Published on April 12th, 2017 | by Lara Friedman0
Congress Debates Syria, Iran
by Lara Friedman
As we have over the past two years, LobeLog is posting excerpts from the Legislative Round-up published weekly when Congress is in session by the inimitable Lara Friedman, previously of Americans for Peace Now and now the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace. These weekly round-ups cover what Congress is up to and what individual members are saying, particularly about Israel-Palestine and Iran. For previous versions (going back many many years), see the Round-Up archive at Americans for Peace Now.
Bills, Resolutions & Letters
(NEW IRAN SANCTIONS) HR 2081: Introduced 4/7 by Zeldin (R-NY) and Schweikert (R-AZ), “To amend the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 to modify the requirement to impose sanctions with respect to the provision of specialized financial messaging services to the Central Bank of Iran and other sanctioned Iranian financial institutions, and for other purposes.” Referred to House Financial Services.
(SUPPORT ISRAEL ANTI-MISSILE SYSTEMS) HR 2062: Introduced 4/7 by Rosen (D-NV) and Lamborn (R-CO), “To authorize assistance, upon request of the Government of Israel, for the development, maintenance, enhancement, and sustainment, and procurement of anti-missile defense systems.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. NOTE: This effort is comparable to someone standing along a highway with a sign telling drivers to “keep on driving” – and then claiming credit for continuing to move along. As a reminder, the FY17 NDAA, signed into law 12/23/16, included $601 million for Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system and Israeli cooperative missile defense program codevelopment and coproduction (details in the 12/7/16 edition of the Round-Up) – all of which is in addition to the regular $3.1 billion in FMF provided under the current MOU). Rosen press release is here.
(US-EGYPT PARTNERSHIP) S. Res. 108: Introduced 4/3 by Cardin (D-MD) and now having 5 cosponsors, “A resolution reaffirming the commitment of the United States to the United States-Egypt partnership.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. (text also here). Rubio press release is here. Cardin press release is here.
(SYRIA SAFE ZONES) H. Res. 252: Introduced 4/6 by LaHood (R-IL), Kaptur (D-OH), and Abraham (R-LA), “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives on the challenges posed to long-term stability in Lebanon by the conflict in Syria and supporting the establishment of safe zones in Syria.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. (All Actions) –
(PROHIBITING US COMBAT OPS IN SYRIA) HR 1923: Introduced 4/5 by Capuano (D-MA) and Jones (R-NC), “To prohibit the use of members of the United States Armed Forces to carry out offensive combat operations in Syria.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
(CONDEMNING ASSAD/CHEMICAL ATTACK) S. Res. 116: Introduced 4/5 by Cardin (D-MD) and now having 12 cosponsors, “A resolution condemning the Assad regime for its continued use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people.” Press release is here. Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations and marked up/passed by the committee and reportedly out favorably on 4/6.
(LIMIT US WEAPONS TO KSA) S. J. Res. 40: Introduced 4/6 by Murphy (D-CT), Paul (R-KY), Durbin (D-IL), and Franken (D-MN), “A joint resolution to provide limitations on the transfer of air-to-ground munitions from the United States to Saudi Arabia.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.
(KEEP HEAT ON ARGENTINA OVER AMIA BOMBING) H. Res. 54: Introduced 1/23 by Rep. Sires (D-NJ) and now having 14 cosponsors, “reaffirming the United States-Argentina partnership and recognizing Argentina’s economic reforms.” The final “resolved” clause states: “encourages the Government of Argentina to continue to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, as well as the January 2015 death of AMIA special prosecutor Alberto Nisman.” The Republican Policy Committee’s pre-vote brief is here. Agreed to in the House 4/3 by Voice Vote. Sires press release is here.
(CONGRESS MUST DEBATE SYRIA AUMF) Pelosi letter: On 4/7, House Democratic Leader Pelosi (D-CA) sent a letter to House Speaker Ryan (R-WI) asking that he immediately call the House of Representatives back into session to debate an Authorization of the Use of Military Force for military actions taken in Syria.
(KEEP UP $$ FOR US-ISRAEL DEFENSE COOPERATION PROGRAMS) Roskam-Meng letter: On 4/3, Reps. Roskam (R-IL) and Meng (D-NY) sent a letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee requesting continued funding of US-Israel defense cooperation programs. Their press release touting the letter is here. NOTE: This effort is comparable to someone standing along a highway with a sign telling drivers to “keep on driving” – and then claiming credit for continuing to move along.
