on the hill

Republicans re-emphasize support for Israel as speakership deadlock worsens

‘It’s a terrible message,’ Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) said. ‘We have too many prima donnas that are putting themselves, as individuals, over the country’

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House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) leaves a House Republican caucus meeting after withdrawing his bid for Speaker, at the U.S. Capitol on October 12, 2023 in Washington, DC.

House Republicans’ continued deadlock in choosing a new speaker and re-opening the House floor is sending a poor message to Israel as its war with Hamas escalates, some House Republicans said Thursday evening. At the same time, many emphasized that measures supporting Israel will ultimately move forward with strong support when the leadership contest is settled.

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the pick of a narrow majority of House Republicans to be the new House speaker, dropped his candidacy on Thursday as it became clear that he could not muster sufficient support among Republicans. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Scalise’s former competitor, appears to be the next likely candidate, but it’s not clear he has sufficient support either, and it’s unknown who else might try to step up.

“It’s a terrible message” to Israel, Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) told Jewish Insider. “We have too many prima donnas that are putting themselves, as individuals, over the country. We want to act on Israel right away. We want to put out the pledge of support. And I think there are some munitions that they want that we should be voting on as fast as we can.”

“I’m very concerned” about the signals the situation is sending to Israel, Rep. Joe Wilson, (R-SC), who leads the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Middle East subcommittee, told JI. “We need to come together.”

“But,” he continued, “the good thing [is] we’re going to be supporting Israel no matter what. And so this is just a blip in the road.”

Other lawmakers said they didn’t think that Israel should take any signals from the continued chaos in the House.

“There are certain things that are going on in my conference that hurt me deeply right now, to see us in this position,” Rep. Chuck Fleishmann (R-TN) told JI earlier in the day, before Scalise dropped his bid. “But one of the things that I’m most proud of is the steadfast, unequivocal support of Israel that has been articulated from our moderates, our center right, our far right — that resolve is strong. It’s unequivocal. It’s loud. We just have got to put the procedures in place to effectuate that support.”

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) indicated that the fact that the administration has not submitted a formal aid request yet gives Republicans some breathing room to choose their next leader. But she suggested that there might be deeper problems if the speakership vacancy is not resolved by the time that aid request comes to Congress.

“Congress has showed overwhelmingly that we have Israel’s back, that we support Israel, that we will do what we need to support them,” Malliotakis told JI. “I don’t think that changes, that we have unwavering support.”

“Israel needs our help, period,” Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL) told JI. “And we’re going to be there for them. But over the long term, we’ve got to get this fixed.”

Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO) emphasized that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are “absolutely unified as a Congress behind [Israel]” and said that “this is not affecting our support in any way, shape or form.”

“I think you saw that on the steps of the Capitol tonight,” she continued, referring to a tearful sunset vigil on the steps of the House of Representatives to honor those killed in Hamas’ attack on Israel and the people taken hostage. 

Around 150 bipartisan lawmakers attended the candlelit event, including former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Jordan and all three top Democratic leaders, Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Pete Aguilar (D-CA). Squad member Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) was also in attendance.

Elsewhere on the Hill yesterday, a group of 17 House Democrats led by Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-CA) wrote to the administration to “express our concern about the lack of clear information available to our constituents and other Americans who are trying to leave Gaza and the West Bank.” The letter asks the Department of State to provide better guidance for Americans in the Palestinian territories amid the escalating conflict.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) urged the administration to send U.S. special forces troops into Gaza to rescue the American civilians being held hostage by Hamas.

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