Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are pushing for more assistance to Israel in the aftermath of an unprecedented attack by Hamas, but the path for further aid is complicated as the House enters a second week without an elected Speaker.
Biden administration officials say they’re maintaining constant contact with Israel to determine the need for additional aid, on top of the more than $3 billion in defense assistance provided annually to the Middle Eastern country.
The Biden administration has already sent munitions to Israel after more than 1,000 were killed in the attack this past weekend. But some lawmakers say more help is likely needed as Israel goes into its counterattack.
President Biden said Tuesday that he would ask Congress when they return to Washington “to take urgent action to fund the national security requirements of our critical partners.” The White House is expected to ask Congress to pair new aid for Israel with funding for Ukraine, with a $24 billion supplemental request still sitting with lawmakers.
But administration officials have also indicated that existing authorities for funds for Israel allow the U.S. to respond.
The president spoke nearly four days after Hamas launched its surprise assault on Israel. More than 1,000 people have been killed in Israel, and the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza reports more than 560 people have been killed in Israeli retaliatory attacks.
The war comes little more than two years after an 11-day fight between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza strip, which led to the deaths of more than 200 Palestinians and a dozen Israelis.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), chairman of the subcommittee that oversees annual funding for the State Department, on Monday recalled the bipartisan push that led to lawmakers approving $1 billion to help Israel, a key ally, replenish its defenses in 2021.
“And that was nothing compared to what Israel is about to have to go through,” Diaz-Balart said.
“I think this is going to be long. It’s gonna be very, very painful, and so I think Israel is going to need help,” he told The Hill.
Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) introduced legislation Tuesday calling for $2 billion in funding to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome, which intercepts rocket fire.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) floated the idea of a larger package that would include aid for Israel along with further assistance for Ukraine, after a bipartisan push for more additional assistance fell apart amid pushback from House conservatives.
“I think there’s discussion about putting Israeli funding with Ukraine funding, maybe Taiwan funding and finally border security funding. To me, that would be a good package,” he told reporters later Monday.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said the administration will be pressing for aid for Israel and Ukraine when pressed about McCaul’s comments during a press briefing Tuesday. But he didn’t say whether the White House would ask for a joint package for both.
“The president was very clear today that we will be making a request to the Congress, and it will include a request for funding for support to Israel,” he said. “And he has also been equally clear we are going to renew our request to the Congress for aid to Ukraine.”
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) told reporters Tuesday that lawmakers are waiting for the administration to present its request. At the same time, some Democrats are also signaling openness to a bigger package that links aid for Ukraine and Israel, along with measures addressing border security.
“What I think needs to happen is we need to look holistically at all of the threats that America faces, and it is time for a global security supplemental,” Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) said. “We have very urgent Ukraine needs. We have needs to support Israel. We have to look at the issues and the needs of the border — and we don’t have much time to do that.”
But the idea of such a package has met opposition from some House Republicans, more of whom have voted against Ukraine aid in recent months amid scrutiny over the continued assistance.
“They shouldn’t be tied together,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) told reporters this week. “I will not vote to fund Ukraine. Absolutely not. Israel is totally separate.”
At least two progressive Democrats have also called for ending aid to Israel, Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) who is Palestinian American, and Cori Bush (D-Mo.), but have drawn rebuke from their colleagues.
Some supporters of the Ukraine aid also are hopeful Congress will be able to pass another round of relief, given the broad bipartisan support in both chambers.
But uncertainty shrouds the road ahead, as the House has been in limbo while Republicans prepare for an internal election for a new Speaker.
“That’s why it’s so dangerous to not have a Speaker in place when you’re living in such a dangerous world right now,” McCaul said Monday, telling reporters that members “can’t do anything in the House right now without a Speaker.”
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was ousted as Speaker a week ago, after a group of 8 hard-line conservatives forced a vote to vacate the chair, with Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) was named Speaker pro tempore shortly after.
The conference is expected to vote in the days ahead on a new leader, but there’s not yet a clear front-runner in the race — and not everyone is confident the House will have its next Speaker by the week’s end.
There’s already been some mumblings about temporarily affording power to McHenry in order for the House to take certain action, as pressure mounts on the House amid the ongoing threats abroad and a mid-November deadline to avert a shutdown creeps closer.
Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio) called for McHenry to be given powers “with the ability to make decisions to keep the country moving.”
“At some point, you’re gonna have to deal with this, and we got to deal with it in a way that makes sense and moves it forward,” he told reporters.