(RAISING WITH PRES AL-SISI AMCIT IMPRISONED IN EGYPT) Kaine et al letter: This week Senators Kaine (D-VA), Cardin (D-MD), Leahy (D-VT), Durbin (D-IL), Warner (D-VA), Rubio (R-FL), and Baldwin (D-WI), wrote a letter to President Trump urging him to raise the case of dual Egyptian-American citizen Aya Hijazi with Egyptian President al-Sisi (with whom Trump met this week). The letter notes that Hijazi “has been unjustly imprisoned since May 2014 and held on unsubstantiated charges related to her non-profit’s efforts to educate and rehabilitate street children…”
(INVESTIGATE TRUMP’S DEALINGS WITH CORRUPT OLIGARCH LINKED TO IRAN) Brown et al letter: On 3/30, Senators Brown (D-OH), Cardin (D-MD), and Feinstein (D-CA) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, Attorney General Sessions, and FBI Director Comey expressing “serious concerns about the questions raised by a March 13, 2017 New Yorker magazine article by Adam Davidson entitled, ‘Donald Trump’s Worst Deal.’” The letter urged them to “investigate the questions it raises about: 1) potential violations by the Trump Organization of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA); 2) the possibility that one of the construction entities involved with the developers of the project may have been an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) front organization; and 3) whether the IRGC may have been the ultimate source of certain payments made to the Trump Organization, which would constitute a clear violation of US sanctions law.” Press release is here.
[Note: This week underscored the…imbalance…in perspectives on the Hill vis-à-vis Iran issues. Two House committee hearings on Iran featured a total 9 witnesses. One-third of those witnesses (3) come from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) – a right-wing organization that actively worked to prevent a nuclear agreement with Iran and that since the signing of the JCPOA has actively worked to undermine it. Two other witnesses are from organizations (UANI and AEI) that have likewise worked to block/kill the JCPOA, and another (Ray Takeyh), is an ardent opponent of the deal. For more on this longstanding issue on the Hill, see: Why the Hawks Are Winning the Iran Debate and How the Anti-Iran Lobby Machine Dominates Capitol Hill and The Little Think Tank That Could]
4/6: The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing entitled, “United States Southern Command and United States Northern Command.” Witnesses were: Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, USN Commander, U.S. Southern Command (testimony) and General Lori J. Robinson, USAF Commander, U.S. Northern Command and Commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command (testimony). Video of the hearing is here. NOTE: Both witness address Iran-related issues.
4/5: The House Committee on oversight and government Reform’s Subcommittee on National Security held a hearing entitled, “Assessing the Iran Deal.” Witnesses were: Lt. Gen. (retired) Michael Barbero, UANI (testimony); David Albright, Institute for Science & International Security (testimony); Mark Dubowitz, FDD (testimony); Ray Takeyh, CFR (testimony); and Jim Walsh, MIT (testimony). Video of the hearing is here. Chairman DeSantis’ (R-FL) opening statement is here.
4/5: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats held a hearing entitled, “Turkey’s Democracy Under Challenge.” Witnesses were: David Phillips, Columbia University (testimony); Mehmet Yuksel, People’s Democratic Party in Turkey (testimony); Ali Cinar, Turkish Heritage Organization (testimony); and Naz Durakoglu, Digital Forensic Rese (testimony). Video of the hearing is here.
4/4: The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled, “First Amendment Protections on Public College and University Campuses.” Witnesses were: Stanley Kurtz, Ethics and Public Policy Center (testimony); Greg Lukianoff, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (testimony); David Hudson, First Amendment Center (testimony); Ken Klukowski, First Liberty Institution (testimony). Video of the hearing is here. Klukowski’s testimony included the following: “Speech supporting America’s greatest and truest ally in the Middle East, the nation of Israel as a Jewish State, is disfavored, especially speech directed at recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, or of Israel’s maintaining defensible borders. In fact, Israel deserves special mention here, because not only is speech supporting Israel often censored, but there is even a BDS movement— boycott, divestment, and sanctions—actively being promoted on American university campuses as an attempt to delegitimize Israel and economically punish the world’s only Jewish State. America’s observant Christian community is a great friend to Israel, the birthplace of the Christian religion, from the Sea of Galilee in the north, to Jerusalem, to hundreds of biblical locations between and besides.”
