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 HoyerHouse to vote on removing bust of Supreme Court justice who wrote Dred Scott ruling Black Caucus unveils next steps to combat racism Democrats expect Russian bounties to be addressed in defense bill 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 EngelOn The Trail: Trump, coronavirus fuel unprecedented voter enthusiasm NY Working Families Party director on the state's primary House postpones testimony from key Pompeo aide about IG firing 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 RubioRussian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide Congress eyes tighter restrictions on next round of small business help Trump administration eyes new strategy on COVID-19 tests 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 SandersThe Memo: Unhappy voters could deliver political shocks beyond Trump Democratic senator will introduce bill mandating social distancing on flights after flying on packed plane Neil Young opposes use of his music at Trump Mount Rushmore event: 'I stand in solidarity with the Lakota Sioux' MORE (I-Vt.), a leading presidential contender, and a trio of outspoken House freshmen: Reps. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibThe Hill's Campaign Report: Colorado, Utah primary results bring upsets, intrigue Progressive lawmakers call for conditions on Israel aid Ocasio-Cortez pitches interns to work for her instead of McConnell MORE (D-Mich.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarThe Hill's Campaign Report: Colorado, Utah primary results bring upsets, intrigue Progressive lawmakers call for conditions on Israel aid Black lives and the CBC: What happens to a dream deferred? MORE (D-Minn.) and Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezDemocratic strategist Andrew Feldman says Biden is moving left Hispanic Caucus asks Trump to rescind invitation to Mexican president Nadler wins Democratic primary 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 PelosiRussian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide On The Money: Breaking down the June jobs report | The biggest threats facing the recovery | What will the next stimulus bill include? Military bases should not be renamed, we must move forward in the spirit of reconciliation 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."