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 HoyerPelosi's staff huddles with aides in both parties on 'surprise' medical billing House panel approves bill to grant DC statehood Democrats bullish on bill to create women's history museum: 'It's an election year' 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 EngelOvernight Defense: Army says it isn't investigating Vindman | White House outlines legal justification for Soleimani strike | Service member dies in Africa Trump administration outlines legal justification for Soleimani strike Pompeo to testify on Iran in February 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 RubioCheese, wine importers reeling from Trump trade fight Peace Corps' sudden decision to leave China stirs blowback Lawmakers raise concerns over Russia's growing influence in Venezuela 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 SandersBiden leads Sanders by single digits in South Carolina: poll Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Biden will go after Bloomberg, Sanders at Las Vegas debate, aides say MORE (I-Vt.), a leading presidential contender, and a trio of outspoken House freshmen: Reps. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibDon't let 'welfare for all' advocates derail administration's food stamp program reforms Omar endorses progressive Georgia Democrat running for House seat Will Bernie have to turn on his bros? MORE (D-Mich.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarOmar endorses progressive Georgia Democrat running for House seat Tlaib says she held Omar's hand during 'triggering' moments at Trump's State of the Union speech Key House Democrat says Perez must go: 'He doesn't lead on anything' MORE (D-Minn.) and Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez defends Sanders running as a Democrat: It's 'more than what you call yourself' House Oversight accuses Border Patrol of blocking investigation into secret Facebook group Company to provide free clothing to any female candidate 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 PelosiDon't let 'welfare for all' advocates derail administration's food stamp program reforms Hillicon Valley: Officials worry about Nevada caucus technology after Iowa | Pelosi joins pressure campaign on Huawei | Workers at Kickstarter vote to unionize | Bezos launches B climate initiative Pelosi joins pressure campaign on Huawei 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."