Shutdown over, Senate advances Middle East bill

The US Capitol is seen during the government shutdown in Washington

The US Capitol is seen during the government shutdown in Washington

Democrats, however, remain divided over the legislation, with some claiming it would impede free speech.

Despite strong opposition from free speech advocates including former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who voted in against the bill, 25 Democrats voted in favor, including Senator Debbie Stabenow of MI.

"It's vile that a law aimed at suppressing our democratic rights and silencing those fighting for solidarity with Palestinians would even make it to the Senate floor", said the American Jewish Advocacy group IfNotNow, following the 74-19 vote.

Democrats had blocked the package in the Senate during the 35-day partial government shutdown, saying the chamber should first consider legislation to reopen the government.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the legislation was critical to demonstrate U.S. resolve for America's friends in the Middle East.

Republicans also accused Democrats of trying to avoid a vote that divides their caucus over the BDS issue.

But many Democrats who voted "no", including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of NY, had previously expressed support for the bill and said they were only against it due to its timing.

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The US Senate has advanced legislation addressing security policy in the Middle East, including new sanctions on Syria and a measure taking aim at boycotts of Israel.

"I oppose it because it limits the right of individuals to express themselves", Durbin said of the BDS provision. Politico noted that "Monday was the fourth time Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brought the bill for a cloture vote". "I don't think it's anti-Semitic [to vote no]. It's because of the Bill of Rights".

The bill also would provide a key test for Senate Democrats who are running or considering running for president in 2020, revealing how they'll approach USA policy toward Israel.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) voted in favor of moving forward on the bill, but other declared or potential 2020 presidential candidates voted differently. Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), and Jeff Merkley (Ore.) all opposed moving the bill forward, as did Sen.

California Senator Kamala Harris and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker were not present for the vote, although Booker has said in the past he supports the Israel Anti-Boycott Act and co-sponsored it.

The Senate is expected to vote on final passage of the bill in the coming days.

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