WASHINGTON – Democrats and Republicans in Congress vowed urgent support Tuesday for a $225 million missile defense package for Israel, boosting the likelihood that legislation will clear Congress before lawmakers begin a monthlong vacation at week's end.
"Let's stop playing games," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., calling the assistance a necessity for the "life-or-death struggle Israel faces."
Graham and other supporters made their comments as Israel unleashed its heaviest bombardment yet in the four-week war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. At least 1,200 Palestinians have been killed, including more than 100 Tuesday, according to Palestinian health officials. Israel has reported more than 50 soldiers and three civilians killed.
Amid a daily barrage of Palestinian rocket fire, Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system has been credited with knocking hundreds of missiles out of the sky. While the Obama administration has pressed for a cease-fire, it also has backed Israel's desire to replenish its missile defense stockpiles. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel extended Israel's request to Congress last week.
Despite Graham's admonition, neither Republicans who control the House nor Democrats who command a Senate majority have yet to announce plans for a vote on a stand-alone bill on the issue.
In the House, majority Republicans unveiled a measure to cope with an influx of younger immigrants reaching the United States illegally from Central America, and said funds for Israel would be handled in a separate bill that has yet to be made public.
At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest expressed disappointment at the lack of funding for Israel in the House measure.
In the Senate, Democrats have combined money for Israel, border security and wildfire assistance into one measure. But Republicans oppose it because of a disagreement over provisions relating to the immigrants now flooding into the country from the south.
Despite the apparent deadlock, there were signs of willingness to compromise.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was prepared to consider a stand-alone bill providing money for Israel. Across the Capitol, numerous Republican aides said the House would likely pass any legislation the Senate approves on the subject.
Despite the potential for compromise on missile defense, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell implicitly criticized the Obama administration for efforts to arrange a ceasefire he said would be imposed on Israel and reward Hamas for a "campaign of terror."
"I support any effort which brings this campaign to an end in a manner that increases Israel's security," McConnell said Tuesday. "That means that Hamas cannot be left with a large stockpile of missiles and rockets, cannot be left with infiltration tunnels – they must be destroyed. Hamas cannot be allowed to aggressively rest, refit and build up weapons stockpiles."