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Lawmakers eager for Israel action hamstrung by House speaker impasse

Without a speaker, there’s little, if any, legislative action the House can take

“There's a lot of appetite” for quick action on Israel, says Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn. “And I know my appetite is to get a speaker today.”
“There's a lot of appetite” for quick action on Israel, says Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn. “And I know my appetite is to get a speaker today.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House lawmakers are eager to show their support for Israel following Hamas terrorist attacks over the weekend by adopting a bipartisan resolution and, possibly, moving supplemental funds.

But there’s one problem — with no House speaker in place, there’s little, if any, legislative action they can take. And lawmakers from both parties say House Republicans now have even more reason to overcome their impasse and put a leader in place.

On Wednesday, Republicans nominated Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., to be speaker, but it was not immediately clear if he has the votes to win a majority on the House floor. The first vote is expected as soon as Wednesday afternoon.

“The House of Representatives cannot function without a speaker,” Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., told reporters Wednesday. “We can’t even put a resolution on the floor, condemning what took place. Because we’re that dysfunctional.”

Some House Republicans have urged Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., who is serving as speaker pro tempore, to put on the floor a resolution offered by the leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee condemning the Hamas attacks and offering support to Israel.

But it’s an “open question” whether McHenry has the power to do so, said Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., chairman of the House select China committee and member of the House Armed Services Committee.

“The preferred course of action, obviously, is for us to meet now, select a speaker, and then go to the floor later today,” he said. “As I read it, he could, but the intent of the speaker pro tem position is not to move legislation on the floor. It is to facilitate the expeditious choosing of a new speaker.”

Prior to his nomination, Scalise said his first order of business as speaker would be to put the Israel resolution on the floor.

“The first order of business under Speaker Steve Scalise is going to be to bring a strong resolution expressing support for Israel,” he said. “We’ve got to get back to work. Today we’re going to do that.”

The Israel resolution has over 400 co-sponsors, said the resolution’s sponsor House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and is expected to be adopted easily. Afterward, lawmakers will likely turn their attention to the question of supplemental aid for Israel.

Assistance from Congress isn’t needed immediately, said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, after a classified briefing on Israel Wednesday morning. Smith cited the existing security apparatus with Israel and the executive branch’s ability to quickly move weapons overseas.

However, President Joe Biden said Tuesday that his administration would request supplemental money for Israel at some point.

And a bipartisan group of House lawmakers led by Reps. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., and Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., introduced a bill on Tuesday to provide $2 billion in emergency funding for Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.

“There’s a lot of appetite” for quick action on Israel, said Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., a member of the House Armed Services Committee. “And I know my appetite is to get a speaker today.”

Another reason for moving quickly, Gallagher added, is the potential for Israel aid to be mired in a broader debate over funding for Ukraine, border security and other partisan issues. McCaul has floated a package including aid for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and the U.S. border, but many Republicans deeply oppose that idea.

Gallagher said Israel aid should move first, and that Congress should return to other defense priorities later.

“I think there’s a lot we can do, really, in the next week or 48 hours, to send a signal that we support, in bipartisan fashion, Israel, without getting mired in the domestic politics or the geopolitics of other issues.”

Mary Ellen McIntire contributed to this report.

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