Here’s How Congress Can Use Leverage on Weapons Sales to Prod Biden on Israel

Democrats in Congress, increasingly concerned about how Israel is waging war in Gaza, are weighing whether to use their leverage over weapons sales to register objections to the civilian death toll and ratchet up pressure on President Biden to place conditions on American backing for the military offensive.

While the top Republicans on the congressional foreign affairs committees have signed off on a State Department plan to sell $18 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets to Israel, according to several people familiar with the consultation, the deal remains in limbo. That strongly suggests that the top two Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees have yet to sign off.

Spokesmen for the two — Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland and Representative Gregory W. Meeks of New York — declined to comment on the status of the deal, which would be one of the largest U.S. arms sales to Israel in years, and would also include munitions, training and other support. But other Democrats have said in recent days that Congress should be using its influence over weapons transfers to demand that Israel do a better job of protecting against civilian casualties in the conflict and allowing aid to reach civilians in Gaza.

An aide to Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, said on Wednesday that he was strongly considering several legislative options for doing so, including introducing a measure that would block weapons transfers. That would be an exceedingly long shot; it would take a supermajority in both chambers of Congress to overcome a veto by Mr. Biden, an almost impossible threshold given the strong bipartisan backing for Israel on Capitol Hill.

But lawmakers can use their oversight role to try to weigh in on the issue. Here is how it works.

The president must consult with Congress on major weapons sales.

Under the Arms and Export Control Act, the president must consult with Congress on large transactions that involve sending weapons of war to other countries.

If an order for military equipment reaches a certain monetary threshold — $25 million for close U.S. allies, including Israel — the president must formally notify Congress. The threshold is $100 million for defense articles or services and $300 million for design and construction services.

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