Acting speaker suggests Congress might aid Israel before House gets new leader

Acting speaker suggests Congress might aid Israel before House gets new leader

Acting Speaker Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) opened the door to possible U.S. government action to help Israel following weekend terror attacks — even before the paralyzed House settles on a leader.

“If we need to act as a government, we will,” McHenry said in response to a question from POLITICO on the timetable for aiding Israel attacks by Hamas that have killed hundreds on both sides of the fighting.

Top military and diplomatic officials have raised urgent concerns in recent days that chaos in the House could undermine efforts to aid Israel, and whether its members could act in the absence of a speaker remains an untested question. As acting speaker, McHenry’s powers are strictly limited — but the lack of precedent for his predicament could give him and other leaders in Congress room to test the boundaries of the role.

Democrats on the House Rules Committee argued last week that McHenry’s role gives him “no authority other than taking steps necessary and appropriate to further the election of a new Speaker.” That case was made before the attack on Israel, however; since the current Middle East attacks began, both parties have raced to show that the U.S. has Israel’s back.

Meanwhile, the speaker contest shows little indication of a quick resolution as House Majority Leader Steve Scalise and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) prepare to make their pitches to GOP colleagues later Tuesday and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s allies vow to try to prolong the balloting.

Scalise said Israel “must defend themselves as their citizens are slaughtered by Hamas terrorists. They have our full support and our prayers” in a weekend post. Jordan said the U.S. “must give Israel the time, space, and resources they need to destroy Hamas.”

McCarthy, who did not rule out a return to his former post amid the crisis, said Monday that Congress “cannot do anything without electing” a speaker. He added that U.S. assistance must not be “just the replenishment of the Iron Dome [missile defense system]. We want to make sure we destroy Hamas, we kill Hamas.”

In the interim, the leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee — Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) — introduced a resolution on Tuesday offering support for Israel with bipartisan backing from 390 colleagues.

Among the provisions, the resolution states that the U.S. “stands with Israel as it defends itself against the barbaric war launched by Hamas and other terrorists,” “condemns Iran’s support for terrorist groups and proxies” and “stands ready to assist Israel with emergency resupply and other security, diplomatic, and intelligence support.”

Other rank-and-file Republicans say the crisis shows the need for immediate action for their party to pick a speaker who can unite Congress behind providing additional aid to Israel.

“I need a speaker who could bring 218 people together to make sure that we have Israel’s back in this fight,” Rep. Zach Nunn (R-Iowa) told POLITICO.

Added Nunn, who has teamed up with Rep. Don Davis (D-N.C.) on a bipartisan resolution expressing support for Israel: “At this point, we know who the candidates are. The conference needs to come together and we need to elect a speaker and get down to doing the people’s business.”

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