WASHINGTON – House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, has agreed to pull a resolution offering a symbolic statement supporting Israel's fight against terrorism after the White House asked him to withdraw it to prevent increasing tensions between the United States and Arab states.
White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card called DeLay in his home base of Texas to say that the vocal support for Israel, accompanied by a measure that would add an extra $200 million in aid to Israel's $2.8 billion yearly handout, would damage peace negotiations President Bush is undertaking to end violence in the Middle East.
"We have been working closely with the Hill on a number of proposals. ... We will continue working closely," administration officials said, refusing to detail the political maneuvering. Noting that private administration messages have suggested that such congressional activities are not helpful, officials pointed to "the sensitivity of the issues in a troubled region."
In a meeting with lawmakers earlier in the week, Secretary of State Colin Powell also urged congressional leaders to postpone a vote on a resolution expressing "solidarity with Israel in its fight against terrorism" that was scheduled for next Tuesday. Powell told lawmakers that peace efforts were at a delicate stage and it would be easier if Congress did not inject itself into the issue, sources said.
Tensions between the United States and Arab nations may have eased a bit after a five-hour meeting between Bush and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah at the president's Crawford, Texas ranch Thursday, but the administration is concerned about inflaming Arab opinion, which firmly backs the Palestinians and appears to conflict with perceived American bias toward Israel.
The resolution, sponsored by DeLay and Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., condemns "the ongoing support and coordination of terror by Yasser Arafat" and other Palestinian leaders.
It may be brought up later, but only after discussions with the White House on appropriate wording. The administration, however, is not going to negotiate an extra aid package to Israel, which White House Budget Director Mitchell Daniels said should be omitted from an $27.1 billion anti-terrorism package the House plans to begin writing next week.
"It's under review, but not right now and not in this bill," Daniels said.
Earlier this week, DeLay assured members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that "As long as I am in Congress, I’ll use every tool at my disposal to ensure the Republican Conference, and the House of Representatives, continues to preserve and strengthen America's alliance with the State of Israel."
DeLay wants to do so by adding the $200 million into the anti-terrorism measure or another bill, said his spokesman, Stuart Roy. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., hasn't decided whether to support added aid for Israel, which would be economic, not military aid, according to a GOP leadership aide.
Support for more aid is wavering among some congressional Democrats as well. House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., said he would show solidarity with Israel by supporting a resolution, but not by increasing Israel's aid.
Democratic Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin opposes any additional aid, saying it isn't appropriate for Congress to end-run the president on Mideast negitations.
"On this one, we ought to follow the president's lead," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.