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  /  News   /  Republicans advance sanctions on International Criminal Court

Republicans advance sanctions on International Criminal Court

House Republicans on Monday advanced legislation designed to punish the International Criminal Court (ICC) after its top prosecutor recommended war crimes charges against Israeli leaders amid their fight with Hamas.

The House Rules Committee voted 9-3, along strict partisan lines, to send to the floor legislation slapping sanctions on ICC officials. The full House is poised to pass the bill later this week and send it to the Senate, where it’s expected to be ignored by the Democratic leaders who control the upper chamber. 

The effort was initially designed to be bipartisan, as congressional leaders in both parties have sought to demonstrate Washington’s support for Israel in the wake of Hamas’s Oct. 7 terrorist attacks.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) had been in talks with Democratic counterparts in both chambers and the White House about how to penalize the court, underscoring that he wanted legislation that had a strong chance of becoming law to serve as a deterrent while ICC judges weigh whether to grant the warrants.

The White House, however, threw a wrench in those plans last week: press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre announced that the administration, while in favor of some punitive response to the ICC’s proposed charges, is not in favor of sanctioning the global court — an announcement that quickly deflated McCaul’s effort to enact a bipartisan penalty.

“We fundamentally reject the ICC prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders,” Jean-Pierre said. “Sanctions on the ICC, however, we do not believe is an effective or an appropriate path forward.”

The administration doubled-down on that stance in a statement of administrative policy Monday afternoon, writing that it “strongly opposes” the legislation. It stopped short, however, of explicitly threatening to veto the measure if it reaches President Biden’s desk.

“There are more effective ways to defend Israel, preserve U.S. positions on the ICC, and promote international justice and accountability, and the Administration stands ready to work with the Congress on those options,” the statement reads. 

It’s unclear, however, what other punitive options the White House has in mind, since the United States has never ratified the ICC’s charter, doesn’t believe Americans are subject to its jurisdiction and provides no funding for its operations. 

House GOP leaders aren’t waiting around for the administration to come up with alternatives, pushing ahead instead with a partisan sanctions bill that had been introduced last month by Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) following reports that the ICC was considering a move to bring charges against Israeli leaders for their conduct in the Hamas war. 

Roy’s bill — which has more than 60 GOP co-sponsors — would impose sanctions on ICC officials who “engaged in any effort to investigate, arrest, detain, or prosecute any protected person of the United States and its allies.” Those sanctions include blocking U.S. property transactions, deeming individuals inadmissible to the U.S. and revoking any visas they may have.

The measure gives the president the unilateral authority to end the sanctions if the ICC stops engaging in efforts to investigate or arrest U.S. individuals or its allies, or if the court has permanently ended any investigation into protected individuals.

The legislation is expected to clear the House easily, with support from virtually all Republicans as well as a number of staunch pro-Israel defenders on the Democratic side. But Biden’s rejection of the sanctions concept secured the opposition of Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, and most Democrats are expected to vote against the measure when it hits the floor later in the week. 

“This is a bad bill,” Rep. Jim McGovern (Mass.), the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, said Monday. “The International Criminal Court is an important institution, and those who care about human rights would certainly agree with that assessment. And I think that it is not in America’s moral or strategic interest to attack the court for attempting to do its job.”

“This bill makes a mockery of the rules-based international order that America helped build,” he added.