Personal grudges and party infighting have left House Republicans with their hands tied while the rest of Washington scrambles to respond to the deadly fighting in Israel and Gaza.
Last week’s historic ousting of Representative Kevin McCarthy from the speakership revealed fraught tensions within the House GOP. That risky move to upend the House of Representatives is now looming over Republicans as lawmakers look for a way to deliver aid to Israel after Hamas militants launched one of its most deadly attacks on the country over the weekend.
House Republicans like Representatives Claudia Tenney and Jim Baird have already pushed for aid to Israel since the attacks, with Tenney outlining plans to introduce legislation to fund the Iron Dome and Baird calling on his colleagues to “stop these political games and show leadership during this international emergency.”
But, Guy Ziv, an associate professor at American University who specializes in United States foreign policy and U.S.-Israel relations, told Newsweek that the new vacancy may mean members of Congress will have to wait to send their message to America’s adversaries.
“The paralysis in the House of Representatives is problematic in terms of assisting Israel in its war with Hamas because without a speaker it can’t pass emergency aid,” Ziv said. “Nor is it clear whether Representative Patrick McHenry, the interim speaker, has the authority to bring resolutions or bills to the House floor.”
The fighting in the Middle East region, which has at least 1,600 people dead on both sides and thousands more injured, according to the Associated Press, has put pressure on House Republicans to quickly elect a new speaker so that emergency aid can be passed and delivered at a critical moment in the conflict.
But electing a new speaker had already been an uphill battle for the House GOP. With a razor-thin majority in the chamber, a Republican candidate running for the gavel cannot afford to lose more than four GOP votes. McCarthy was ousted by eight Republican votes, and those margins took him 15 rounds of voting before he won the speakership in January.
With two candidates seeking the gavel this time around, the Republican conference remains divided over whether Representative Steve Scalise or Representative Jim Jordan should be the next House speaker. At the same time, McCarthy has also left the door open to another speakership amid the turmoil in the Middle East, telling reporters this week that he would be willing to take up the gavel if House Republicans are deadlocked and strongly touting his Israel record.
“I don’t know if these developments will help Kevin McCarthy get his job back—I’m skeptical—but he does seem to be exploiting this situation for political purposes,” Ziv said. “His false claim that President Biden has handed over $6 billion to Iran is an oft-heard GOP talking point, but it’s simply not the case.”
As the House remains stalled, some Republicans have pushed for their colleagues to act with or without a speaker. House Foreign Affairs Chair Mike McCaul urged bipartisan lawmakers to immediately bring a resolution condemning Hamas to the floor, telling CNN‘s State of the Union this weekend that, “We cannot wait. We have to get that message out as soon as possible.”
Democrats have also used the developments in the Middle East and the paralysis in the House to criticize Republicans over the party’s infighting, painting the GOP as ineffective at leading Congress and unable to push feuds aside in times of crisis. Representative Matt Gaetz, who introduced the motion to vacate that led to the historic ousting of McCarthy, had continued his feud with the former speaker and drawn backlash from members of his own party for leaving them “weakened.”
“Israel is at war- meanwhile: 1. House is stalled until Republicans select Speaker candidate; 2. Senate is out this week; 3. No confirmed US ambassador to Israel; 4. Ukraine aid package isn’t moving; 5. [Senator Tommy] Tuberville continues barricade 300+ military noms,” Representative Jason Crow wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter, on Sunday. “Republicans must call House back into session immediately. Our national security can’t wait.”
“Israel attacked and still no Speaker. These House Republicans have proven they’re incapable of governing. They deserve to lose control of the House in 2024,” former Representative Joe Walsh said.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries also called on Republicans to end their “civil war” this weekend so that the House “can move forward to get the business of the American people done, both as it related to our domestic needs…as well as our national security considerations in terms of being there for Israel, being there for the Ukrainian people, being there for our allies all throughout the free world.”