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Week in politics: Speaker nominee drops out; Biden asks Congress for military aid

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The first trucks carrying humanitarian aid rolled into Gaza from Egypt today. We will have more on that in a moment. But we'll begin with the 19 days House Republicans have spent debating who ought to become speaker of the House of Representatives without actually deciding on anyone. NPR senior editor Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Representative Jim Jordan dropped out of the race yesterday, I think by popular demand, it's safe to say. These are all politicians. Why can't they cut a deal and get a speaker?

ELVING: The key point here, Scott, is that House rules require the speaker to win a majority of the whole House - both parties and the opposition almost always votes for its own nominee. So given the unity among Democrats in the present case, a Republican needs nearly every Republican vote to become speaker. And Republicans have a very slim majority. So if even a handful of their members refuse to go along with the rest, they can deny the party the power to choose a speaker. So as few as eight archconservatives could oust Kevin McCarthy earlier this month. And a somewhat larger group of more traditional Republicans could spike the chances of Jim Jordan or Steve Scalise, who were preferred by the archconservatives. So look - we should note not all these members see themselves as serving the whole Republican Party or the whole Congress. They see themselves on a mission to disrupt the business of Washington. They want to drastically reduce the size of the federal government. They believe that's what their constituents sent them here to do, and they see themselves on a mission.

SIMON: What business is not getting done in these crucial times because the House doesn't have a speaker?

ELVING: Well, the first item is military aid to Israel and Ukraine. The Biden administration has already asked for 105 billion. The Senate looks willing to go along. But the House must say yes, too, and it can't say anything until it has a speaker. So the fates of those two allies, Ukraine and Israel, hang in the balance. Virtually all Americans would also be affected if the federal government were to shut down next month. And it will do so unless the House passes the spending legislation it has to pass for the new fiscal year that has already begun.

SIMON: I want to help you - I want to get you to help us understand this moment in the world, Ron. This week, President Biden compared the attack on Israel to Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Hamas and Putin represent different threats, but they share this in common. They both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy.

SIMON: President says he wants the US to be the arsenal of democracy. He's asked Congress for tens of billions of dollars of military assistance to Ukraine and Israel. Does he have the support for that?

ELVING: You know, that phrase goes back to Franklin Roosevelt in 1940, asking Congress to support the countries that were already fighting the Nazis and their allies in World War II before the United States got into that war. In our present moment, the Senate seems ready to go. The House needs a speaker to act, but if the aid bill is brought to the floor, it's going to matter most what the polls are saying to the politicians. If they still show a plurality of Americans on board for Ukraine as - not as much, perhaps, as in the early months of that invasion but still on board, then that might be enough. Among Republicans, of course, support for Ukraine has weakened considerably, but their support for Israel is as strong as ever.

SIMON: How might Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, for that matter, respond to American solidarity?

ELVING: Well, they won't like it, but they can hardly be surprised, especially on Israel. This has been the American pattern to support Israel back through several wars, beginning in 1948. All the countries you mentioned have been regularly menacing their neighbors, some of which are allies or potential allies of the United States. So any action against those U.S.-aligned countries, be it Taiwan, South Korea, would be seen as a major provocation and a major escalation by the United States.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.
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