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Connor O’Brien, Anthony Adragna, Joe Gould and Nicholas Wu

Hope fades that Congress can link Ukraine and Israel aid

House lawmakers from both parties are increasingly skeptical that there will be enough support to pair aid to Ukraine with aid to Israel — even as senior members indicate all options remain under consideration.

Lawmakers across the spectrum left a classified briefing on the attacks in Israel pledging to get assistance quickly to the U.S. ally, yet muddled about what a protracted fight over the next speaker could mean for deploying resources quickly.

“This is gonna be a leadership call,” House Foreign Affairs Chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told reporters after the closed-door meeting. “They've had discussions with [the White House Office of Management and Budget]. We're looking at a variety of options that would include all four of those things,” referring to funding for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and border security.

President Joe Biden hasn’t formally asked Congress to approve more money for Israel, but said on Tuesday that an appeal is coming soon. Following the surprise attacks by Hamas over the weekend, Israel is seeking more precision-guided munitions, artillery and interceptors for its Iron Dome air defenses. Democrats and Republicans were quick to close ranks and promise to provide whatever Israel needs.

A separate $24 billion request for more Ukraine assistance Biden sent to lawmakers in August has languished. And though aid for Israel is likely to quickly pass due to the bipartisan consensus, even some Ukraine advocates downplayed the possibility of linking the two. New Ukraine assistance has been a contentious issue among House Republicans, despite bipartisan support in both chambers, as a faction of GOP lawmakers argue there isn’t sufficient oversight and that Biden hasn’t outlined a clear strategy for the conflict.

"I support both, but I think it'd be a mistake to bundle the two,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.). “But it sounds like the administration wants to put the two together. I think that'd be a mistake."

GOP leaders have proposed tacking border security policies and funding to any future Ukraine package as a potential compromise — and now some lawmakers have floated including funds for Israel’s security needs.

McCaul said he had a conversation with White House Budget Director Shalanda Young on Tuesday and that the White House is “very open” to a deal on Ukraine funding that includes increased spending on the border — and that the Senate would also be amenable to such a deal.

House Ukraine Caucus Co-Chair Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) said the U.S. “must give Israel everything they need to defend itself, which is their absolute right,” and unite allies in support.

“There's parallels here. They are different conflicts, but some of those issues are the same: the U.S. showing consistent determination to defend an ally,” Quigley said.

While Congress is paralyzed by the House’s leadership battle, the Biden administration has been using existing authorities and pots of money to help both Ukraine and Israel. House Armed Services ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said that right now, there is enough money to do both.

“I think in the long run, that's going to be something we're going to have to balance as we're also ramping up [weapons] production, which has been going on for a while,” he said.

But a majority of House GOP lawmakers opposed $300 million for the Pentagon to arm Ukraine two weeks ago, with more Republicans arguing the Biden must better outline the endgame for the conflict with Russia.

“They have no strategy,” said Republican Study Chair Kevin Hern (R-Okla.). “So till that happens, I think you'll see more and more Republicans push back on funding Ukraine.”

The classified briefing came as Congress faces its own internal crises that threaten to hobble the U.S. response.

The House still must elect a speaker to succeed Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Majority Leader Steve Scalise is the pick of the Republican conference after he beat out Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) in a closed door vote on Wednesday. Scalise was vocal in his support for Israel following the attack. But it's unclear if Scalise can win a majority needed to take the gavel. And it’s impossible for the House to move on an aid package until a speaker is chosen.

The Senate, meanwhile, is out of session until next week. When they return, senators will push to finally break impasses that have delayed the confirmation of over 300 military promotions and several ambassadors to Middle Eastern countries.

And some of the lingering GOP frustrations about Ukraine aid flared into the open during the briefing on Wednesday. Multiple attendees described Rep. Derrick Van Orden (R-Wisc.) as acting belligerent toward the Biden administration briefers when he asked questions, angering House Democrats who attended the briefing.

“He was rude and attacked the presenters. I thought they had very substantive things to say. But he just had this blanket attack saying that ‘this is the worst information I've ever had,’” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.). “And basically attacking them for being incompetent.”

Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) followed Van Orden in the briefing, telling the administration representatives, “I apologize for this guy,” the attendees said. The incident was also a topic of conversation in the closed-door House Democratic caucus meeting following the briefing.

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