Speaker Johnson eyes legislation to sanction ICC officials over arrest warrant requests

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is eyeing legislation to sanction International Criminal Court (ICC) officials after the entity requested arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, among others.

Johnson — who sharply criticized the ICC’s move against Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant — told reporters Tuesday the details of the legislation are still being worked out, but he noted he wants to move forward with the rebuke “as quickly as possible.”

“We do, and we’re working on what will be the best option for that. I think it’ll be bipartisan,” Johnson said when asked if he plans to put a measure on the floor to respond to the requested arrest warrants.

Pressed on whether the effort will include a sanction of the individuals involved in the arrest warrant requests, Johnson said, “that’ll be a component of it.”

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan announced Monday that he filed applications for arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Gallant, Sinwar and Ismail Haniyeh, another leader of Hamas, citing evidence of war crimes committed throughout the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

In a statement, Khan said Sinwar, Haniyeh and Mohammed Diab Ibrahim Al-Masri, the commander of the Hamas military wing, “bear criminal responsibility” for war crimes committed against Israel, including taking people hostage, sexual violence, extermination and torture.

He also accused Netanyahu and Gallant of bearing criminal responsibility for utilizing starvation as a method of war, the intentional targeting of civilians, extermination and persecution, among other allegations.

ICC judges will now weigh whether to uphold the request for arrest warrants, which could stretch on for months. The U.S. and Israel are not parties of the court, and the U.S.’s relationship with the ICC has been fraught for decades.

Johnson slammed the ICC’s request for arrest warrants Monday, writing in a statement that the court’s “baseless and illegitimate decision should face global condemnation.”

“International bureaucrats cannot be allowed to use lawfare to usurp the authority of democratic nations that maintain the rule of law,” he said.

“In the absence of leadership from the White House, Congress is reviewing all options, including sanctions, to punish the ICC and ensure its leadership faces consequences if they proceed. If the ICC is allowed to threaten Israeli leaders, ours could be next,” he added.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told senators during a Tuesday hearing he would like to work with lawmakers to take action against the ICC following its move on arrest warrants.

“That decision, as you said, on so many levels is totally wrongheaded. And we’ll be happy to work with Congress, with this committee, on an appropriate response,” he said during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the State Department’s budget.

“Given the events of yesterday, I think we have to look at the appropriate steps to take to deal with, again, what is a profoundly wrongheaded decision,” he later added.

Johnson’s plan to move legislation responding to the ICC’s arrest warrant request does not come as a surprise. Last month, amid reports that the ICC may issue arrest warrants for Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders, the Speaker called the potential move “disgraceful.”

“Such a lawless action by the ICC would directly undermine U.S. national security interests,” he said at the time.

The ICC’s request for arrest warrants has received bipartisan criticism in the U.S., with President Biden and other Democratic leaders joining Republicans in slamming the move.

“The arrest warrant request by the International Criminal Court against democratically elected members of the Israeli government is shameful and unserious. America’s commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said in a Monday statement. “I join President Joe Biden in strongly condemning any equivalence between Israel and Hamas, a brutal terrorist organization.”

Biden called the ICC prosecutor’s request “outrageous,” and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — who in March called for new elections in Israel and said Netanyahu had “lost his way” — slammed the move as “profoundly unfair” and “reprehensible.”

“I fiercely oppose the ICC’s decision. And I will work with President Biden and members on all sides to keep support for Israel strong and unwavering,” he added.

The opposition, however, has not been unanimous. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has been highly critical of the mounting humanitarian deaths in the Gaza Strip amid the Israel-Hamas war, said “the ICC prosecutor is right to take these actions.”

“These arrest warrants may or may not be carried out, but it is imperative that the global community uphold international law,” he wrote in a statement.

“Without these standards of decency and morality, this planet may rapidly descend into anarchy, never-ending wars, and barbarism,” he added.

Updated at 4:39 p.m. EDT

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