Rand Paul bedevils fellow Republicans again with Israel aid holdup

“If he won’t lift his hold, we need to just use the legislative process. There’s probably 90-plus votes for this,” a frustrated Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said.

Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said the GOP-led holdup is making it more difficult for him to advocate for military aid to Israel that’s usually a non-controversial exercise on Capitol Hill.

“This would be one thing that I can’t imagine any member creating a problem,” Inhofe said of the Iron Dome, the highly effective system that prevents militant groups from striking inside Israel’s borders by destroying rockets mid-air.

Paul frequently draws the ire of his fellow Republicans, especially on matters related to foreign policy. But this time, his objections stem not from his anti-interventionist streak but from his long-standing fiscal conservatism. He’s offered an alternative proposal that would fund the Iron Dome using foreign aid already appropriated for Afghanistan.

While Paul’s objection isn’t dooming the funding entirely, the Kentucky Republican is the only one standing in the way of a quick presidential signature that would deploy the cash this year. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could get around the blockade by carving out time to pass the Iron Dome bill through the Senate’s regular process, or lawmakers could attach it to year-end appropriations bills.

But Senate floor time is difficult to come by these days, especially as lawmakers consider legislation to lift the debt ceiling as well as President Joe Biden’s top two domestic agenda items — and that’s just this month. Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) said he didn’t trust Democratic leadership to move the bill through the chamber quickly, as Paul remains the only roadblock to a clean funding mechanism.

“There’s a lot of incompetence around here in terms of being able to move things through,” lamented Risch, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee.

“It’s actually stunning to see that an issue that enjoys such huge bipartisan support can get scuttled by so few people,” he added. “And so, I don’t know — there are people around here that are deeply, deeply dug in on the wrong side of that issue.”

The Iron Dome funding, which came together as a standalone measure after liberals in the House forced it out of a bigger government funding package, cleared the lower chamber with more than 400 votes last month. And 99 senators supported fast-tracking the bill and sending it to Biden’s desk — but quick passage requires the backing of all 100 senators, and Paul objected.

Paul is no stranger to stoking dissent among his GOP colleagues — famously drawing harsh criticism for forcing a government shutdown in 2018 over his push to cut spending. But Paul, a libertarian at heart, often wears it as a badge of honor as he slams “big-government Republicans” for voting to increase spending levels.

This time around, Paul maintains that he supports the Iron Dome but wants to offset the bill’s cost using money that he says was at risk of going to the Taliban, which now controls Afghanistan.

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