The Biden administration and congressional Democrats are weighing tying legislation for additional military support for Israel with military assistance for Ukraine, setting up a showdown with congressional Republicans opposed to helping Ukraine amid the tumult in the speaker-less chamber.
The looming fight over tying military aid for Israel and Ukraine together – along with Taiwan and potentially border funding – is the latest in a series of complicated questions a new speaker will have to navigate as the narrow Republican majority grapples with its future. It comes as interim House Speaker Patrick McHenry maintains his role is limited to help Israel in the midst of war, meaning the House can’t pass any legislation until a new speaker is chosen.
The White House has yet to formalize a request for additional aid to Israel – it is expediting weapons already purchased first – but briefers on a call with lawmakers Sunday night underscored that there would be an eventual need as Israel burns through munitions. On a Senate briefing Sunday evening, Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, and others proposed packaging Ukraine aid and Israel aid together with the expectation that conversation will likely intensify over the next several days ahead of the Senate’s return next week, one person familiar told CNN.
While congressional aides and US officials make clear that Israel is not in danger of running out of equipment in the near term like Ukraine, the thinking is that tying funding for each country together could help get Ukraine aid across the finish line as support has dwindled among House Republicans in recent months.
There is also some discussion of including border security funding and more funding for Taiwan in an eventual package as there is growing uncertainty over how future supplemental packages would fare in the GOP-controlled House.
“There’s discussion about putting Israeli funding with Ukraine funding, maybe Taiwan funding and finally border security funding. To me that would be a good package,” said House Foreign Affairs Chairman Mike McCaul, a Texas Republican who has been a vocal supporter in the conference for continuing to support Ukraine.
It’s an open question if hardliners in the House – who have been vehemently opposed to giving more to Ukraine – would back that effort, however. It’s also not clear if a future speaker – knowing the bitter divide over the issue of Ukraine – would be willing to move a joint package on the House floor.
“Absolutely not,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican who has been steadfastly opposed to providing Ukraine with any additional funding. “They shouldn’t be tied together. I will not vote to fund Ukraine.”
But even some House Republicans who support providing Ukraine with additional aid said Monday they had concerns with pairing a supplemental for Israel with Ukraine, given the opposition inside their conference, including Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, who co-chairs the Congressional Ukraine Caucus.
“You know, right now, probably not,” said Diaz-Balart, who is a House appropriator. “There’s still quite a bit of money left for Ukraine. There will be a moment when we have to revisit that. But I think that there’s potentially going to be a lot more urgency for the situation in Israel.”
The question now is looming large over a massively unpredictable speaker’s race that all signs suggest could drag out for days or weeks. On Monday, House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, who’s running for the position, told CNN that he plans to bring forward a resolution to show support for Israel, but it’s not clear how he would handle a move to bundle Ukraine and Israel military aid.
On Monday night, House Republicans gathered for a conference meeting – the first since McCarthy announced he wouldn’t seek another term as speaker – in order to discuss next steps in the leadership race. But the question of how to support Israel in uncertain times remained a key question.
McHenry has made clear to colleagues that his role is narrow and is only intended to help elect the next speaker of the House. Even as some have raised questions about whether the North Carolina Republican could put a resolution vowing support for Israel on the floor, McHenry has maintained that is not in the scope of his limited role. That means that the only way to move more funding for Israel is to elect a new speaker, something that remains in flux as neither Majority Leader Steve Scalise nor Jordan has locked down the votes they need to secure the gavel.
Further complicating the dynamics, former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy wouldn’t rule out if he’d seek the speakership again if the conference failed to rally around one candidate.
“I’m going to allow (the) conference to do their work,” McCarthy said repeatedly on Monday when pressed if he’d get in the race.
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said at a conference in Washington on Monday that additional funding from Congress would be required for the Defense Department to provide munitions to Israel at the same time the US is supporting Ukraine. Wormuth would not say whether the US would be providing Israel with additional Iron Dome systems, but that she expected the US would “lean forward in support of Israel” in the same way the US has for Ukraine.
“To be able to increase our capacity … to expand production, and then to also pay for the munitions themselves, we need additional support from Congress,” Wormuth said. “We’re obviously at the early stage of the process of evaluating our ability to support what the IDF needs, and just as we have with Ukraine, we’re going to weigh obviously the impacts of requests to our readiness.”
Israel is requesting precision guided bombs and additional Iron Dome interceptors from the US, according to an Israeli military official and a US defense official. The Israeli official said the request to the Americans includes Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs, a kit that turns an unguided “dumb” bomb into a precision “smart” weapon. Israel has used precision guided bombs to strike targets in Gaza from the air.
Administration officials told lawmakers in the Sunday briefings they are already expediting existing contracts for weapons Israel has purchased to give them a boost in the near term. The administration also can use the presidential drawdown authority to provide additional weapons to Israel, though it would need Congress to increase the amount of money in the fund, officials said.