15, the Office of the Spokesperson announced that Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Geoffrey R. Pyatt was traveling to Jordan and Iraq. In Jordan, Pyatt met with Jordanian officials to discuss the Kingdom’s energy security, renewable energy goals, green hydrogen potential, and electricity interconnections with neighbors such as Iraq. In Iraq, Pyatt met with Iraqi officials and companies to discuss Iraqi energy autonomy, renewable energy sources, the modernization of electricity grids, a clean energy transition, and resuming Iraq’s oil exports via the Iraq-Turkey Pipeline (ITP).

Department Expresses Concern over Arrests in Tunisia. On May 14, Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel responded to reports that Tunisia had carried out a wave of arrests of lawyers, media workers, and civil society activists working on migration, asylum, and racial justice. Patel stated, “We’re engaging directly with the Tunisian Government at all levels in support of human rights, including the freedom of expression. I will say that this kind of action is inconsistent with what we think are universal rights that are explicitly guaranteed in the Tunisian constitution, and we’ve been clear about that at all levels.”

Blinken Speaks with Turkish Foreign Minister. On May 15, Secretary of State Blinken spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan about “efforts to achieve an immediate ceasefire that would secure the release of hostages and help alleviate the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza.”

Department Officials Reiterate Need for More Aid to Gaza. Responding to reports of continuing Israeli interference with the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Gaza, Department of State officials asserted that they have raised concerns with Israeli officials. Principal Deputy Spokesperson Patel stated on May 13 that “it is our strong view that aid cannot and must not be interfered with. We have raised this incident with the Government of Israel, and we expect them to take appropriate action.” On May 15, USAID Response Director Dan Dieckhaus and Vice Admiral Brad Cooper of CENTCOM noted that the administration will “press the Government of Israel to open additional land crossings, remove impediments to the delivery of humanitarian aid, and do far more to prevent the killing of humanitarian workers and innocent civilians.” Dieckhaus also expressed concern about the continuing displacement of Palestinians in Gaza.

Department Participates in Countering Hamas Meeting. On May 16, the Office of the Spokesperson announced on May 15, Department of State Coordinator for Counterterrorism Elizabeth Richard participated in a meeting in the Hague on countering Hamas. According to the press release, Richard discussed “efforts…to pressure Hamas financial hubs and restrict Hamas travel” and “to engage tech companies in voluntary collaboration to limit Hamas’ use of online platforms, including social media, for terrorist purposes.”

3) Department of Defense

CENTCOM Commander Visits Israel. From May 10 to 12, Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, commander of CENTCOM, traveled to Israel to meet with senior Israeli military officials to discuss the situation in Gaza and regional security.

Secretary Austin Speaks with Egyptian Defense Minister. On May 14, Secretary of Defense Austin spoke with Egyptian Minister of Defense General Mohamed Zaki about regional challenges and bilateral security cooperation. According to the Department’s readout, Secretary Austin “reiterated US commitment to the Middle East and Egyptian security in the face of regional threats and expressed appreciation for Egypt’s leadership in preventing the spread of the current conflict and in providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza.”

Maritime Corridor Off Gaza Coast Complete. In a May 14 press briefing, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder announced that the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Gaza via a Cyprus maritime corridor is ready to begin, now that the United States has fully assembled a floating pier off the coast of Gaza, and that trucks holding humanitarian aid were expected to move ashore in the coming days.

Secretary Austin Speaks with Israeli Counterpart. On May 16, Secretary Austin spoke with Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant to discuss the need to increase humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians in Gaza, including through Kerem Shalom, Rafah, and the soon-to-be operational maritime corridor. The officials also discussed the most recent hostage release efforts. Austin “reinforced the unquestionable necessity to ensure the protection of civilians alongside the uninterrupted flow of aid before any potential Israeli military operation in Rafah.”

4) Department of the Treasury

Treasury Announces Sanctions on RSF Commanders. On May 15, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions on two commanders of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Sudan for their role in conducting attacks in North Darfur, endangering “nearly one million Sudanese civilians in the last major safe haven in Darfur, [impeding] humanitarian access, [increasing] the risk of mass atrocities, and [undermining] vital peace efforts.”

5) United States Agency for International Development

Administrator Power Travels to Morocco. On May 17, USAID announced that Administrator Samantha Power will visit Morocco May 19-22, where she will “underscore the United States’ commitment to deepening relations with one of its oldest allies” and meet with government officials, partner organizations, youth, and local communities.