4/4: The House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade and Subcommittee on Terrorism and Illicit Finance held a joint hearing entitled, “Increasing the Effectiveness of Non-Nuclear Sanctions Against Iran.” Witnesses were: Behnam Ben Taleblu, FDD (testimony); J. Matthew McInnis, AEI (testimony); Emanuele Ottolenghi, FDD (testimony); and [token non-far-right-winger] Suzanne Maloney, Brookings Institution (testimony – well worth reading in full!). Video of the hearing is here. Committee press release (citing quotes from 3 out of 4 of the witnesses – you can guess which one is not cited and why) is here. Subcommittee Chair Pearce (R-KY) statement following the hearing is here. Kustoff (R-TN) press release: Kustoff Questions the Effectiveness of Current U.S. Sanctions Against Iran
4/4: The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing entitled, “United States Strategic Command Programs.” The sole witness was General John E. Hyten, USAF (testimony). Notably, in his testimony Gen. Hyten stated, with respect to Iran: “Iran continues to develop ballistic missile, space, and cyberspace capabilities – and we remain focused on preventing the development of new threats in the region. While Iran continues to follow the mandates of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, we must remain vigilant to any Iranian intentions that indicate it will pursue nuclear weapons.” In his opening statement, Chairman McCain (R-AZ) addressed this same issue, albeit somewhat differently: “Iran’s continued development and testing of advanced ballistic missiles suggests that its nuclear ambitions may have been delayed, but they have not been dashed.”
On the Record
Please note: There have been many, many statements by members of the House and Senate this week – first with respect to the CW attack inside Syria, and second with respect to the US airstrikes in response to that attack. Included in this section are statements in the Congressional Record and on member websites. Many more statements are still being posted on the latter, and even more statements are appearing on social media, in the news, etc… It is impossible to capture them all here.
Approving of US airstrikes on Syria
Biggs (R-AZ), Bucshon (R-IN), Burr (R-NC), Coffman (R-CO), Cotton (R-AR), Cuellar (D-TX), Gardner (R-CO), Granger (R-TX), Isakson (R-GA), Kinzinger (R-IL), Lankford (R-OK), Loudermilk (R-GA), Marchant (R-TX), McCain (R-AZ) and Graham (R-SC), McCaul (R-TX), McSally (R-AZ), Menendez (D-NJ), Messer (R-IN), Perdue (R-GA), Rubio (R-FL), Stefanik (R-NY),Thornberry (R-TX),Turner (R-OH)
Approving of US airstrikes on Syria BUT
calling for/demanding/suggesting further action requires
Adams (D-NC), Baldwin (D-WI), Bennet (D-CO), Byrne (R-AL), Cruz (R-TX), Curbelo (R-FL), Delaney (D-MD), Deutch (D-FL), Engel (D-NY), Kastor (D-FL), Pelosi (D-CA), Peters (D-CA), Ryan (R-WI), Schneider (D-IL), Shaheen (D-NH), Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)
Expressing concern about Syria airstrikes
Markey (D-MA) [“Tonight, President Trump took action, but the suffering of the Syrian people cannot cease without a concrete plan to ensure a diplomatic end to this civil war. I expect President Trump and his national security team to fully brief Congress and the American people on his complete plan to stop the Assad regime’s cycle of violence. This military escalation would not have been necessary if Russia had kept its commitment to take these weapons out of the hands of the regime. It is imperative that President Trump lays out his next steps to ensure the consequences of this military action do not lead us down a slippery slope ending in greater risk for our men and women in uniform.”]
Reed (D-RI) [“…Tonight, President Trump took action in response to the Assad regime’s illegal and horrific chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians. The question now is what the consequences and reactions will be, and what are the President’s strategic and long-range goals and plans with respect to U.S. involvement in Syria? The Administration is also going to have to set out the legal justification for tonight’s action and any future military operations against the Assad regime as part of its consultations with Congress.”
Paul (R-KY) [“While we all condemn the atrocities in Syria, the United States was not attacked. The President needs congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution, and I call on him to come to Congress for a proper debate. Our prior interventions in this region have done nothing to make us safer, and Syria will be no different.”]
Merkley (D-OR) [“…Assad’s actions are a clear violation of international treaties and Syria’s own recent agreements, and all nations — including Russia, China and Iran — should condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms and work together to act in response. It is essential, however, that before the U.S. undertakes any ongoing military campaign in Syria, the President consult with Congress and seek congressional authorization, in accordance with Article I of the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution. Many Americans are deeply wary of being drawn into another war in the Middle East. We owe the nation full consideration of the complete range of options, including pursuit of an international agreement to end the war and end Assad’s reign of terror.”]
