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Senate returns from recess, faces new realities

The political and legislative landscape looks a bit different since the last time the Senate was in session.

Senators return this week to stark new political realities — a confirmation fight for the U.S. ambassador to Israel, a supplemental funding request coming earlier than expected after the attacks on Israel and a possible Speaker Jim Jordan.

And later this evening, President Joe Biden will travel to Israel and Jordan. It’s a high-profile trip to a region convulsed by war, the second time Biden has done so as president.

Jack Lew: Biden’s nominee to serve as U.S. ambassador to Israel was making the rounds in the Senate Monday ahead of his confirmation hearing tomorrow. Democrats are united on Lew and pushing for a speedy confirmation process given the war.

This won’t happen. Several Republicans have expressed open disdain for Lew, stemming largely from his role in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Senate Minority Whip John Thune told us that the Iran issues will “play heavily.”

Lew could get a committee vote as soon as next week and then hit the Senate floor shortly thereafter. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will need to file cloture to overcome the GOP objections, setting up a late-October confirmation vote at the earliest.

Lew will get confirmed eventually, just not on the timeline Democrats want.

Supplemental funding: We’re told the White House is on track to release its Israel funding request by the end of the week. Senators expect it will include a substantial amount of funding for Ukraine too, as well as new border-security money.

Several House Republicans oppose linking Israel and Ukraine, given the popularity of the former and the GOP divisions over the latter.

But Jordan has floated that idea, according to some of his GOP colleagues. That has Senate Republicans — who largely back merging the two efforts — wary about the future of the Ukraine portion.

“It’s something the House is going to have to sort out,” Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) said of Ukraine. “We have the votes over here.”

A new speaker? As we noted above, GOP senators are eager to get this chapter of House Republican chaos behind them. But Jordan’s possible ascent to the speakership could put some major priorities of the Senate GOP leadership — Ukraine aid topping that list — in doubt.

“I certainly hope he’s going to support it and listen to reason,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) told us of Jordan, who declined to comment on the possible linkage of Israel and Ukraine funding.

Republican senators admit they’re not quite sure what to expect with Jordan, especially with government funding expiring in a month. They reasoned that Jordan’s bomb-throwing days seem to be behind him.

“Governing is harder than being in the minority and just kind of criticizing others,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “I’ve been impressed with the job he’s done as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. And certainly as one of the founders of the Freedom Caucus, he’s come a long way and … been very constructive.”

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), a member of leadership, said he hopes House Republicans have “learned from their mistakes” — including booting former Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

“Give him a shot,” Tillis said of Jordan. “This is not about Jordan. This is about a handful of people either providing a competent person to govern or not.”

Iran news: Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) will unveil legislation today aimed at punishing Tehran, officially freezing $6 billion and directing the Treasury Department to report to Congress on Iran’s global assets. Scott is the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee and a GOP presidential candidate.

The effort is a response to both the Hamas terror attacks last week as well as the Biden administration’s ambiguous commitment to re-freeze $6 billion in Iranian assets held by Qatar.

Read the text of the Scott bill here.

— Andrew Desiderio and Brendan Pedersen

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