Military Aid Could Galvanize Congressional Unity on Spending Measures
It’s possible the cure for chaos is more chaos. That may be the case when the deadly attack over the weekend by Hamas on Israel stirs a chaotic Congress into action.
The attack, which surprised Israeli security officials, has drawn international condemnation for its impact on civilians who were bombed, kidnapped and terrorized. President Biden joined in the condemnation and agreed to move a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group and fighter squadrons into the region to deter escalation by third parties, while calling on Congress to approve specific Israeli military requests.
Majority House Republicans have experienced trouble mustering a consensus among themselves on a defense spending bill, along with 11 other appropriations before November 17 when stopgap spending authority expires. Hamas may have unintentionally given House leaders the impetus to get organized and get voting.
First, the House has to elect a new speaker before anything can happen. House members return to the Capitol today and are scheduled to vote tomorrow. Then whoever gets the gavel will need to navigate how to give support to Israel when a pocket of House Republicans oppose more aid to Ukraine.
Bipartisan Deal May Gain Steam
A potential bipartisan deal already was wafting in the Capitol hallways of tying more Ukrainian aid to border security provisions in hope that such a combination could produce a compromise attractive enough to overcome Freedom Caucus demands to make deep spending cuts. Aid to embattled Israel could make a potential compromise even more attractive, especially since Hamas is holding U.S. citizens as hostages and killed at least 11 Americans.
Russia’s reaction to the Hamas attack may make it awkward for some conservative House Republicans, sometimes referred to as the pro-Putin caucus, to object to more foreign military aid. Russia stopped short of condemning the surprise Hamas attack on hundreds of civilians while blaming the West for causing a “spiral of violence” in the Middle East. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy took the offensive by comparing the Hamas attack on civilians to Russia’s invasion.
There were some early indications Hamas undertook its attack with Iranian-supplied weapons and possibly the tacit support of Iran and its emerging security axis with Russia and China.
McCarthy Assumes Leadership Role
In the absence of a speaker or a clear Republican spokesman, former Speaker Kevin McCarthy took on the role of de facto GOP leader. “Now is the time for action” to support Israel and return U.S. hostages seized by Hamas, he said. “Whether I’m speaker or not… I can lead in any position I’m in.” Even though he foreswore seeking the speakership again, he left the door open to return if asked.
McCarthy also took the liberty of noting the United States was prepared to respond because of the stopgap funding measure he helped engineer that led to his removal. Meanwhile, Former President Donald Trump blamed Biden’s Iran policy for enabling the Hamas attack.
If the attack on Israel does compel quick action on defense spending, the question remains whether it can also spur timely action and a spirit of compromise on other appropriations or another stopgap spending measure. All this will unfold as the 2024 presidential campaign heats up with Iowa GOP caucuses on January 15.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared war on Hamas and called for a national unity government to wage it. He may hope for a unified front from his largest ally, though all signs indicate neither of the two declared GOP candidates for House speaker have the votes to win the job.
Resolve Instead of Dysfunction
The New York Times editorialized, “For Republicans in Congress, this is an occasion to rise above political dysfunction and stand with the Biden administration to show resolve, in support of Israel and for peace and stability in the region. Mr. Biden has assured Israel of America’s total support, but America’s fractured politics remain an obstacle.”
“This is an occasion to rise above political dysfunction and to show resolve.”
If a speaker stalemate persists, Democrats could push for a bipartisan speaker by aligning with moderate Republicans. Such an arrangement might make it easier to move spending bills and other legislation, but could deepen the fractures within the House Republican majority. Bipartisan congressional control would likely sidetrack some conservative political objectives, such as the Biden impeachment inquiry.
The attack on Israel also could put pressure to lift Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville’s hold on hundreds of military confirmations, including the heads of the Navy and Air Force. Tuberville is protesting a Department of Defense policy to pay travel costs for military personnel who must travel to another state to obtain an abortion. Admiral Lisa Franchetti is the first woman nominated to lead the Navy.