Hoyer: Dems will move quickly on anti-Israel boycott bill

Hoyer: Dems will move quickly on anti-Israel boycott bill
© Stefani Reynolds

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is eyeing swift movement on legislation designed to shield Israel from financial boycotts, House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThe Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push Pelosi faces tipping point on Trump impeachment Trump urges Dem leaders to pass new NAFTA before infrastructure deal MORE (D-Md.) said Wednesday.

"The committee is considering this, and I expect to be moving something out of the committee in the relatively near future," Hoyer said during a press briefing in the Capitol.

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Hoyer did not put a timeline on the process, nor did he commit to bringing the bill to the floor following committee passage, though he suggested Democrats would do so.

"My inclination is to put it on the floor, yes, but I want to see what the committee does first before I make that decision," he said. 

The legislation, which will move through the Foreign Affairs Committee, led by Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelTillerson meets with House Foreign Affairs Committee Hoyer: Dems will move quickly on anti-Israel boycott bill Trump faces criticism for hosting Hungary's leader MORE (D-N.Y.), is designed to bar U.S. companies from endorsing anti-Israel boycotts orchestrated by international governmental organizations (IGOs). Such a ban already exists for boycotts organized by foreign governments, but not those promoted by IGOs, like the United Nations.

The issue has come to light in recent years with the rise of the so-called “boycott, divestment, sanctions” movement (BDS) — an international campaign designed to press Israel on human rights issues surrounding the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Human rights and free speech groups have hammered a Senate version of the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioAnother VPOTUS tries for POTUS: What does history tell us? Tensions swirl around Iran as administration to brief Congress Tensions swirl around Iran as administration to brief Congress MORE (R-Fla.), which passed the upper chamber earlier this year.

The groups contend the bill tramples on First Amendment rights to free speech — and they've been joined in that argument by a number of liberals on Capitol Hill, including Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersHarris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign 2020 Dems put spotlight on disabilities issues Lee, Sanders introduce bill to tax Wall Street transactions MORE (I-Vt.), a leading presidential contender, and a trio of outspoken House freshmen: Reps. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibTlaib urges Mnuchin to seek personal legal advice Pelosi faces tipping point on Trump impeachment WHIP LIST: Democrats who support an impeachment inquiry against President Trump MORE (D-Mich.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarCarson invokes abortion in Twitter response to jab from Omar WHIP LIST: Democrats who support an impeachment inquiry against President Trump Muslim lawmakers host Ramadan iftar to break fast at Capitol MORE (D-Minn.) and Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez makes endorsement for Queens district attorney Lawmakers call for 'time out' on facial recognition tech Markey releases infrastructure suggestions that align with Green New Deal goals MORE (D-N.Y.).

The legislation, which sets the powerful Israel lobby against the American Civil Liberties Union, is sure to prove a headache for Hoyer, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Threat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Trump denies 'tantrum' in meeting with Pelosi: 'It is all such a lie!' MORE (D-Calif.) and other Democratic leaders, as it will highlight the stark divisions in their diverse caucus over the thorny issue of Israel and U.S. foreign policy toward their long-standing ally in the Middle East.

GOP leaders are already seeking to exploit that divide, having introduced a discharge petition earlier in the year to force Rubio's anti-boycott bill to the House floor. That measure has no chance of winning enough signatures to force a vote in the Democratically controlled chamber.

But Republicans are hoping to keep Israel-related issues in the headlines as they bash Democrats for defending recent comments from Tlaib related to the Holocaust.

Hoyer, a staunch Israel supporter, has opposed the BDS movement, citing the economic harm it could impose on "a very strong ally of the United States." But he dismissed the GOP discharge petition as a political stunt.

"[It] is more about politics than it is about the substance of the issue," he said.

Hoyer, who had defended Tlaib from the GOP attacks earlier in the week, also went after Republican leaders, accusing them of twisting the words of the Michigan freshman for political gain.

"They are trying to use it as a political wedge, and what the Speaker and I both thought — and I still think — is that the remarks were not anti-Semitic," Hoyer said. "That doesn't mean we agreed with all the remarks, but they were not anti-Semitic."