Amid Israel crisis, McCarthy does not rule out reclaiming speakership

‘That’s a decision by the conference. I’ll allow the conference to make whatever decision… You have 96% of the conference in one place,’ the former House speaker said

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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) answers questions during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on January 09, 2020 in Washington, D.C.

Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) appeared to reopen the possibility of being reelected to his former office on Monday at a press conference responding to the war in Israel.

McCarthy laid out a plan for responding to the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel and highlighted that the current lack of a speaker is paralyzing the House and inhibiting it from sending support to Israel. His conference remains divided between House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) as potential successors, with no clear consensus in sight. The situation has driven some moderates to float the possibility of reelecting McCarthy, even if only on a short-term basis.

“That’s a decision by the conference. I’ll allow the conference to make whatever decision,” McCarthy said of the prospect of being reelected, after initially ruling out running for speaker again last week. “You have 96% of the conference in one place, and you’re allowing 4%, with the Democrats playing politics, and and now putting the doubt inside this body — that is wrong.”

The former speaker declined to endorse either Scalise or Jordan, while arguing that there needs to be broader changes in the conference to limit the influence of the eight Republicans who led the effort to unseat him and prevent them from taking similar action toward a subsequent speaker.

At the same time, McCarthy argued for broader powers for the acting speaker pro tempore, which he said should allow the speaker pro tempore to bring resolutions and bills supporting Israel to the floor. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) is currently serving in that role. Many in Washington believe that the acting speaker only is authorized to oversee the election of a new speaker.

“I don’t understand why the speaker pro tem couldn’t lead us as well,” McCarthy said. “We should have a resolution on the floor, condemning what’s taking place, so the rest of the world understands. We should [re]supply and make sure that there’s no question and no doubt that Israel will never be overwhelmed.”

McCarthy said that the U.S. must secure the release of American hostages held by Hamas, but vehemently opposed negotiations or concessions.

“President Biden’s No. 1 priority right now must be finding out how many Americans have been taken hostage and get them home,” he said. “This administration must also make clear that harming any American will result in the wrath of the United States… It must be clear that we do not negotiate with terrorists and no American will be left behind. Biden’s policy on appeasement including money for hostage deals must come to an end.”

He also laid out a plan including re-freezing the $6 billion in recently unfrozen Iranian funds; cracking down on Iranian oil production; strengthening relations with U.S. partners in the Middle East; extraditing Hamas leadership from Qatar; resupplying Israel with Iron Dome interceptors and other munitions; examining U.S. intelligence failures; strengthening U.S. southern border security; and confronting domestic antisemitism, including at universities and on Capitol Hill.

“Why do we have a secretary of state who says he has no knowledge if Iran was involved? He has less knowledge than The Wall Street Journal?” McCarthy said.

In an apparent bid to highlight his foreign policy credentials and expertise on Israel issues, McCarthy said that he has led members on trips to Israel, that he has spoken to Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana over the weekend and that Israeli President Isaac Herzog called him last week as he was being ousted as House speaker.

Alluding to comments on the situation from lawmakers like Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Cori Bush (D-MO), McCarthy slammed Democratic leadership for not directly condemning them.

“The greatest slaughter we have watched against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, and to say ‘no comment,’ I don’t understand that,” he said.

Elsewhere on the Hill, the lack of a speaker is continuing to fuel bipartisan consternation. Rep. Greg Meeks (NY), the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, alluded to the possibility of a bipartisan compromise if Republicans are unable to choose a speaker promptly.

“If the Republicans don’t have a speaker by the end of this week, we’ve got to figure something out,” Meeks said. “They will need additional resources, and that will take Congress.”

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