How the situation in Congress may affect Israel

How the situation in Congress may affect Israel

Mike Wagenheim

Senior U.S. Correspondent, i24NEWS

Israeli President Isaac Herzog addresses a joint session of Congress in the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC.
SAUL LOEB / AFPIsraeli President Isaac Herzog addresses a joint session of Congress in the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington DC.

The Biden administration, which pledged to conduct a foreign policy focused on human rights, wakes up from its fantasy into the world of realpolitik

The reverberations of Hamas’ brutal attacks on Israel, and the unknown specter of what’s to come, are already being felt in Washington in ways before uncontemplated.

The near-universal support shown for Israel over the last 48 hours, even by many U.S. Democrats who have been vocally critical about many of the current Israeli government’s policies, bodes well for the coming days and weeks when the Jewish state is desperately seeking the assistance—financially, strategically and diplomatically—of the Biden administration and Congress. 

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
AP Photo/Susan WalshU.S. President Joe Biden (R) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, United States.

The biggest obstacle at the moment is an unprecedented crisis in the House of Representatives, which is without a speaker, following Kevin McCarthy’s ouster by fellow Republicans.

While the frontrunners for the position—Steve Scalise and Jim Jordan—are both staunchly in the pro-Israel camp, the House, which holds the purse strings, is unable to conduct anything beyond the most mundane business until a new speaker is elected. It’s a process that could take days or weeks.

While U.S. President Joe Biden has some authority to drawdown funds and speed up others already appropriated, the House situation has inflamed even pro-Israel Republicans, who blame hard-right rabble-rousers for McCarthy’s ouster, leaving the body largely helpless in aiding one of its most critical allies. 

It is even unclear at this point whether Acting House Speaker, Patrick McHenry, has the authority to take the speaker’s seat in high-level classified briefings. 

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats, frustrated by a broken confirmation process that has left the U.S. without ambassadors in key Middle East countries and without military leaders in critical positions, are urging their Republican counterparts to fast-track the nomination of former Obama administration official Jack Lew as ambassador to Israel. 


Lew’s nomination was only sent to the Senate on Sept. 28, which means the process has barely begun. Republicans have the ability to scuttle the nomination in committee and, further down the line, place a hold on it by any one Senator, potentially delaying the process by weeks or months. 

High-level Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, are urging their counterparts across the aisle to put away the often-used procedural mechanisms of the process and get Lew to Jerusalem as quickly as possible. Republicans have not publicly objected, nor have they been quick to embrace the idea.

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
AP Photo/Jose Luis MaganaSen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., talks to reporters as he arrives to hold Pen and Pad on assuming chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the Capitol in Washington, United States.

The recently-installed chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ben Cardin, could see his first major decision play a key role in the Israel-Hamas conflict. 

In the wake of a scandal involving alleged ties between Egypt and his predecessor, Bob Menendez, Cardin recently announced a freeze on hundreds of millions of dollars in defense aid to Cairo. 

(AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
(AP Photo/Amr Nabil)Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi attends an emergency summit of Gulf Arab leaders in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

In 2021, as Israel battled Gaza-based terror groups for 11 days, Biden turned to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to broker a truce. 

It was the earliest major test of American president’s foreign policy in the Middle East, and striking given that Biden had come into office denigrating Sisi’s relationship with former U.S. President Donald Trump. 

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)Former U.S. President Donald Trump smiles before his speech at the California Republican Party Convention.

While Biden doesn’t appear to back Cardin’s decision, given that the White House assured money largely kept flowing to Cairo despite a host of human rights concerns, both presidents now have the opportunity to leverage the situation. 

Sisi is a key point man in the Israel-Hamas relationship, and the Biden administration, which pledged to conduct a foreign policy focused on human rights, largely awoke from its fantasy into the world of realpolitik, where it’s difficult to defend American interests in the region without lifting up some unsavory characters


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