The White House and Senate are ringing the alarm as the next deadline to avoid a government shutdown draws closer and House Republicans appear no closer to picking a Speaker.
The deadline to fund the government is Nov. 17, but the lack of a Speaker is complicating those efforts.
At the same time, lawmakers are anxiously pushing to send support to Israel after the unprecedented attack by Hamas, and the White House is expected to announce it wants to tie that assistance to Ukraine aid.
The crisis in Israel coupled with the looming government funding deadline have left the White House and both parties in the Senate fretting about what happens if the Speaker drama extends past Wednesday.
“It’s a real concern,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), an ally of Senate GOP leadership, told The Hill. “It’s a clear indication that the eight Republicans who sided with the Democrats to oust [former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)] did not think it through. Instead of catching the bus so they could drive it, they ran it in a ditch and now expect the adults in the caucus to pull it out.”
“There is never a good time to be in this situation, and the gang of eight picked the worst possible time,” Tillis added.
House Republicans are set to meet Wednesday to pick their Speaker nominee but have struggled thus far to coalesce around one candidate. The nominee must then win the majority of the vote on the House floor — a difficult feat given the Republicans’ narrow majority.
McCarthy, who was ousted in an unprecedented vote last week, needed four days and 15 ballots to clinch the gavel.
One Senate GOP aide agreed it’s a concern, adding they believe House Republicans are sensing the pressure on both fronts. The longer this drags out, the more pronounced the issues become, the aide said.
“Maybe they surprise all of us and it’s resolved by the end of the week, but if we’re in the same spot mid-next week, we’re really going to be up against the clock if they still insist on passing individual bills,” the aide said.
President Biden gave a window recently into the worries within the White House about the situation.
The president last week warned Republicans to “stop fooling around” when it comes to government funding, criticizing the House GOP for endangering the country with a new government shutdown. He warned there were only 40 days for Congress to get back to work, and that a government shutdown could be a threat to the recent economic gains under his administration.
The White House has said Biden will work with whoever will be Speaker on top priorities, like funding the government and aid to war-torn countries, but otherwise said it won’t get involved with the election.
For their part, some House Republicans have expressed worries that a delayed Speaker decision could give the lower chamber no choice but to eat whatever the Senate sends to fund the country for fiscal 2024 next month. Headlining those options are an omnibus or multiple smaller packages known as a “minibus.”
The White House and senators are also expressing concern about being able to send aid to Israel for its war against Hamas. The attack by the group, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization, has left more than 1,000 Israelis dead.
President Biden announced Tuesday he will ask Congress when it returns from recess “to take urgent action to fund the national security requirements of our critical partners.”
“This is not about party or politics. This is about the security of our world, security of the United States of America,” he said about funding for war efforts.
But such a bill, too, would get caught up in the House, as will efforts to deliver additional aid to Ukraine.
Biden has said he is concerned that the disarray on Capitol Hill could mean for the aid promised to Ukraine’s war efforts. The White House in August sent a supplemental funding request to Congress that included $24 billion in military, financial and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.
The stopgap bill that was passed at the last minute last month to keep the government open didn’t include the funding for Ukraine that Biden asked Congress for, setting up a more urgent situation to provide aid for the country.
Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan, when questioned whether the Israel and Ukraine aid packages will be linked, said the president has made clear he is asking for both.
How Congress moves forward on funding for the now two nations gripped by war remains an open question though. House Republicans on Monday night seemed reluctant to jump on board with the emerging plan to lump Ukraine aid in with funding for Israel — the latter of which is one of the most unifying subjects within the GOP conference.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told MSNBC in a Monday interview that Congress is facing a “challenge” regarding the absence of a Speaker, especially if lawmakers want to pass an Israeli aid bill.
“We have Israel’s back, but if the Senate were to do something right now as additional assistance to Israel, the House can’t convene until they pick a Speaker,” Kaine told host Jen Psaki.
In addition, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) simply threw his hands in the air on Tuesday when asked about the lack of a new Speaker after presiding over a pro forma session.
He did not comment further.