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Why a joint Israel-Ukraine aid plan would struggle in Congress

An evening recap of the action on Capitol Hill and preview of the day ahead
Oct 10, 2023 View in browser

By Burgess Everett, Ursula Perano and Nicholas Wu

With assists from POLITICO's Congress team

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) departs a vote at the U.S. Capitol May 23, 2023. | Francis Chung/POLITICO


Here's what we know: Congress will almost certainly be able to send Israel a tranche of new defense assistance in the coming weeks, even as the House struggles to elect a speaker.

And here's the question Capitol Hill leaders have to settle first: Whether to link that money with Ukraine aid that's still stalled.

The speaker-less House Republican majority is still resistant to more Ukraine money, which has sparked speculation in the Senate that combining Israel and Ukraine assistance might make the latter more enticing. Perhaps, the thinking goes, the Senate can jam the House with such an overwhelming bipartisan vote for two top foreign-policy priorities that the combined aid legislation would be impossible not to take up.

In reality, it's not that simple. The Heritage Foundation, often aligned with conservatives, is aggressively moving to sink the idea of linking funds for the two U.S. allies. And House Republicans are skeptical that the weekend terrorist attacks on Israel would strengthen the case for a two-part aid package.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) said his focus is on combining border enforcement funding with Ukraine. Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.), a battleground-seat incumbent, said of Israel and Ukraine: “They should not be coupled together.”

“Israel should be the priority. It needs to move fast. If they have needs, we should meet them and support Israel. The Ukraine conversation is a longer conversation,” Garcia said.

Of the two top speaker candidates, Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) has yet to specify how he'd approach Ukraine aid while Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) is openly skeptical. But Jordan reiterated to reporters on Tuesday that the House should “get [Israel] resources.”

How the Senate's playing it: Even senior senators are stopping short of an explicit endorsement — saying only that both Israel and Ukraine's similarly weighty defense needs should be met with more U.S. help.

In a statement to POLITICO, Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said that large majorities in Congress “have made clear that support for Ukraine is pivotal — and our alliance and commitment to Israel is unshakeable. We must and will provide the necessary support for both of our allies to defend themselves, and I will be pushing to get those resources over the finish line as quickly as possible.”

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) Saturday statement on Hamas' attack against Israel emphasized support for both Ukraine and Israel aid in order to deter Russia and Iran, respectively. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said on CNN Tuesday that the House “has a huge majority vote just sitting there, waiting to support both Israel aid and Ukraine aid.”

Another factor playing into this: It’s probably too early to write any mega-bill for the two nations. President Joe Biden made clear on Tuesday he wants Congress “to take urgent action to fund the security requirements of our partners.” But until exact amounts from the administration come in, it’s tough to plot out the exact strategy.

And while the Biden team has not directly asked Congress for more Israel aid, it has sought $24 billion for Ukraine. That request was consciously made for three months, not a full year. (More details on further aid requests for both nations could come later this week.)

There’s an argument that linking the two causes together would shake loose the necessary GOP backing for Ukraine money; there’s also an argument that Israel aid could move faster on its own, showing that an oft-dysfunctional Congress can successfully react to crises.

A third argument is also palpable on the Hill: Let's talk about this another time.

“It seems almost a little unseemly, with Israelis and Americans being held hostage by these terrorists, to talk about the sausage making process of how we bring that aid to both,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said. “There will be time for that.”

— Burgess Everett, Ursula Perano and Nicholas Wu, with Anthony Adragna

GOOD EVENING! Welcome to Huddle, the play-by-play guide to all things Capitol Hill, on this Tuesday, Oct. 10, where we're begrudgingly casting our votes in the Fat Bear Week finals after Otis got knocked out too early.


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Progressives' reluctance to deliver an unequivocal defense of Israel after the Hamas attacks without also acknowledging Palestinians' plight has gotten a lot of attention in recent days. But when leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee introduced a bipartisan resolution on Tuesday designed to show support for Israel amid the weekend’s terrorist attacks, it wasn't just the liberal "Squad" withholding their initial endorsement.

