War has broken out in Israel after Hamas launched a bloody surprise attack on Saturday, a combined land, air, and sea assault that has sparked the region’s deadliest conflict since the Yom Kippur War exactly 50 years before.
According to officials on each side, at least 900 people have died in Israel and at least 687 people have died in Gaza since the fighting began. An unknown number of Israelis — believed to be around 150 — have been taken hostage by Hamas, which has vowed to kill one captive every time Israel strikes civilians in Gaza without warning. According to the White House, at least 11 American citizens have been killed in Israel; the hostages likely include Americans as well.
Per the Washington Post, Iran provided Hamas with logistical and financial support for the attack, which largely targeted civilians, including at a music festival where more than 260 bodies were found. In addition to airstrikes, Israel has responded by launching a “total” blockade of Gaza, preventing food, water, electricity, or fuel from reaching its 2.3 million Palestinian residents, half of whom are children.
Here’s how the war is impacting politics here in the US:
President Biden quickly offered America’s full support to its longtime ally: “We will not ever fail to have their back,” he said in a speech on Saturday. The U.S. has already begun sending weapons to Israel and moved an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea closer to the country as a show of support.
As the war joins a list of urgent crises overwhelming the White House, Biden faces competing pressures in his response, with Republicans urging him to be even more vocal with his support for Israel and some progressive Democrats pushing him to take a more neutral stance. The administration’s messaging has been muddled at times: twice since the war began, State Department officials have deleted tweets calling for an Israeli ceasefire.
Biden has faced GOP criticism for remaining behind closed doors during much of the war so far, attending a barbecue on Sunday and never going in front of cameras on Monday even as reports emerged of Americans having been killed. The White House has pushed back, emphasizing Biden’s behind-the-scenes diplomacy, including more than two dozen calls, meetings, and briefings since Saturday.
The U.S., France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom released a rare joint statement on Monday, recognizing the “legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people” but harshly condemning Hamas and affirming Israel’s right to defend itself.
The war in Israel has added pressure on House Republicans to pick a new speaker, as the lower chamber remains paralyzed with indecision just days after ousting Kevin McCarthy. Congressional experts are split on whether the House can conduct legislative business until a speaker is chosen; so far, Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry (R-NC) has taken a limited view of his own powers.
That means that until the GOP coalesces behind a speaker — a process that could take several days — a bipartisan resolution condemning Hamas is on ice, as is an aid package to Israel. (When the speakership dilemma is resolved, some lawmakers are mulling a combined package that would send aid both to Israel and Ukraine.)
House Republicans are set to meet tonight for a forum to ask questions of the two announced speaker candidates: House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH). GOP lawmakers will then meet tomorrow to nominate a candidate. Some Republicans want to wait until a candidate is ensured a full House majority — 218 votes — before holding the final vote on the floor. Neither candidate is anywhere close to that number yet.
The war in Israel has helped spark another twist in the speaker’s race: calls to give the gavel back to McCarthy. “These times of chaos and uncertainty have proved why it was such a mistake to vacate the chair,” Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-FL) wrote on Twitter. According to Punchbowl News, Gimenez and two other House Republicans have said the only candidate they’d currently support for speaker is McCarthy.
The former speaker has not announced a campaign to retake his post, but did not seem averse to the possibility during a Monday press conference on Israel. “I’ll allow the conference to make whatever decision,” he said, taking care to stress that “96 percent” of House Republicans voted to keep him.
While the House is mired in chaos, the Senate is on vacation. The chamber is on recess all week, which means any potential legislation on Israel wouldn’t be able to pass Congress even if a speaker were in place.
Some senators are on overseas trips that have been impacted by the war. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) was in Israel, although he successfully departed safely on Sunday. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was in China, where he took credit for the country releasing a statement that went slightly further than its original response in condemning the attacks.
When the Senate returns, the main item on the agenda will be confirming several nominees with Middle East postings, including U.S. Ambassador to Israel nominee Jack Lew, who is expected to receive a confirmation hearing next week. Due to a blockade on State Department nominees by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), the U.S. also currently lacks ambassadors to Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. Due to a blockade on military promotions by Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), top officer positions in the region are also vacant.
Tuberville has said he will not lift his blockade amid the war in Israel.
So far, the war has had little noticeable impact on the 2024 campaign. Per Politico, at a campaign stop in New Hampshire on Monday, it took former President Donald Trump more than an hour to mention Israel, turning to the conflict only after running through a long list of other topics.
Trump and the other Republican presidential candidates have responded to the violence with critiques of Biden, including condemnations of $6 billion in funds that were transferred to Iran as part of a prisoner swap last month. According to the White House, the funds have not yet been spent and are restricted for humanitarian use only.
“The attack on Israel would never ever have happened” if he were still in office, Trump declared on Monday.
More news to know.
The day ahead.
White House: President Biden will deliver remarks on Israel at 1 p.m. ET. He will also speak on the phone today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, their third conversation since Saturday.
Congress: House Republicans will meet at 5 p.m. ET for a candidate forum as part of the speaker’s race.
Supreme Court: The justices will hear cases on corporate whistleblowers and maritime accidents today.
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