Lawmakers want to help Israel, but political chaos could slow it down

At the same time, Congress also has to grapple with a looming government shutdown when a funding patch expires Nov. 17.

A Defense Department official, who was granted anonymity to discuss a rapidly evolving issue, said there were no immediate plans to try to send Israel more weapons or military equipment, but that the situation is in its early stages.

Lawmakers from both parties made clear that Congress is eager to find ways to help quickly — in stark contrast to Ukraine aid, which has divided the Republican Party and played a role in Washington’s flirtation with a government shutdown and the speaker’s ouster last week.

“I strongly support robust U.S. security assistance to Israel — because Israel always needs to be ready and able to fight back at any time. Israel has a right to defend itself and the United States stands with our friend and ally,” House Foreign Affairs Chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said in a statement.

As the attacks from Hamas unfolded, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed to use his sway to ensure Israel has what it needs.

New Senate Foreign Relations Chair Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said he is “committed to ensuring that Israel has what it needs to defend itself and its citizens, today and every day.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, among the most vocal GOP proponents of continued Ukraine aid, linked it to aid for Israel. He said that as the attack unfolded, a perception of waning U.S. support for either nation would spur aggression.

“Failure to support friends under attack — in Kyiv or Tel Aviv — will only embolden the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism and fellow authoritarians who watch closely for a weakening of American leadership and Western solidarity,” McConnell said in a statement.

Likewise, former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who said that as a Reagan Republican, he backed the “higher level principle” to “help democracies in tough neighborhoods or alongside tough neighbors defend themselves” — whether that means Israel, Ukraine or Taiwan.

Asked about what waning political support for Ukraine aid means for Israel, Esper told Fox News, “I don’t think these are either-or choices, and I’m confident the Pentagon will come to Israel’s aid.”

Yet congressional dysfunction is going to preempt any rapid response from Congress. While the Senate is on recess next week, the House can’t conduct business until a new speaker is elected following Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) ouster from the post this week.

House Republicans will meet next week to decide between two candidates for speaker, Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan of Ohio.

Two of the candidates for House speaker immediately voiced support of Israel on social media.

“America stands with Israel today and every day,” Jordan said in a post. “It must defend itself against these Hamas terrorists. We will continue to pray for our great ally and its citizens.”

“Make no mistake: The United States will always stand with Israel, our greatest ally in the Middle East,” Scalise said in a post. “They must defend themselves as their citizens are slaughtered by Hamas terrorists. They have our full support and our prayers.”

Congress is also far from a deal on full-year spending, and with it, aid for Israel. One senior House appropriator, Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), called on Congress to “move swiftly to enact the House-passed approps bills, that together include billions in security aid for Israel.”

Washington last year approved $3.3 billion in security assistance for Israel, which is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II.

After the May 2021 Gaza war, Congress agreed to $500 million to restock Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system — along with $72.5 million for U.S.-Israel counter-drone and anti-tunneling cooperation and $6 million for a new joint cybersecurity program. The effort overcame resistance from a small segment of House progressives.

Michael Herzog, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., said he was confident in America’s continued backing.

“To the extent that we need support, we will not hesitate to ask for it. I am confident that the administration and Congress will support Israel in this difficult moment,” Herzog told CNN.

Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), who announced Saturday he wouldn’t pursue the gavel, argued Republicans need to coalesce around a speaker to get the House working again and “push back” on the administration.

“The Republican party has been always supportive of Israel, and we’ll continue to be so, but we have to get our leadership put back in place so the Republican conference can move the Congress forward,” Hern said on Fox News.

House Democrats, meanwhile, are broadly supportive of Israel and would likely be willing to consider further aid to the American ally. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries on Saturday called the attack on Israel “despicable.”

“America stands firmly and unequivocally with Israel. We will strongly support Israel’s right to defend herself,” Jeffries said in a statement.

There is a wing of vocal critics among House Democrats on Israel, notably including members of the so-called squad. While many congressional lawmakers quickly reacted to the attack Saturday morning, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) were among those who did not immediately offer a statement.

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