Murphy (D-CT) [“An ill-thought out military action with absolutely no overall strategy for Syria risks dragging us further into a civil war in which we cannot tip the scales. And put in the context of U.S. policies that aid the slaughter of civilians in Yemen and deny terrorized Syrians the ability to flee their dystopian existence, a solitary air strike exposes the immoral hypocrisy of this administration’s policy in the Middle East. Yes, Bashar al-Assad should pay a price for the slaughter of civilians in Syria. But the decision over the nature of that consequence is not for President Trump to make alone. The Constitution states that only Congress can authorize military activity, and President Trump should have sought congressional approval before taking action. Having failed to do so, he now must come to Congress and explain his policy in Syria and seek authorization for any continued military action.”]
Warren (D-MA) [“The use of chemical weapons ?against innocent Syrian men, women, and children is a clear violation of international law. The Syrian regime must be held accountable for this horrific act, and its actions underscore why the United States should embrace innocent people who are fleeing in terror. But the Constitution gives the power to authorize the use of military force to the legislative branch. Expanded military intervention in Syria requires action by Congress. If President Trump expects such an authorization, he owes the American people an explanation of his strategy to bring an end to the violence in Syria. We should not escalate this conflict without clear goals and a plan to achieve them.”]
Bonamici (D-OR) [“…The decision to use our military in conflicts overseas is complex. Although the U. S. response taken yesterday was done without Congressional input or approval, which raises serious questions, it is imperative that the Trump Administration adhere to U.S. law and seek Congressional authorization for any further use of military force….”
Gabbard (D-HI) [“…This escalation is short-sighted and will lead to more dead civilians, more refugees, the strengthening of al-Qaeda and other terrorists, and a direct confrontation between the United States and Russia—which could lead to nuclear war….”
McGovern (D-MA) [“…Charging into another endless war is not the answer. To finally end the suffering of the Syrian people, Congress must do its job and vote and debate on a bipartisan strategy. We must also ensure that any U.S. military action is not only approved by Congress, but has the backing of our international allies, partners, and the American people.”]
On Chemical Attack in Syria
Lee (R-UT) 4/6: Statement on Syria Chemical Attacks
McCain (R-AZ) and Graham (R-SC) 4/6: Statement By McCain & Graham On The Need For Action In Syria
Heinrich (D-NM) 4/6: Heinrich Condemns Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria
Corker (R-TN) 4/6: Corker: Putin Not Worthy of Place on World Stage If Support of ‘Monstrous Dictator’ in Syria Continues
Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Deutch (D-FL) 4/6: Ros-Lehtinen, Deutch Condemn Syrian Chemical Attack and Russian Obstruction at UN
Engel (D-NY) 4/6: Floor statement – Attacks In Syria Will Not Be Tolerated
Raskin (D-MD) 4/6: Floor statement – Independent Investigation Needs To Be Established Concerning Russia Connection [excerpt: “we have to disentangle and disenthrall ourselves from Putin’s friend, Assad, and all of the bullies and dictators and authoritarians on Earth who are a threat to their own people.”]
Velasquez (D-NY) 4/6: Floor statement – Appoint A Special Counsel To Investigate Russian Connections [excerpt: “Let us recall that Assad’s closest ally in that horrific civil war has been–you guessed it–Russia.”]
Mooney (R-WV) 4/6: Floor statement – Return Stability And Peace To Syria
Jackson Lee (D-TX) 4/6: Floor statement – Trump Administration Must Stand Up For Syrian Children Now
Panetta (D-CA) 4/6: Floor statement – Atrocious Chemical Weapons Attack
Lewis (D-GA) 4/6: Rep. John Lewis on Reprehensible Actions Of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
Markey (D-MA) 4/5: We Need Diplomatic Engagement, Not Military Escalation to End Syrian Civil War
Graham (R-SC) 4/5: Graham On Syria Chemical Attack And American Response [excerpt: “If we accept Assad as the leader of Syria, it will be a big win for Russia and Iran, and the region will continue to deteriorate at an even faster pace.”]
Huizenga (R-MI) 4/5: Huizenga Statement on the Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria
McCarthy (R-CA) 4/5: Leader McCarthy on the Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria
Cardin (D-MD) 4/4: After Latest Deadly Gas Attack, Cardin Continues Call for Assad Regime to Be Held Accountable for War Crimes
Corker (R-TN) 4/4: Suspected Chemical Attack in Syria a “Moral Outrage”
Cotton (R-AR) 4/4: Cotton Statement on Chemical Attack in Syria [excerpt: “It is time for a stronger Syria policy, one that holds the Assad government, Russia, and Iran accountable for their brutality…”]
Duckworth (D-IL) 4/4: Duckworth Statement on Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack
Lankford (R-OR) 4/4: Assad Must Go [excerpt: “Assad’s continued leadership in Syria allows Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia to strengthen their foothold at the expense of Middle East stability and the lives of innocent civilians across Syria who long for peace.”]
