Why several NYC House members voted against funding to help defend Israel or Ukraine

Man wearing American flag, with Ukraine flag in background, after House vote.
Activists supporting Ukraine demonstrate outside the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, April 20, 2024, as the House voted on approval of $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

At long last, the House of Representatives approved on Saturday billions of dollars in new funding to help Israel and Ukraine defend themselves — but several members of New York City’s delegation stood opposed to one or the other measures.

Brooklyn/Staten Island Congress Member Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican, voted against the $61 billion funding package for Ukraine, which aims to support the eastern European nation’s ongoing war for survival against Vladimir Putin’s Russia forces.

Meanwhile, three New York City Democrats – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of Bronx/Queens, Nydia Velazquez of Brooklyn/Queens and Jamaal Bowman of Bronx/Westchester — opposed a $26 billion bill to support Israel in its ongoing effort to squash Hamas following the Oct. 7, 2023 terrorist attacks that killed or captured more than 1,200 people. 

The bills were sent to the Senate, where they were expected to be passed in bipartisan fashion soon, and sent to President Joe Biden’s desk for his prompt signature.

Blaming the border

Congress Member Nicole Malliotakis
Congress Member Nicole MalliotakisPhoto courtesy U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis

In a statement posted on her X (formerly Twitter) account, Malliotakis expressed that while she continues to support Ukraine in its struggle, she could not bring herself to support more funding for it due to the ongoing border crisis in America. She claimed that supporting the measure would have ceded all further Republican leverage in extracting greater concessions from the Biden administration on efforts to secure the southern border.

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“I have repeatedly stood with the people of Ukraine and against Putin, and have even been sanctioned by Russia for my support,” Malliotakis said. “However, I cannot support additional funds without the necessary border security to protect our own nation from growing threats. With President Biden’s refusal to reverse ANY of his more than 60 border policies that created this crisis, today’s legislation is the last real leverage House Republicans have to get Schumer to take action and force Biden to change his deadly policies.”

Previously, House Republicans had wanted border security tied to additional funding for the Ukraine and Israel defense effort — but the GOP leadership, in February, subsequently rejected a bipartisan deal struck in the Senate toward both goals at the behest of Donald Trump, the former president and presumptive Republican presidential nominee in 2024

Saturday’s vote on the Ukraine defense package received bipartisan support after House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) agreed to an up-or-down vote after months of pressure and threats of being removed from the office he won back in October.

Malliotakis was one of 112 Republicans who voted against the Ukraine funding; no Democrats stood in opposition to it. Among the other Republicans who opposed the Ukraine package were extreme right-wing lawmakers such as Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia — the latter of whom uttered what many argued is Russian propaganda against Ukraine in opposition to the bill, has previously issued a motion to vacate the Speaker’s chair, and oust Johnson from office.

Unlike Boebert, Gaetz and Greene, Malliotakis did support funding the Israel defense effort.

Seeking path to ceasefire

funding to help defend Israel or Ukraine
Congress Member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.File photo/Adrian Childress

As for Democratic opposition to the Israel funding bill, Ocasio-Cortez and Velázquez signed on to a joint statement with 17 other Democrats explaining their vote. While they expressed support for Israel’s right to defend itself, they said they could not back a measure that would result in additional civilian casualties in the ongoing conflict.

“Our votes against H.R. 8034 are votes against supplying more offensive weapons that could result in more killings of civilians in Rafah and elsewhere,” the joint statement read. “We believe strongly in Israel’s right to self-defense and have joined colleagues previously in affirming our shared commitment. All of us support strengthening the Iron Dome and other defense systems, and we are committed to a sovereign, safe and secure future for Israel. To protect that future, we believe the United States must help achieve a ceasefire that allows hostages to be freed, humanitarian aid to be delivered, and peace talks to begin.”

Among the other co-signers of the joint statement were Congress Members Joaquin Castro of Texas, Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and Barbara Lee of California.

More than 86% of the House members in attendance Saturday supported the Israel defense spending bill in an overwhelming bipartisan vote. AOC, Velázquez and Bowman were among 37 Democrats to oppose it.

A ‘no’ to Netanyahu

funding to help defend Israel or Ukraine
Congress Member Jamaal Bowman speaking to reporters at a migrant rally interrupted by anti-immigrant protesters.Photo by Ethan Stark-Miller

Bowman, meanwhile, did not co-sign the joint statement in which AOC and Velázquez affirmed their support of Israel’s right to defend itself. In a statement explaining his vote, Bowman said he was proud to join other Democrats in refusing “to send billions more in weapons to support [Israel Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s killing of innocent civilians.”

“Since day one, we have said that our approach to the conflict in the Middle East must be rooted in peace and deescalation, including an immediate and permanent ceasefire and release of all hostages,” Bowman said. “This is the only solution that can truly save civilian lives.”

Bowman, a progressive, is facing a stiff challenge in the June Democratic primary against Westchester County Executive George Latimer, a moderate. Following Bowman’s vote, Latimer criticized Bowman for voting against the measure and seemingly undermining Israel’s security.

“Mr. Bowman voted against Iron Dome funding, which was vital in repelling Iran’s unprecedented attack against Israel this week. Earlier this week, he voted against terminating the tax-exempt status of terrorist-supporting organizations. And even as Iranian militants took to the streets to chant “Death to America,” he voted against condemning Iran’s attack,” Latimer said in a statement. “These bills were all supported by President Biden and over 80% of Congressional Democrats. And with each vote, Bowman once more shows that he is more interested in making a statement than supporting our President or his colleagues when it matters most.”