Updated Oct 8, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Biden's team worried House chaos might impact aid to Israel

President Biden speaks behind microphones at the White House.

President Biden speaking Saturday at the White House, said the U.S. is "ready to offer all appropriate means of support" to Israel. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Biden administration is planning to announce military aid for Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza but is concerned that the chaos among House Republicans could hamper approval of more aid, a senior U.S. official told reporters Saturday.

Why it matters: Israel is expected to go on a massive counter-offensive in Gaza that could take several weeks and likely will need additional U.S. military assistance — especially if the war expands to other arenas, such as Lebanon.

Driving the news: Biden administration officials began speaking to their Israeli counterparts Saturday morning about possible U.S. military assistance, the U.S. official told reporters. An announcement on aid could come as soon as Sunday.

  • The issue came up during calls between Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, and between Gen. Erik Kurilla, head of U.S. Central Command and Israel's military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi.
  • The U.S. official said the administration has made it clear to Israeli officials across the political spectrum that it is ready to give Israel all the help it needs, and talks on specific assistance have begun.
  • U.S. military assistance to Israel also was discussed earlier Saturday during a call between President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu, according to the White House and Netanyahu's office. The U.S. official said Biden instructed his team to give Israel all the support it needs, including intelligence sharing and other assistance.
  • "We'll make sure they have the help their citizens need and they can continue to defend themselves," Biden said in remarks delivered at the White House.
  • A senior Israeli official said Netanyahu wants emergency U.S. funding for the purchase of more interceptors for the Iron Dome missile defense system. The U.S. official said he thinks Biden is committed to providing the funding. After the war in Gaza in 2021, the U.S. provided $1 billion to restock the system.

Yes, but: The U.S. official said the White House is concerned the situation in Congress might make it more difficult to get more aid to Israel approved.

  • Most business in the House has been at a standstill since Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was ousted as speaker last week in a move led by far-right Republicans.
  • McCarthy's ouster has put Congress in uncharted territory. Scholars and lawmakers are divided on what the House can do and how much power Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) — who is not running for the job full-time — has to pass additional military assistance.
  • "Congress will definitely have a role, and without a speaker this could be a problem," the U.S. official said.
  • He added the Senate also has a role in approving aid, and called on senators to confirm Biden's nominee for ambassador to Israel, former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.
  • The U.S. official said he hopes there will be unity in the divided Congress at least around those two issues.

Between the lines: One congressional function that is relatively unaffected is work by committees. The House Intelligence Committee is trying to secure a classified briefing on the situation in Israel, a source familiar with the matter told Axios.

What they're saying: Two House Republicans who requested anonymity told Axios they are making the case that the House can act on Israel without a permanent speaker.

  • "Many, including me, believe that taking up a bill, including aid to Israel, is within the powers of a speaker pro tempore," one of the lawmakers said.
  • Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) told Axios "the actions of the 4% of GOP to vote with 100% of the Dems" to oust McCarthy "makes us weaker in the eyes of the world. The partisan divide weakens us."
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