Royce (R-CA) 4/4: Assad Must Go
Schneider (D-IL) 4/4: Statement on Reports of Chemical Weapon Attack in Syria
Gohmert (R-TX) 4/6: Yet another Gohmert rant about Islamists and Iran, expressing his love for Muslim leaders like Egypt’s al-Sisi (and King Abdullah (“we need him keeping peace on the eastern side of Israel”) and stating among other things that President Obama adopted the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood (“Who knows whether he was taken in or really understood what he was embracing.)
Royce (R-CA) 4/5: Extension of remarks, “Recognizing The Centrality of the U.S.-Saudi Relationship to the Fight Against Terrorism”
DeSantis (R-FL) 4/5: DeSantis Calls for Extradition of Jordanian Terrorist
Ryan (R-WI) 4/4: Statement on Meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
Leahy (D-VT) 4/4: Statement on Egyptian President El-Sisi’s Visit [excerpt: “After three decades of corrupt autocratic rule by former President Mubarak, Egypt once again has a former military officer as President who has chosen to rule by force. It is neither justified, nor is it necessary. If, on the contrary, President el-Sisi were to demonstrate that he has a credible plan for transforming Egypt’s economy, for improving education and creating jobs, for respecting due process and other fundamental rights, and for addressing the discrimination and lack of economic opportunities that are at the root of the violence in the Sinai, the Egyptian people would support him. They would also have a brighter future. Instead, I fear that, by relying on repression, he is sowing the seeds of misery and civil unrest, which is in the interest of neither the Egyptian people nor the American people.”]
Rubio (R-FL) 4/4: Floor statement on “the state of human rights and our general relationship with Egypt” (prefaced with: “I want to make abundantly clear that we are incredibly impressed and grateful and supportive of the efforts that President Elsisi and Egypt are undertaking in battling radicalism and in particular ISIS.”
Feinstein (D-CA) 4/4: Feinstein Statement on Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria
Cruz (R-TX) 4/4: ICYMI: Sen. Cruz Meets with Egyptian Delegation to Advance Efforts Designating the Muslim Brotherhood as Terrorist Organization
Royce (R-CA) 4/4: Royce Statement on Meeting with Egyptian President al-Sisi [excerpt: “…while Egyptian forces combat ISIS-affiliated terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula, the Egyptian government must better support civil society and human rights in order to discourage young people from being radicalized.”]
Hensarling (R-TX) 4/4: Hensarling Statement on Boeing Announcement of New Sales to Iran [excerpt: “It is appalling that the Obama Administration negotiated aircraft sales to Iran, and we must now ensure that the ayatollahs can’t use U.S. jets to carry out atrocities in the region. U.S. and foreign financial institutions are also on notice: no one will be able to pretend they didn’t understand the risks involved in bankrolling these deals.”]
Johnson (R-WI) 4/4: Making case in hearing that “Fencing at the Borders Works” [Excerpt: “…in Israel, there is about a 15 foot fence. And the whole design, first of all, you can see through it, which is an important design consideration, I think that’s important. But the whole purpose was to give them about a five minute response time … It’s built with very thick rebar, it can’t be cut through easily, it can’t just be clipped you’d have to have a pretty good saw, it takes time so you have enough time for the border patrol in Israel to respond…”]
Cruz (R-TX) 4/3: Sen. Cruz Responds to the United Nations’ Targeting U.S. States on Matters of Free Speech [excerpt: “The U.N. has created a bureaucratic architecture of hatred and obsessive bias against America’s friend and ally the Jewish State of Israel.”]
Kaptur (D-OH) 4/3: Floor statement, “Investigation Into Russian Connections Is Long Overdue” [includes focus on Iran angle]
Royce (D-CA) et al 4/3: Floor discussion of H. Res. 54, reaffirming the US-Argentina partnership and recognizing Argentina’s economic reforms [with repeated mention of Iran-Argentina issues]
Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 4/3: Using floor discussion of H. Res. 92 (condemning North Korea’s development of multiple intercontinental ballistic missiles), as “an opportunity to call attention to the Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile program. What I and some of my colleagues have been saying for years now is that Iran has been following the North Korea playbook.”
Smith (R-NJ) 4/3: Slamming Iran-North Korea nuclear collaboration and noting, “We should be very concerned that the Iranians will at some point acquire fissile material beyond what they are allowed to produce for themselves and threaten U.S. regional allies, including Israel.”