WASHINGTON, DC — House Republicans are working on legislation to reduce or eliminate United Nations funding over the Security Council's vote just before Christmas to condemn Israeli settlements.
The right-wing House Freedom Caucus will meet next Monday to decide between two proposals to bring to the House. One would be to reduce American funding to the UN. The other, more aggressive proposal is to make funding voluntary, thus leaving it to Congress every two years to decide whether to continue contributing to the organization.
“One is an incremental step, the other is really a herculean leap," said Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows.
The Obama administration set off waves of anger when it declined to veto a UN resolution that declared Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal. Without the veto, the motion was passed by the security counsel. Many are portraying the abstention as a blow to a country that is a longtime American ally.
The House is planning a vote later this week to declare America's support for Israel, but Meadows says he believes that is not enough.
“Israel is a bipartisan issue so I think that [if legislation] is measured and appropriate we could pick up a lot of Democrats to support it as well," said Meadows.
The United Nations relies on America for over 20% of its funding. America has earmarked $594 million in UN operations funding next year. UN funding is mandatory for members under the UN Charter, which as a signed treaty is part of US law.
Including peacekeeping costs, which are assessed separately, that figure rises to nearly $3 billion. But the Freedom Caucus legislation, being developed by Rep. Jim Bridenstine, will likely target operational funding.
Republicans in the Senate are also promising to target UN support. Sen. Ted Cruz accused the Obama administration of being complicit in an attack on Israel and has long been a UN critic.
"I believe Congress should end US taxpayer funding for the United Nations unless and until the UN reverses this anti-Israel resolution, and I believe there will be considerable support in Congress, I hope in both parties, to do exactly that," Cruz told BuzzFeed News.
When asked when he thought the push would come, Cruz said, "Soon, very soon."
Cruz is not the only senator thinking along those lines. Sen. Tom Cotton said in an interview with Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio pundit, that UN defunding "could happen in the very early days of the next Congress."
Leading the charge to defund the UN in the Senate is Sen. Lindsey Graham, who promised to bring forward measures to cancel American contributions that make up 22% of the UN's budget.
"The United Nations will regret this vote and I hope the Obama Administration will realize the massive mistake they made on their way out of the door," Graham said in a statement.
The White House said that that vetoing the resolution would be detrimental to peace negotiations and a barrier to any future two-state solution.
But several Democrats were critical of Obama's decision to abstain from the vote. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted that it was "Extremely frustrating, disappointing & confounding that the Administration has failed to veto the UN resolution." Schumer declined to comment to BuzzFeed News.
While Democrats have largely stayed silent on whether they would support an initiative to defund the UN, momentum continues to gather on the Republican side of the aisle.
"I'm all for that," Sen. John McCain told BuzzFeed News about what he thought about the push to withhold funding from the UN. "Sen. Graham is leading on that, and I'm with him every step of the way."
Trump criticized the UN on Twitter after the resolution passed but didn't comment on defunding specifically.
The Trump transition team told BuzzFeed News there was no comment on whether Trump would support measures to defund the United Nations.
The resolution the UN Security Council voted on was drafted by Egypt, but later pulled. Instead, New Zealand, Venezuela, Malaysia and Senegal were the ones to put it up for a vote.
"Any American with any common sense knows that Senegal and Malaysia don’t set the agenda for the Security Council, the United States does. And this resolution would not have gone forward if the United States did not want it to go forward," Cotton said in his interview.