Skip to content
Lawmakers Pledge Israel Support Amid Speakership Uncertainty
Go to my account

Lawmakers Pledge Israel Support Amid Speakership Uncertainty

While House Republicans decide on a speaker, congressional Democrats spar over Israel.

The Israeli and U.S. flags are projected against the wall of the old city of Jerusalem on July 13, 2022. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images)

American lawmakers are drafting legislation to ensure Israel has enough artillery to respond to the horrific and brutal Hamas terror attacks that killed more than 900 Israelis (as of the latest count) over the weekend.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ben Cardin said he is working on a bill to replenish missile interceptors for Israel’s Iron Dome system, provide additional funds for Israel’s defense, and explicitly reaffirm America’s commitment to the longstanding ally. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul has advocated a similar measure.

Such legislation isn’t finalized or ready for a vote, but it will likely receive broad bipartisan support when it is. The United States has provided more than $150 billion in aid to Israel since the modern state was founded in 1948, with members from both parties largely backing continued assistance. Biden administration officials reportedly told lawmakers in a briefing this week they expect Israel will need more help in what may become a protracted conflict. 

Top lawmakers believe immediate congressional action isn’t necessary because previously passed American aid is still available. That’s a good thing for Israel since any new aid, popular as it may be, will face some delays: The Senate is on recess this week, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is on a trip to China with several other senators, making a return any sooner than the pre-scheduled date of October 16 unlikely. And some lawmakers hope to tie a future funding package for Israel to more aid for Ukraine, which could complicate its path to passage.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday argued Congress also needs to couple more aid to Israel with further steps to boost defense industry production. Munitions stockpiles have dwindled as Russia’s war in Ukraine has dragged on, and critical chokepoints have emerged in supply chains, slowing down new weapons orders. Lawmakers last year emphasized the need for multiyear contract authority for weapons deals as one way to address the problem, giving manufacturers more long-term predictability that could encourage them to invest in more production.

As lawmakers hammer out the details of a potential aid package, senators are also pushing for quick confirmation of President Joe Biden’s pick to be U.S. ambassador to Israel, Jacob Lew, when the chamber comes back into session.

“I fear the situation is only going to get worse in the coming days and weeks,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat and member of the Foreign Relations panel. “This is an all hands on deck moment in history, and the administration needs a Senate-confirmed American diplomat present in every capital in the region as soon as possible.” He noted America also doesn’t have ambassadors installed in Egypt, Lebanon, Oman, or Kuwait, and the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism has been waiting to be confirmed for nearly two years.

Many ambassadors waiting for confirmation have been stalled by individual senators as a point of leverage. Sen. Rand Paul, for example, has put a hold on State Department nominees as he seeks more information on the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

House Republicans, meanwhile, feel an added sense of urgency to elect a House speaker after a handful of their members joined Democrats last week to depose former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The work needed to support Israel—drafting legislation on the staff level, building support for it, and consulting with administration officials and the Israeli government—can continue behind the scenes as the speakership race unfolds, but House members feel the chamber’s disruption sends a bad signal about American readiness.

McCarthy on Monday made a not-so-subtle attempt at placing himself in the running for the gavel, without explicitly seeking the job again. He held an event with reporters to discuss how the United States should respond to the war and signaled he would follow the will of the GOP conference if members happened to want to reelect him to provide stability.

Some Republican lawmakers closely aligned with McCarthy have been trying to build support to reinstate him. Rep. John Duarte, a California Republican, told Politico the party needs just a short window of time to place McCarthy back in the speaker’s chair and change the House rules to prevent another rebellion from the far right. But the math doesn’t appear to have changed in McCarthy’s favor—his GOP critics held firm with their complaints about him on Monday, saying it was time to move on to someone new. McCarthy doesn’t have a chance unless Democrats have gained a newfound willingness to help him by skipping the vote or voting “present.”

It’s not clear who else Republicans will ultimately rally around. Members who met Monday night to discuss the speakership race emerged without making much progress. Some lawmakers asked for a rule to force the conference to keep voting internally until it lands on a candidate with enough votes to win on the House floor—an attempt to avoid a repeat of the 15-round speakership election in January. That means almost every Republican would have to be unified around the conference’s candidate. Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole reportedly argued against such a measure. Opponents think it’s worse for the conference to allow an anonymous group of members to delay the process rather than having public votes on the House floor that make clear who the holdouts are.

Republicans are set to meet Tuesday for a candidate forum. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, has won an endorsement from former President Donald Trump. Jordan’s supporters believe his conservative credentials could help him keep hardline rabble rousers in line. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who has relationships with members across the conference, is also in the running. The Louisiana lawmaker survived serious injuries from a 2017 mass shooting targeting House Republican and is now fighting cancer.

Both Jordan and Scalise voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election results just hours after a mob of Trump’s supporters overran the Capitol building on January 6, 2021.

Democrats Clash Over Israel

Shortly after Hamas carried out its gruesome attacks on Israeli civilians over the weekend, pro-Palestinian groups and far-left activists gathered in New York City’s Times Square to rejoice. The brazenly antisemitic demonstration disgusted Rep. Ritchie Torres, a progressive Democrat from New York. 

For the Democratic-Socialists of America—a group that promoted the rally—“the occupation is Israel itself,” Torres wrote on Sunday. “Ending the occupation means ending Israel—the home of the world’s largest Jewish population. DSA has been so normalized within New York politics that it will pay no price at all for its genocidal celebration of Israel’s destruction in the wake of Israel’s deadliest terrorist attack. “

“I have been warning for years about the deep rot of antisemitism at the core of the DSA and its enablers,” he said. “There’s no denying it anymore.”

Torres has urged his Democratic colleagues to more forcefully support Israel with their statements in the wake of the attacks after some progressives, such as Palestinian-American Rep. Rashida Tlaib, have called for a ceasefire. Tlaib also said the path forward should involve “lifting the blockade, ending the occupation, and dismantling the apartheid system that creates the suffocating, dehumanizing conditions that can lead to resistance.”

For now, the issue is mostly rhetorical. But when lawmakers consider aid legislation, some progressive Democrats may renew past attempts to add conditions to the assistance, outlining more stringently how Israel can use munitions the U.S. would provide and tying it to the country’s human rights record. One past legislative proposal would have banned American aid from being used for military detention, interrogation, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children and from deploying personnel or equipment to annex land in the West Bank, among other uses. But broad bipartisan support for continued aid to Israel without conditions means language like that is unlikely to pass, for now.

Israel policy has presented some of the Democratic Party’s most intense clashes in recent years. The divide was clear during a rally Monday in Boston. Sen. Ed Markey called for deescalation, prompting boos from the crowd. Rep. Jake Auchincloss seemingly responded to Markey’s comments a few minutes later: “Deescalation is not possible when they are taking hostages,” he said. “Israel did not ask America to deescalate on September 12, 2001. We stand with Israel.”

On the Floor

The Senate is out this week. House members aim to hold a speakership election.

Of Note

Haley Wilt is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.