D.C. Gridlock

Congress plans action to support Israel amid political paralysis

Resolutions condemning the terror attack are underway in the House, but could be delayed without a speaker

SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

The US Capitol is seen in Washington, DC, October 5, 2023.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate announced on Sunday following Hamas’ assault against Israel a number of steps to support Israel — but much of the planned action is likely to be delayed by gridlock in Washington, including the lack of an elected House speaker.

Two groups of House lawmakers have announced plans to introduce resolutions supporting Israel, while the Senate is working to move up the timeline for confirming former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew as the U.S. ambassador to Israel. But the House’s plans could be delayed by the ongoing speakership vacuum, and the Senate will be out of session for the next week.

Reps. Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Greg Meeks (D-NY), the top Republican and Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are circulating a resolution condemning the terror attacks, spotlighting Iranian support for Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups and supporting Israel.  

The resolution, first reported by Axios and obtained by Jewish Insider, declares that the House “stands ready to assist Israel with emergency resupply and other security, diplomatic and intelligence support.”

“The House of Representatives stands with Israel as it defends itself against the barbaric war launched by Hamas and other terrorists [and] reaffirms Israel’s right to self-defense,” the resolution states, also mourning the loss of Israeli civilians.

It goes on to call for “full enforcement” of U.S. legislation barring U.S. assistance from “benefiting terrorists, directly or indirectly” and of U.S. sanctions on Iran “to prevent Iran’s funding of terrorist groups.”

The resolution warns of “an even more devastating regional catastrophe” if Iran or Hezbollah were to become involved in the conflict. 

Reps. Zach Nunn (R-IA) and Don Davis (D-NC) are working on a separate resolution, which sends a similar message that includes support for potential supplemental aid. A spokesperson for Nunn said that most freshman Republicans and military veterans have joined the resolution but that it is not yet final.

The Nunn/Davis resolution describes the attack as an “act of war against Israel,” highlights the connections between Palestinian terrorist groups and Iran and supports Israel’s right to “act in self-defense against Hamas” and other terror groups.

The resolution also states that the House “stands ready to consider urgent requests for additional assistance.”

The lack of an elected House speaker could slow down these resolutions, although neither represent actionable policy. House Republicans are expected to meet on Tuesday to discuss their candidate for House speaker, with a formal election no earlier than Wednesday. It’s not clear if the House can pass either of these resolutions without first electing a speaker.

In the speakership race, the Republican conference remains divided between Reps. Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Jim Jordan (R-OH), and it’s unclear whether they’ll be able to come to a consensus this week. The GOP’s candidate will require near-unanimous support from the Republican conference. 

The situation in Israel is adding some urgency to the process, but a consensus has yet to emerge. Some Republicans are pushing for ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to be reinstated, at least temporarily.

McCaul said that he expects his resolution to be among the first items taken up by the House after it elects a speaker. A Republican lawmaker told Axios he wants the House to try to take up the Nunn/Davis resolution before a speaker is elected, although it’s not clear if that is possible.

Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry (R-NC) did not respond to a request for comment.

Both Scalise and Jordan have offered support for Israel since the conflict started. Jordan has specifically called to “immediately replenish” Israel’s stockpile of interceptors for its Iron Dome missile-defense system.

“Let’s make sure Congress can unite and assure Israel has what it needs to destroy Hamas,” Jordan said. He also announced that a resolution to support Israel will be “front and center” if he’s elected speaker.

Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY) has separately announced a bill to provide additional Iron Dome aid.

The administration announced on Sunday that it would move a carrier strike group into the Eastern Mediterranean, including ships and fighter aircraft. It also announced a new aid package to Israel that it will be able to provide without congressional authorization. But further aid could require congressional action which would require the House to elect a speaker.

“Congress will definitely have a role, and without a speaker, this could be a problem,” a senior administration official told reporters on Saturday.

The Senate will be out for the duration of the week, but efforts are underway to accelerate Lew’s confirmation as U.S. ambassador to Israel when the Senate returns.

“For the U.S. to be without an ambassador at this critical moment would [be] political malpractice by the Senate,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) said. “Jack Lew is highly qualified and should be confirmed this coming week.”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is working to schedule a hearing for Lew during the week of Oct. 15, after the current recess. A hearing was already scheduled for other nominees on Oct. 19.

Lew will still have to meet with Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff and members, making it potentially difficult to move the process forward on an accelerated schedule. Some Senate Republicans had also hinted at plans to delay Lew’s nomination over disagreements with the administration’s Israel policy. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) indicated on Saturday that his concerns have not changed.

The situation in Israel is driving calls to clear other backlogs and speedily advance confirmation proceedings for a range of foreign policy officials, including U.S. ambassadors to Egypt, Lebanon, Oman and Kuwait; the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator; and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s top Middle East official.

And it’s drawing renewed attention to military promotions blocked by Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-AL) blanket hold, which has impacted the chief of naval operations and a number of senior officers set to be deployed to the Middle East.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that he plans to introduce legislation “at the first opportunity that will focus on providing Israel what it needs to defend itself,” including replenishing Iron Dome interceptors and other supplemental funding, as well as a resolution “reinforcing our commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

The situation in Israel is fueling bipartisan calls for stronger U.S. action on Iran, which reportedly helped plan the attack and has long been a top sponsor of Hamas. Republicans have, since the initial hours after the attack, highlighted Iran’s role in backing Hamas.

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) said that if that report is accurate, “principled nations of the world must unite and neutralize the most repugnant, repressive, destabilizing regime in the world. Evil cannot be appeased any longer.”

He did not respond to a request for comment on what neutralizing Iran might entail.

Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) said that the U.S. bears responsibility for the attack on Israel for failing to crack down hard enough on Iran.

“There are lost lives in Gaza and there are lost lives in Israel, and it’s because the United States has allowed terrorism to flourish, and it’s refused to take a strong enough stance against Iran, who is backing Hamas and Hezbollah,” she said.

However, squabbling has also broken out among Republicans and Democrats over allegations that the U.S.’ negotiations with Iran enabled and funded the Hamas attack.

“[Joe Biden] funded this attack when he bowed to Iran and gave $6 BILLION to this evil regime that starts every day plotting to destroy Israel,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) said Saturday. “While Biden is silent, his appeasement of Iran and Hamas terrorists is heard in every siren blaring across Israel.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) fired back on Sunday.

“For too many Republicans, their hatred of Democrats is their only organizing prism,” Murphy responded. “Even on a day like today all they can do is attack. Senator Scott’s social media is mostly attacks on Biden instead of support for Israel. There are times for politics. There are times for unity.”

A senior administration official told reporters that none of the frozen Iranian funds released as part of the hostage deal have been spent yet, and that they will be transferred directly to vetted third-party providers of humanitarian goods outside of Iran. 

Critics of the administration have argued that, even if the funds have not yet been spent, they still provide the Iranian government with greater budget flexibility to finance terrorism.

Two lawmakers, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. Dan Goldman (D-NY) revealed on Sunday that they’d been in Israel during the initial attack, but had since left. Booker was in Israel with Senate staff ahead of an N7 Initiative summit that was canceled, while Goldman was there with his family for a relative’s b’nai mitzvah.

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