Several conservatives and Ukraine aid skeptics also declined to sign on, such as Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). Their absence from the initial cosponsor list, alongside progressives like Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), illustrates a more complicated dynamic at work than simply a progressive protest against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Why the conservative holdouts? None of the Republicans who declined to sign on right away offered details for their decision. But Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Mike McCaul (R-Texas) is among the loudest voices pushing to link new Israel aid to assistance for Ukraine — and on the right flank of the GOP, big players like Greene have no interest in that forced marriage of U.S. funding for two conflicts they see as distinct.

So it's easy to see that playing into some conservatives' reluctance to back the pro-Israel resolution.

Important reminder: There’s still time for additions to the list of 390 cosponsors (which POLITICO sought and analyzed). The pro-Israel measure's backers said the list could change before it comes up for a vote. McCaul said in a statement that it would come up on the House floor after a new speaker was elected ... which could take a while.

Another Israel proposal to watch: A bipartisan crew of House lawmakers, led by Reps. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) and Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), offered a bill providing $2 billion for Israel Iron Dome missile defense system. We'd note, though, that past battles over similar efforts bogged down in the Democratic-controlled House over progressive objections. So look for this funding to potentially move as part of broader legislation, not on its own.

— Anthony Adragna and Nicholas Wu


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The Pentagon has the budget flexibility to aid Israel right now as it mounts an offensive against Hamas following the weekend's hostilities. And Acting Speaker Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) told us on Tuesday that he's open to finding a way to help Israel as soon as it's called for — even, perhaps, before he gets a permanent replacement.

But there may be a way around the speakership wrinkle: Let's say the Biden administration seeks sign-off from Congress to shift cash within the military budget to assist Tel Aviv at any point. That can probably happen without a speaker in place, while passage of a broader aid package would be held up, according to a congressional aide with direct knowledge of the internal rules.

How would that work? To transfer military cash between accounts, the Biden administration would need approval from eight lawmakers in total — each party’s top appropriators and Armed Services Committee heads. The Pentagon just asked those leaders this summer to OK the reshuffling of more than $4 billion within its budget for things like buying more missiles and launching an “unplanned effort” in the Pacific region.

Who's not on that list of eight: the speaker.

For humanitarian assistance, no signoff from Congress is needed, and existing money for agencies like USAID can be used for rescue and emergency health aid in Israel.

Not yet: A Pentagon official tells us there is no reprogramming request in the pipeline right now, but that could change. Weapons stockpiles will need to be replenished as Israel draws on the U.S. cache.

And the Biden administration isn’t ready to talk about a supplemental funding package for Israel, either.

“It’s an ‘if.’ But if we need to go back to Capitol Hill for additional funding support for Israel, we will absolutely do that,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said.

— Jennifer Scholtes and Lara Seligman


In a bleak time, one can always count on Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) for a moment of rural Zen.

Alert for younger millennials and Gen Zs: Tony P was spotted on the Hill.


Dems’ bad dream: Menendez taunts party with potential reelect, from Burgess and Ursula

RFK Jr. super PAC raises $11 million within hours and courts Elon Musk’s support, from Brittany Gibson

Special counsel to Trump: Don’t ‘friend’ potential jurors, from Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein


The House is out.

The Senate is also out.


Crickets (except for House Republicans' internal activities).


FRIDAY’S ANSWER: Brad Fitch correctly answered that Alice Roosevelt Longworth was the daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt and in 1906 married Rep. Nicholas Longworth, who eventually became House Speaker.

TODAY’S QUESTION from Brad: What was the only US presidential election in which both major party nominees were sitting governors?

The first person to correctly guess gets a mention in the next edition of Huddle. Send your answers to [email protected].

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Why a joint Israel-Ukraine aid plan would struggle in Congress


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