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GOP Tanks Bipartisan Global Ban on Cluster Munitions

Republicans instead advanced a proposal banning delivery of the widely prohibited weapons only to Ukraine.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene speaks as Rep. Matt Gaetz and Rep. Thomas Massie listen during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on November 17, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

House Republicans on Thursday tanked a bipartisan amendment that aimed to ban the U.S. government from selling or transferring cluster munitions worldwide, instead opting to advance a GOP-led proposal that would only prevent the delivery of the widely prohibited weapons to Ukraine.

During a House Rules Committee meeting on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), all nine Republicans on the panel voted down a motion from Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) to allow a full floor vote on an amendment barring the U.S. from selling cluster munitions around the world — a proposal led by Reps. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

In its place, the rules panel advanced a far narrower proposal led by Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.). A summary of the amendment states that “no cluster munitions or cluster munitions technology shall be sold or transferred to Ukraine.”

Massie claimed during Thursday’s hearing that the narrower amendment would have a better chance of passing. The House is set to debate that amendment and hundreds of others on Thursday.

The Jacobs-Omar proposal — which had initially garnered support from a handful of Republicans, including Gaetz — did not specify any country, and its authors have made clear that they want a global ban on cluster munitions as the Biden administration moves to send the weapons to Ukraine as it fights invading Russian forces.

More than 100 countries, including most NATO members, have signed the United Nations Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans the use, sale, or stockpiling of the weapons. Neither the U.S., Ukraine, nor Russia have signed the international treaty.

McGovern, the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee, expressed bafflement over the GOP’s maneuver during Thursday’s meeting, noting that the chairman of the Armed Services Committee and the ranking member of that panel both said they have no problem with allowing the Jacobs-Omar amendment to reach the House floor for a vote.

“I don’t understand what the controversy is,” McGovern said.

The anti-war group Just Foreign Policy suggested that the Republican decision to advance an amendment spearheaded by Greene was designed to “undercut” growing bipartisan opposition to the Biden administration’s move to transfer cluster bombs to Ukraine.

Some prominent Republicans in the House and Senate, including Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), openly welcomed the Biden administration’s approval of the munitions transfer.

Republican war hawks, Just Foreign Policy argued, “hope that having MTG lead the vote will reduce the vote total opposing Biden’s transfer. They have several strong reasons to think so: Polls show she’s deeply unpopular, she just got expelled from the Freedom Caucus, she burns bridges with anti-war Dems.”

McGovern, who has previously introduced legislation to restrict the use and export of cluster bombs, said the Republican alternative to the Jacobs-Omar proposal “implies that we’re OK with sending cluster munitions to other countries around the world” and would likely not gain enough Democratic support for that reason.

“Let’s just all be clear: By the time the NDAA is debated in the House and Senate and goes to the president, these munitions will already have been delivered to Ukraine,” the Massachusetts Democrat said. “So nothing we do here is going to stop the delivery of these weapons to Ukraine in the short run.”

“But we are going down a slippery slope where either this president or future presidents will feel that it is OK to be able to send these weapons to other countries in other very dangerous situations,” McGovern added. “It is not just about Ukraine. It’s about sending them to any conflict in any country in the world.”

McGovern ultimately suggested that the Rules Committee allow a full House vote on both the Jacobs-Omar amendment and the more limited Republican alternative, but GOP members objected.

Republicans on the committee also voted against allowing a House vote on Rep. Barbara Lee’s (D-Calif.) amendment calling for a $100 billion cut to the Pentagon budget.