(Bloomberg) — US House lawmakers are considering the unprecedented step of empowering Representative Patrick McHenry to advance aid to Israel and other legislation even if the House can’t quickly elect a new speaker.
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The North Carolina Republican is currently the acting speaker pro tem, a mostly ceremonial role he assumed last week after all Democrats and eight dissident Republicans voted to oust Kevin McCarthy from the job.
Some House rules experts think McHenry is only allowed to facilitate a new speaker election. But the US is in unchartered territory — no other speaker has been toppled in this fashion, and the House has been paralyzed since McCarthy’s removal.
The conflict in Israel, and the near-unanimous bipartisan support for sending aid, has added urgency to the situation as fractious Republicans haggle behind closed doors over who should take McCarthy’s place.
President Joe Biden can approve some aid for Israel, but major new investments must come from Congress.
McHenry has planned a Wednesday speaker election but it’s not yet clear either declared candidate — the No. 2 Republican Steve Scalise or Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan — can get the necessary support. Republicans hold only a small majority in the House and Democrats are expected to vote for their own leader, Hakeem Jeffries.
McHenry has declined to address proposals from some of his colleagues to give him broader powers, perhaps for a limited time, to get through the crisis.
Some lawmakers, however, have expressed concerns that the paralyzed House sends a message of weakness to the world at a time when Israel is under attack and Ukraine is fighting to take back territory seized by Russia.
Republican David Joyce, an Ohio Republican, has suggested empowering McHenry at least temporarily, and others are also considering it, including Democratic leadership officials, according to a person familiar with the discussions.
McHenry’s authority could be discussed when Democrats meet Tuesday night to discuss Israel, another person familiar with the matter said.
Some lawmakers believe the House doesn’t even need a floor vote to give McHenry authority. The temporary speaker, or speaker pro tem, position was created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to preserve continuity of government in the event of a crisis.
New York Republican Marc Molinaro said McHenry should just exert the authority and set new precedents.
“In the aftermath of 9/11 there could never have been the thought that the only job of the speaker pro tem would be to select a new speaker,” Molinaro said. “There would always have been the expectation that the speaker pro tem would have to assume some authority to function.”
Two bills have already been announced that could quickly pass a functioning House: a resolution condemning the Hamas attack on Israel and $2 billion to replenish Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system.
McCarthy, who said Monday he would return as speaker if his party urged him to do so, also proposed new sanctions on Iran, freezing $6 billion in Iranian funds the Biden administration recently released and bolstering US oil production to replace Iran’s oil exports.
Lawmakers are also grappling with funding for Ukraine, border security and a looming Nov. 17 deadline to fund the federal government.
–With assistance from Erik Wasson.
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