The tumultuous dynamics of the House leadership enters a renewed phase of urgency this week as a consequence of Israel’s declaration of war, triggered by unexpected hostile activities by Hamas. Kevin McCarthy’s unprecedented removal from the Speaker’s seat has plunged the House into an unfamiliar legal predicament, raising questions about the powers vested in acting Speaker Patrick McHenry as lawmakers reconvene in Washington.
The intensifying crisis in Israel exerts pressure on the House to quickly elect a replacement speaker. Within the Republican Party, the rallying cry to expedite the process resonates, largely due to the potential national security risks of an empty Speaker seat during such a crisis.
On Sunday night, senior members of the Biden administration from the State and Defense Departments held a briefing with House leadership. Anonymous sources reveal that the focus was on the swift provision of weapons and resources to Israel, in accordance with pre-existing contracts which are now being rapidly expedited.
The current budget of $100 million in Presidential Drawdown Authority, designed to facilitate the rapid deployment of weapons from existing stocks, has been marked for immediate intervention. However, extra funds from Congress might be required, officials warned lawmakers.
Yet, officials on Saturday expressed uncertainty about what could be mobilized without a permanent Speaker. The acting Speaker, Patrick McHenry’s powers are limited and it remains ambiguous whether he can partake in intelligence briefings about Israel’s crisis.
Requests for classified briefings have been made by several lawmakers who are part of national security and appropriations committees. It is anticipated these briefings will commence soon.
Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries spoke with CNN’s Dana Bash on State of The Union and explained his understanding that the Biden administration can make decisions regarding aid to Israel without waiting for Congress, urging immediate action.
Outlining the probable avenues for aid, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Mike McCaul told Bash that the president could utilize $3.3 billion in foreign military financing that has already been allocated.
Slamming his Republican peers, ousted speaker McCarthy emphasized the gravity of leaving the speaker’s chair unoccupied, pointing to potential national security implications.
McCarthy confirmed, following his removal last week, that he would not make another bid for speakership, making way for House Majority Leader Steve Scalise and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, both of whom have hinted at their interest in succeeding him. Former President Trump has shown support for Jordan’s potential candidacy.
Scheduled elections within the Republican Party will set the stage for Scalise and Jordan to present their cases to their colleagues on the upcoming funding bill for the government, with Jordan vowing to prioritize a resolution showing support for Israel.
As the leadership tussle continues, the actual timeline for the Speaker’s vote hangs in the balance, depending on whether Scalise or Jordan can rally the support of their fellow GOP law-makers who come from more moderate districts.
Ultimately, McCaul voiced the urgency of electing a speaker this week, to expedite decisions such as supporting Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. Regardless of the leadership conundrum, McCaul added that the House should unequivocally condemn Hamas and signal this to the world, sooner rather than later.