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House turmoil threatens US response to attack in Israel
With a speaker-less House and the Senate in recess, the White House has worked overtime to demonstrate both in word and deed US solidarity with Israel—America’s closest ally in the Middle East.
House Democrats met in the US Capitol this evening to renominate HAKEEM JEFFRIES for speaker. And although the New York Democrat won’t be elected to the top post under the GOP-controlled chamber, the nomination represented a prosaic formality at a time when chaos reigns among House Republicans and on the world stage.
Former Speaker KEVIN McCARTHY (R-Calif.) last week was booted from his position by eight House conservatives and the body has been paralyzed since. House Majority Leader STEVE SCALISE (R-La.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman JIM JORDAN (R-Ohio) will seek their conference’s nomination for the speaker’s gavel on Wednesday with both being nowhere close to the requisite 217 votes to be elected to the position.
In other words: We could see a sequel unfold over the next few days of the January debacle when McCarthy endured 15 ballots and cut the very deals that ultimately led to his demise.
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There’s never really an ideal time for this sort of disorder in Congress. But it’s especially inopportune in the aftermath of the unprecedented invasion last weekend of Hamas terrorists across Israel that killed hundreds of Israelis at a local music festival and in a communal settlement in the southern region of the country. The death toll also includes women and children who were raped and then killed. At least two members of Congress—Sen. CORY BOOKER (D-N.J.) and Rep. DAN GOLDMAN (D-N.Y.)—were in the country at the time of Hamas’s incursion. Embattled Prime Minister BENJAMIN NETANYAHU of Israel declared his nation at war after the surprise attack.
While House Republicans try to figure their shit out and the Senate is in recess until next week, the White House has worked overtime to demonstrate both in word and deed US solidarity with Israel—America’s closest ally in the Middle East.
President JOE BIDEN on Tuesday delivered his second speech on the war in three days and expressed visible outrage at what he described as an “act of sheer evil” by Hamas that has left at least 14 Americans among the casualties. (Biden confirmed Americans are among the hostages being held by the terrorist organization whom he compared to ISIS, the Islamic fundamentalist group that gained prominence in 2014.)
The president acknowledged that the terrorism that the Jewish people have endured isn’t new and said the Department of Homeland Security and FBI are working together to protect Jewish communities stateside.
Prior to the speech, Biden had his third call with Netanyahu since the weekend and told the leader that if the US experienced what Israel is experiencing, the American response would be “swift, decisive, and overwhelming.”
But while Biden reiterated his belief that Israel had a right to defend itself, it has a democratic responsibility to do so according to the rule of law—including not purposefully targeting civilians.
“Let there be no doubt: The United States has Israel’s back,” Biden said during his speech. “We will make sure the Jewish and democratic State of Israel can defend itself today, tomorrow, as we always have. It’s as simple as that.”
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The US has surged additional military systems, including ammunition and interceptors to replenish the Iron Dome, the Israeli air defense system. And the US has enhanced its military force posture in the region to strengthen deterrence from bad actors.
“Let me say again to any country, any organization, anyone thinking of taking advantage of the situation,” Biden said. I have one word: Don’t. Our hearts may be broken but our resolve is clear.”
Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN will travel to Israel and Jordan on Wednesday through Friday to meet with senior officials about the situation on the ground and reiterate his condolences for the victims of the attacks, which he will condemn in the strongest terms. Blinken is also expected to discuss how the US can support Israel in the fight against the attacks.
When the House elects its next speaker, one of the body’s first orders of legislative business will be to pass a resolution standing with Israel against the war launched by Hamas.
“Israel is responding to the Hamas terror organization’s unprecedented attack,” Rep. GREGORY MEEKS (D-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement. “The bipartisan resolution will demonstrate this is one issue in which the US House of Representatives is united, and I expect it to pass the House with broad bipartisan support.” (House progressives, including Rep. RASHIDA TLAIB (D-Mich.), the only Palestinian American member of Congress, usually vote against these pro-Israeli measures.)
The House will receive a classified member briefing on Israel Wednesday morning by three senior officials from the Departments of State and Defense and the Office of National Intelligence.
When the Senate clocks back in next week, Republicans are expected to claim the president enabled the attack after the administration brokered a deal with Iran to swap five wrongfully detained Americans for $6 billion in Iranian funds that had been frozen in South Korea.
Although Iran backs Hamas, US officials say there is no evidence that Iran directed or was behind the weekend attack. Not to mention, the funds weren’t dispersed to Iran and every penny is being overseen by Qatar’s central bank. And the money can only be used for humanitarian aid under the terms of the deal.
Nonetheless, Sen. TIM SCOTT (R-S.C.), the presidential candidate and top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, has called for an investigation of the $6 billion released to Iranian intermediaries and a hearing with Treasury Secretary JANET YELLEN.
Sens. JON TESTER (D-Mont.) and JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.)—two Democrats up for re-election in 2024—have called on the administration to freeze the $6 billion while the US probes how Hamas was able to pull off the surprise attack.
“As American intelligence officials continue to investigate the terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas, we should review our options to hold Iran accountable for any support they may have provided,” Tester said in a statement. “Moving forward, we need to ensure our ally Israel can defend itself from these ongoing deadly attacks against its civilians.”
The US currently is without an ambassador to Israel. President Biden nominated former Treasury Secretary and White House Chief of Staff JACK LEW to the position last month. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans to take up the nomination and advance it to a full floor vote in the coming weeks.
Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER (D-N.Y.) was in the middle of a previously scheduled bipartisan congressional delegation to China but cut the trip short in light of the tragic events unfolding in Israel.
While in Asia, Schumer met with President XI JINPING of China and raised the crisis in Israel with the authoritarian leader after the Chinese government released a tepid statement against the Hamas attacks. Xi and his foreign minister issued a stronger revision.
Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish official in American history, also spoke by phone with President ISAAC HERZOG of Israel from the US Embassy in China to reaffirm that the US stands ready to do whatever it takes to ensure Israel has the resources it needs.