There’s Bipartisan Support for Banning the Sale/Transfer of Cluster Munitions…But There’s Greater Bipartisan Opposition

Jonathan Cohn
3 min readSep 29, 2023

What do Marjorie Taylor Greene and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez agree on?

Well, obviously, not much. But it’s always fascinating to identify the rare points of agreement between the left flank and right flank in Congress (even if their reasons may be different).

We saw one such example in the summer when there was a vote to ban the sale or transfer of cluster munitions to Ukraine. It failed 147 to 276: voting in favor were 98 Republicans and 49 Democrats.

As I noted in July:

This issue creates a “strange bedfellows” coalition in Congress. On the one hand, you have progressives who care about human rights. And on the other, you have the conservatives who care less about civilian casualties and more about the recipient of the weapons: Ukraine, a country they oppose because of their fondness for Russia’s Vladimir Putin and his nationalist conservatism.

In case you need a reminder of why cluster munitions are so dangerous, here’s Bonnie Docherty of Human Rights Watch:

Cluster munitions, which Russia has used extensively in Ukraine, disperse dozens or hundreds of smaller submunitions, or bomblets, across a broad area, the size of a city block. Each of these submunitions shatters into metal fragments that can tear off limbs and inflict fatal wounds. They cause civilian casualties at the time of attack because they cannot discriminate between soldiers and civilians. In addition, many do not explode on impact, lingering like landmines and posing an ongoing threat to the local population.

The House has had somewhat of a vote-a-rama on amendments to the various appropriations bills this week as Republicans try to figure out if they care at all about preventing a government shutdown. That vote-a-rama gave an opportunity for this issue to come back.

Matt Gaetz (FL-01), Sara Jacobs (CA-51), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), and Jim McGovern (MA-02) introduced a bipartisan amendment to ban the transfer of cluster munitions.

On Wednesday, it failed 160 to 269, with 85 Republicans and 75 Democrats voting for it and 132 Republicans and 137 Democrats voting no.

But that 160 is greater than July’s 147. And even more interestingly, the composition changed: many more Democrats and fewer Republicans. Perhaps because the amendment wasn’t as narrowly focused on Ukraine.

So how did it change? Here you can see the 75 Democrats who voted yes, with come color-coding. The Representatives in darker gray are ones who voted NO in July but YES this week. The Representatives in lighter gray (Evans, Jacobs, and Wild) were absent in July.

Cori Bush (MO-01) and Raúl Grijalva (AZ-07) who supported the similar amendment in July were absent.

Gregorio Sablan (NMI), Lauren Underwood (IL-14), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) who voted for the amendment in July flipped to opposition.

Yesterday (Thursday), the House voted on a similar amendment when considering the State Department and foreign operations appropriations bill (the previous amendment was to the defense appropriations bill). This amendment, introduced by Tom Massie (KY-04) and Jim McGovern (MA-02) would have prevented any funds from the bill from going to the transfer of cluster munitions to any foreign country.

It failed 178 to 253, with 88 Democrats and 90 Republicans in support.

You might think that going from 75 Democrats to 88 Democrats would just mean that 13 more Democrats joined. Instead, it was a gain of 20 and a loss of 7.

Here are the 20 Democrats who opposed the similar Wednesday amendment but supported this one:

The 7 Democrats who flipped to opposition? They were Davis, DeLauro, Evans, Foushee, Meng, Porter, and Trone.

Raúl Grijalva, who was absent on Wednesday, was no longer absent — but had switched to opposition.

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Jonathan Cohn

Editor. Bibliophile. Gadfly. Environmentalist. Super-volunteer for progressive campaigns. Boston by way of Baltimore, London, NYC, DC, and Philly.