Republican lawmakers are under mounting pressure to settle on a candidate to replace Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House of Representatives this week after the worst attack on Israel in five decades.
A senior Biden administration official indicated to reporters Saturday that the paralysis in the House could complicate U.S. efforts to support Israel.
“There probably is a role for Congress here, and without a speaker of the House, that is a unique situation we’re going to have to work through,” the official said in a telephone briefing.
McCarthy, of California, was ousted by conservative Republicans last week, the first time a House speaker was deposed in a no-confidence vote in U.S. history.
GOP lawmakers have struggled to coalesce around a replacement for McCarthy. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan of Ohio are viewed as the top candidates.
Jordan and Scalise have voiced unequivocal support for Israel in the wake of the devastating weekend surprise attack by the militant group Hamas on towns that border the Gaza Strip.
McCarthy told Fox News on Saturday that there is nothing the House can do until the body elects a speaker: “I don’t know if that happens quickly,” McCarthy said.
House Republicans are expected to vote for a candidate to replace McCarthy on Wednesday morning. The GOP has a conference meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday and a candidate forum at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., called on Republicans to settle on a candidate who can win 217 votes in the closely divided House so lawmakers can move forward with support for Israel.
Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the decision to oust McCarthy has sent a “dangerous” message to U.S. adversaries around the world.
“It wasn’t my idea to oust the speaker,” McCaul, R-Texas, told CNN in an interview that aired Sunday.
“I look at the world and all the threats that are out there, and what kind of message are we sending to our adversaries when we can’t govern, when we’re dysfunctional, when we don’t even have a speaker of the House,” McCaul said.
The Hamas offensive is the deadliest attack on Israel since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
More than 700 Israelis died in attacks and more than 100 soldiers and civilians have been taken hostage. Israel has formally declared war on Hamas, laid siege to Gaza and launched retaliatory strikes that have killed at least 560 Palestinians.
Jordan rebuffed any calls for Israel to demonstrate restraint in response to Hamas’ offensive. The congressman from Ohio told Fox News in an interview that aired on Sunday the U.S. should give Israel “what they need to win.”
Scalise said in a social media post Saturday that Israel has the full support of the U.S.: “They must defend themselves as their citizens are slaughtered by Hamas terrorists.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, when asked about the disarray in Congress, told NBC News Sunday the U.S. has a standing agreement with Israel to supply $3.8 billion in security assistance annually.
“There’s a tremendous amount of aid and assistance already in the pipeline,” Blinken said. The secretary of state said Israel has made specific requests for additional assistance, but he did not go into detail.
Still, Blinken said, it is important for both houses of Congress to clearly demonstrate their support for Israel: “That’s something we want to see, and we hope that that happens quickly,” he said.
The U.S. is deploying the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford and several other warships to the Eastern Mediterranean and bolstering several squadrons of warplanes to act as a deterrent in the region, according to the Pentagon.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Sunday the U.S. will provide additional military assistance to the Israel Defense Forces, including munitions. This first tranche of assistance is on the way and expected to arrive in Israel in the coming days, Austin said in a statement.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican who led the ouster of McCarthy, rejected accusations that his decision to depose the speaker has jeopardized U.S. national security.
“I don’t think that other countries think about Kevin McCarthy’s speakership quite as much as Kevin McCarthy does,” Gaetz told NBC News in an interview that aired Sunday.
Gaetz said House Republicans will coalesce around Scalise or Jordan this week: “I reject the premise that this is going to drag on for weeks,” he said.