GOP lawmakers urge swift action on Israel amid House Speaker crisis

Israel declared war on Sunday, following a rare attack by Hamas militants that has prompted calls for more U.S. military aid. The attack, which targeted Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, killed at least 12 people and injured hundreds more. Israel responded with airstrikes and artillery fire on Gaza, where Hamas is based. The escalation of violence has raised fears of a full-scale war in the region.

Many House Republicans say Hamas’ attack on Israel has added urgency to the need to agree on a new speaker, echoing the Biden administration’s concern that not having a leader could affect their ability to approve aid to Israel. Several lawmakers want the U.S. to move quickly with some combination of sanctions, aid, and resolutions supporting Israel — but say Republicans will have to get beyond their divisions and deal with the ambiguity over the extent of the temporary speaker’s powers.

The speaker race heats up

The House speaker position has been vacant since former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was ousted by a group of far-right Republicans last month. The rebels accused McCarthy of being too soft on President Biden and his agenda and demanded a more confrontational approach. Two candidates have emerged as contenders for speaker — House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — but neither has secured enough support to win the election.

GOP lawmakers

Republicans plan to convene for a candidate forum on Tuesday and hold a speakership vote on Wednesday. However, some members fear the speaker issue may not be resolved by the end of the week, as both Scalise and Jordan face opposition from different factions within the party. The situation has raised questions over whether Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), who is filling in as acting speaker until a permanent one is elected, can receive intelligence briefings and make decisions on crucial matters such as Israel.

Implications for U.S.-Israel relations

The U.S. is Israel’s closest ally and largest provider of military assistance, with an annual aid package of $3.8 billion. The U.S. also supports Israel diplomatically, often using its veto power at the United Nations Security Council to block resolutions that are critical of Israel or favor the Palestinians. The U.S. has expressed its unwavering support for Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas’ attacks, and has urged both sides to de-escalate the situation.

However, some GOP lawmakers say that the U.S. needs to do more to help Israel in its time of crisis, and that having a speaker would facilitate that process. They argue that a speaker could authorize additional aid, impose sanctions on Hamas and its backers, and pass resolutions condemning the attacks and affirming U.S.-Israel ties. They also say that a speaker could coordinate with the Biden administration and other allies to pressure Hamas to stop its aggression and return to negotiations.

“I think it certainly puts pressure on the conference to resolve this,” Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) said. “The challenge is there are serious divisions within the conference” over McCarthy’s ouster, “and a lot of anger about what happened.”

Other issues at stake

Beyond Israel, there’s another huge issue the House isn’t working on: The prospect, once again, of a government shutdown in mid-November if the House GOP can’t come to a consensus on a spending plan to continue funding the federal government. The current stopgap funding measure expires on Nov. 15, and lawmakers have yet to agree on how to allocate funds for various agencies and programs.

“If the government was shut down, it could be very bad because [President] Biden can provide some level of support to Israel without Congress,” one senior GOP lawmaker said. “But in a shutdown? Not as simple.”

Some GOP lawmakers also expressed frustration with the lack of leadership and direction in the House, saying that it has hampered their ability to counter Biden’s agenda and advance their own priorities. They said that having a speaker would restore order and stability in the chamber, and allow them to focus on the issues that matter to their constituents.

“I wish [it would accelerate a vote] — they did this without a plan,” Rep. Max Miller (R-Ohio) told Axios, referring to the far-right Republicans who forced McCarthy’s ouster. “Our country is a mess and anyone who thought this was a good idea is a few cards short of a full deck.”

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