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.

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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 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 RubioPeace Corps' sudden decision to leave China stirs blowback Lawmakers raise concerns over Russia's growing influence in Venezuela USDA takes heat as Democrats seek probe into trade aid 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 SandersJoe Biden lost his fastball — can he get it back before South Carolina? Where the 2020 Democrats stand on taxes Bloomberg hits Sanders supporters in new ad MORE (I-Vt.), a leading presidential contender, and a trio of outspoken House freshmen: Reps. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibWill Bernie have to turn on his bros? Rashida Tlaib detained by police during protest against low wages at Detroit airport Trump, like most presidents, takes credit for American workers' effort MORE (D-Mich.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarTlaib 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' Democrats tear into Trump's speech: It was a 'MAGA rally' MORE (D-Minn.) and Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezThe Democratic demolition derby Julián Castro endorses Rep. Cuellar's primary opponent in Texas Overnight Energy: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on 'forever chemicals' 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 PelosiMalaysia says it will choose 5G partners based on own standards, not US recommendations Pelosi warns allies against using Huawei Budget hawks frustrated by 2020 politics in entitlement reform fight 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."