The House speakership drama enters a new week under increased urgency as Israel declared war Sunday following unprecedented surprise attacks by Hamas.
Kevin McCarthy’s historic ouster as speaker leaves the House in uncharted legal territory regarding what it can do under acting Speaker Patrick McHenry. When lawmakers return to Washington, they will be under pressure to elect a new speaker swiftly amid the crisis in Israel, which has prompted some calls from within the Republican Party to speed up their timeline given the national security implications of keeping the role vacant.
In a briefing with House leadership Sunday night, Biden administration briefers from the State and Defense Departments told lawmakers they are moving as quickly as they can to deliver weapons and resources to Israel that were part of already existing contracts by accelerating them, three people familiar with the call told CNN. That could help ensure that the US can provide some items as soon as possible even as there are larger questions about how quickly Congress could act on a larger aid package.
Administration officials said they will look to the current $100 million in Presidential Drawdown Authority, which allows the rapid dispatch of weapons from existing stocks, to send more aid immediately, according to a person familiar with the discussion. The drawdown will likely need additional funds from Congress, the officials told lawmakers.
As the Biden administration looks to provide additional assistance to Israel, officials were unsure Saturday about what could be accomplished without a sitting speaker. While McHenry is serving as speaker pro tempore, he has little power outside of recessing, adjourning or recognizing speaker nominations, and it’s unclear whether he can participate in intelligence briefings on the crisis in Israel.
Multiple lawmakers on national security and appropriations committees have asked for classified briefings, with indications that may happen soon after the Monday national holiday.
Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said Sunday that he had conversations with the White House and the National Security Council on Saturday, but he has not yet met with the so-called Gang of Eight – which typically includes the top leaders and heads of the intelligence committees in both parties and both chambers.
“I do anticipate that we’ll have the opportunity to have a secure briefing at some point next week,” Jeffries told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.”
Jeffries said it is his understanding that the Biden administration can make some decisions regarding aid to Israel without waiting for Congress and urged the administration to do so, adding that he expects “it will provide whatever assistance it can.”