Saturday, December 09, 2023

Crisis Is Upon Us: National Security Minded Leader in the House Is Needed

In less than a month’s time, absent legislative action, the U.S. government will shut down. Meanwhile, Israel, one of the United States’ closest strategic partners, came under a terrorist attack unlike any it has faced in its history. It was the single deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust. Armed by Iran, China, and North Korea, Russia continues its criminal assault on Ukraine. The military threat that China poses to Taiwan and the sovereignty of free nations throughout the Indo-Pacific grows by the day. As America and its allies and partners face down multiple crises, the U.S. Congress cannot function. It’s time for the real leaders in the house to step up and find a bipartisan solution to restore order in the House of Representatives. 

Three weeks have passed since Kevin McCarthy was ousted as Speaker of the House. In the intervening period, the GOP infighting and multiple failed votes have laid bare the simple truth: There is no Republican member of the House that can win 217 Republican votes to assume the speakership. The GOP big tent contains a few too many circus acts. The demands of the uncompromising few will continue to prevent the House majority from choosing McCarthy’s successor. After two weeks of feckless inaction, Americans and the rest of the world can wait no longer. 

Last week, in an address to the American people from the Oval Office, President Biden made the case that democracy was under attack in Europe and the Middle East. Biden announced he was sending to Congress a request for emergency appropriations to support Ukraine in its existential fight against Russia, Israel, as it defends itself from a resurgent terror group, and Taiwan, which is staring down an expansionist China. Congress must be prepared to act. Leaders in the Republican caucus – leaders who have yet to distinguish themselves – must rise and do something that by today’s standard seems foreign, but once was commonplace in the halls of Congress. They must compromise.

The House needs a speaker, and to elect one, responsible and national security-minded Republicans should work to identify a responsible and national security-minded candidate in coordination with the Democratic caucus. As part of the agreement, Republicans and Democrats, putting nation above party, should negotiate an agreement that enables a legislative agenda that preserves the function of the U.S. government and brings to the floor legislation critical to national defense and global security. To assert America’s global leadership role, President Biden needs a functioning Congress. 

This may sound naïve to some, but it isn’t. Just ask any current or former member or staffer of the House Armed Services Committee, which has succeeded in passing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law every year for the last 62 years straight. It isn’t magic. It’s priorities. It’s the determination that comes from knowing you have a higher purpose, and that disagreement and deadlock is where you start, but never where you finish. This moment demands that the House take a lesson from its most functional, most bipartisan committee, and compromise. 

Reaching across the aisle to elect a speaker and restore the House’s ability to consider and pass critical national security legislation will require grit and courage from rank-and-file members of the Republican caucus. I believe they can do it. I’ve watched them passionately debate and then work to reach compromises first-hand during my 3.5 years as a Professional Staff Member on the committee. I have watched unsung Republicans works hand-in-hand with Democrats to cosponsor legislation and issue joint letters – because serving America’s national security interest is a call of duty that transcends loyalty to party politics. The members I’m thinking of now all have a record of service to this country that often far predates their election to Congress. These members know what it means to lead and to do the right and responsible thing, even in the face of overwhelming pressure. These members have character, and now is their moment to demonstrate to the American people, our allies, and our adversaries that in fact, the House Republican caucus has leaders. Now is their moment to step forward. 

Jonathan Lord is a senior fellow and the director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, a former staff member for the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, a former Iraq country director in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and a former political military analyst in the Department of Defense.  

This article was originally published by RealClearDefense and made available via RealClearWire.