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Republicans’ failure to select a new Speaker of the House risks complicating White House efforts to send billions of dollars in extra US military aid to Israel and Ukraine, as lawmakers brace for a third week of chaos on Capitol Hill.
Jake Sullivan, Joe Biden’s national security adviser, said at the weekend that the US president had “made clear” he would ask lawmakers to endorse a new package of funding for Ukraine and Israel.
Sullivan told CBS’s Face the Nation programme on Sunday to “expect intensive engagement with Congress this very week, as we work on such a package and seek to secure bipartisan support”. The value of the proposed package would be “significantly higher” than $2bn, he said.
But Republicans and Democrats alike acknowledge that chronic dysfunction and sharp divisions on Capitol Hill stand in the way of that plan, as the lower chamber of Congress has been without a Speaker for nearly two weeks.
At the same time, many House Republicans have rejected calls for further aid to Kyiv, raising the question of whether they will agree to more money for Ukraine when it is tied to additional funds for Israel.
The White House has reportedly floated providing additional funding for Taiwan and securing the US-Mexico frontier to sweeten the deal for conservative House Republicans who have called on Biden to take a tougher stance on China and border security.
Yet no package can be considered until the House of Representatives elects a new leader. By late on Sunday lawmakers looked no closer to finding a solution to the impasse.
“This really is the tragedy,” said Mike Turner, the Republican congressman from Ohio and chair of the House select committee on intelligence. Turner called the ousting of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy earlier this month a “very bad deal for America”.
Since McCarthy’s removal, House Republicans have failed several times to coalesce around a new leader. The party selected its latest nominee, Ohio congressman Jim Jordan, in a secret ballot on Friday.
But by some counts, as many as 55 House Republicans remain opposed to Jordan’s candidacy, making his election in a vote on the floor of the House virtually impossible. Any Speaker must be elected by a simple majority of the chamber.
Because Republicans control the lower chamber of Congress by a razor-thin margin, and Democrats have rejected Jordan as an “extremist extraordinaire”, he cannot afford to lose more than a handful of votes from his own side.
Still, Jordan and his allies are understood to be targeting a vote on the House floor as soon as Tuesday.
On Sunday, McCarthy, who has endorsed Jordan, expressed confidence that he would eventually get the 217 votes required to seize the Speaker’s gavel.
“At the end of the day, Jim can get there,” McCarthy told Fox News. “And I’m doing everything I can to help him be able to become Speaker.”
Others were more sceptical. Dan Crenshaw, a Republican congressman from Texas, is also supporting Jordan. But when asked about the Ohio congressman’s chances on Sunday, he told CNN: “Nothing is impossible, but it’s going to be really, really difficult, based on what I’m hearing.”
Turner, another Jordan backer, said he would “prefer there to be a Republican solution”. But he left the door open to working with Democrats as a last resort, saying: “If there is a need . . . then I think obviously there will be a deal we’ll have to [do].”
Hakeem Jeffries, the senior House Democrat, told NBC News on Sunday that he had held “informal conversations” about forming a governing coalition with Republicans.
Israel already receives $3.8bn a year in funding from the US, under a 10-year deal that lasts through 2028. But the Pentagon expects the country will need support behind what is already in that package, including additional interceptors for its Iron Dome missile defence system.
Speaking to reporters in Tel Aviv after meeting Israeli officials on Sunday, Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate majority leader, made clear he would not wait on the House to press ahead with a sweeping security package “in the next few weeks”. Any bill would need to be passed by both chambers of Congress before being signed into law by Biden.
“We are not waiting for the House, plain and simple. That would be foolish,” Schumer said.
“But we believe that if we put together a strong package, and pass it with an overwhelming, strong, bipartisan majority, it will put pressure on the House, one way or another, to act.”
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