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D.C.’s response

U.S. officials, lawmakers across political spectrum offer support for Israel amid Hamas terror assault

President Biden: ‘The United States stands with Israel. We will not ever fail to have her back.’

Samuel Corum/Getty Images

President Joe Biden

U.S. officials and lawmakers have reacted with a unified voice in speaking out against the massive Hamas terror attack on Israel on Saturday, offering strong support for Israel and its defense and condemnation of the attacks.

At least 250 Israelis were killed and over 1,500 Israelis injured in Hamas’ coordinated assault on southern Israel. Terrorists infiltrated several Israeli towns, kidnapped Israeli civilians and fired rockets reaching Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The attack, which coincided with Shabbat and the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret, also comes almost exactly 50 years after the beginning of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

“The United States stands with Israel. We will not ever fail to have her back. We’ll make sure that they have the help their citizens need, and that they can continue to defend themselves,” President Joe Biden said in remarks from the White House on Saturday afternoon. 

“When I spoke with [Israeli] Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu this morning I told him the United States stands with the people of Israel in the face of these terrorist attacks. Israel has the right to defend itself and its people — full stop.”

Biden also emphasized that “this is not a moment for any party hostile to Israel to exploit these attacks to seek advantage.” He pledged to remain in “close contact” with Netanyahu and said he had also spoken to the king of Jordan in the hours since the attack began.

On Capitol Hill, there has also been an outpouring of support for Israel across the political spectrum.

“The terrorist attacks by Hamas on the people of Israel are absolutely horrific. The U.S. stands with Israel in its unwavering right to defend itself. I stand ready to ensure Israel has the support to do so,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement. “My prayers are with the dead, reported hostages, and hundreds injured.”

“Today’s terrorist violence against Israel is a reminder of the evil that motivates Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and their patrons in Tehran,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a statement. “The United States and the civilized world must stand in solidarity as a fellow democracy defends its sovereignty and its citizens and must unequivocally condemn these vicious attacks against civilian populations.”

McConnell linked the threat facing Israel to those facing “free societies around the world,” highlighting the connections between the Hamas terrorists and Iran, which, he noted, is also supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Concern is growing in Washington that the current lack of a House speaker could create issues for the U.S.’ response to the situation. The powers of the acting speaker pro tempore, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), are largely untested and many believe that he does not have the authority to bring bills to the House floor. It’s also unclear whether he is even authorized to attend an intelligence briefing on the situation.

“This is why you don’t remove a Speaker mid-term without cause. What an unmitigated shit show,” Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY) said. He later added, “Removing ⁦@SpeakerMcCarthy⁩ from office, mid-term, was idiotic. Doing so as Israel faces an all out attack is dangerous. Uncertainty and chaos in the U.S. breeds vulnerability around the world. The House should immediately reinstate McCarthy and stop screwing around.”

Meanwhile, Schumer is out of the country on a trip to China, and the Senate will be out of session for the next week. Some lawmakers are currently on the ground in the Middle East

Israel has reportedly requested emergency funding to purchase more Iron Dome missile-defense interceptors, which would require a congressional vote. Even without the current hurdles, it took months for a request for additional Iron Dome aid to be approved following the May 2021 war with Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza.

Among members of the progressive left often critical of Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians, incidents of violence have typically been met, in recent years, with immediate calls for cease-fires, de-escalation and restraint. Such responses have been significantly less prevalent today.

“I unequivocally condemn the abhorrent attacks against innocent civilians launched by Hamas and other terrorist groups and stand in strong solidarity with the people of Israel as they defend themselves,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) said. “There is never any justification for terrorism.”

“I strongly condemn the horrific attacks against Israel by Hamas. There is no justification for this terrorism, and my heart goes out to the innocent civilians suffering from this senseless violence,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said.

But some, particularly among the Squad — who were slower to respond to the situation — have called for de-escalation by both sides.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said in a statement that she “condem[ed] Hamas’ attack in the strongest possible terms,” calling for “an immediate ceasefire and de-escalation.”

“I strongly condemn the horrific attacks by Hamas and am saddened by the loss of precious lives, especially on the holy day of Simchat Torah,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY). “We need a way to end this deadly violence that is killing and traumatizing generations of Israelis and Palestinians alike — including the blockade of Gaza. I have been to the Gaza border and know that Israelis and Palestinians are constantly living in fear. We must work harder to ensure peace in the region.”

In the early hours of the attack, the U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs released a statement on social media — which has since been deleted — urging “all sides to refrain from violence and retaliatory attacks” and stating that “terror and violence solve nothing. The post was met with prompt condemnation from Republican lawmakers, and disavowed by the State Department.

Some Republicans have also sought to point blame for the attack on the Biden administration, alleging that the administration’s recent hostage deal with Iran, which released $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds, had contributed to or even directly funded the attack. They’ve also highlighted reports of U.S. weapons left in Afghanistan making their way to Gaza.

“These attacks also underscore the dangers of a continued weak-kneed U.S. approach to Iran. Hamas, the PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad], and Hezbollah rely on their Iranian patron to threaten Israel. This is the sort of outcome that is encouraged by the facilitation of the flow of cash to Iran as was recently done with $6 billion that was released by the Biden Administration,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-ID) said in a statement. “These attacks reinforce the need for a more aggressive U.S.-Iran policy that more effectively deprives the regime and its proxies of resources.

The administration has responded forcefully to these allegations, claiming that none of the funds released as part of the deal have yet been expended.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are also concerned that the attack could imperil the administration’s efforts to broker peace between Saudi Arabia and Israel, which had become increasingly public in recent months.

“I am convinced that this unprecedented and brutal attack by Hamas is not only supported by Iran, it was designed to stop peace efforts between Saudi Arabia and Israel,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said in a statement. “A peace agreement between those two nations would be a nightmare for Iran and Hamas.”

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