The next House speaker, whoever it ends up being, won’t get much of a legislative honeymoon.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) seemed to have the best shot at taking over the open role, which is second in line of presidential succession behind Vice President Kamala Harris. Scalise on Oct. 11 secured support from a majority of House Republicans. In a 113-99 secret ballot vote, the House Republican Conference rejected Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump.
But Scalise’s reasons for optimism were short-lived. House Republicans delayed a vote by the full House, signaling that Scalise was still working to win the support of Jordan backers. Becoming speaker requires a majority vote in the full, narrowly divided House, where Republicans will have a 222-213 edge once a pair of seats are filled in early November special elections.
Scalise holdouts included Jordan loyalists like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO). Jordan is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, a panel likely to handle an eventual impeachment resolution against President Joe Biden stemming from past business practices of his son, Hunter Biden.
By the evening of Oct. 12, it was clear Scalise wouldn’t be able to round up the necessary votes. Several House Republicans were already traveling back to their districts by that time, and Scalise pulled out of contention after a hastily convened GOP Conference meeting.
So, the speaker’s race immediately began again, without a clear signal of who would eventually claim the prize. But it won’t be easy for whoever emerges as speaker. They will enter the position at a fraught time in U.S. domestic politics and amid a series of international crises. Under former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the GOP-run House, Democratic majority Senate, and President Joe Biden could only agree to fund the federal government through Nov. 17. That’s for the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1 and runs through Sept. 30, 2024.
McCarthy’s speakership fell after nine months over his unwillingness — in the view of eight House Republicans who voted to remove him — to push aggressively for federal spending cuts. So, the next Republican speaker will need to watch their right flank.
Then there’s the stormy international front. Barbaric Hamas attacks in Israel, with more than 1,200 deaths and 2,600 wounded, have spurred a U.S. offer of weapons in the Jewish state’s looming war to wipe out Hamas in the Gaza Strip. And funding for the Israel weapons package will run through Congress. Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine shows little sign of resolution. While aid to Israel in its time of need enjoys strong bipartisan congressional support, Biden’s requests for further military assistance face resistance from a vocal minority of isolationist Republicans.
Combined Israel-Ukraine Aid Package?
The American effort to supply Israel with new military assistance is already taking shape. In the days after the Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians, which took place on a Jewish festival holiday and over Shabbat, Biden administration officials briefed Congress on specific weapons the ally is seeking from the United States. Specific weapons systems include precision-guided munitions and more interceptors for the Iron Dome air defense system.
Whatever the specifics of the weapons package, it needs to be issued with dispatch, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wrote in an Oct. 9 Wall Street Journal op-ed.
“As we have seen in Ukraine, failure to act decisively can prolong the conflict and compound the costs of war. Can anyone seriously argue we shouldn’t have provided Ukraine with Javelins, Stingers, Himars, tanks and air defenses sooner?” McConnell wrote. “Israel’s requirements in this war will be different from Ukraine’s. The deployment of the USS Ford carrier strike to the eastern Mediterranean and announcement of munitions transfers to Israel are good first steps.”
McConnell was also part of a bipartisan call warning the Biden administration against pressuring Israel to shut down military operations before achieving the military’s goal of eliminating the Hamas threat in the Gaza Strip.
“Calls for de-escalation, even if well-meaning, are premature; Israel needs the military latitude to re-establish deterrence and root out the nodes of terrorism. Israel did not ask America to de-escalate on September 12, 2001,” Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-MA) posted on X.
A Magic Legislative Elixir?
The Biden administration is preparing a supplemental funding request to Congress, which includes monetary aid for Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan amid a threat from China looming over it, and to bolster security along the U.S.-Mexico border.
That combination, or a similar one, could make a broader package palatable to lawmakers who may not like individual parts. For instance, Senate Republicans were already insisting that funding for border security would need to be included in any Ukraine package, arguing it could help ease passage in the House. Both funding for Ukraine aid and the border were nixed from the temporary spending bill enacted on Sept. 30.
There’s lingering resistance from House Republicans opposed to more Ukraine funding. These lawmakers argue that any Israeli aid should ride separately rather than get bogged down by the more complicated Ukraine debate.
With details to be worked out, a lot of hard negotiations are ahead for the next House speaker.