by Lara Friedman
[As we have over the past few months, LobeLog is posting excerpts from the Legislative Round-up published weekly when Congress is in session by the inimitable Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now about what Congress is up to and what individual members are saying, particularly about Israel-Palestine and Iran.]
Bills, Resolutions, and Letters
(SETTLEMENTS=ISRAEL: MIS-LABELING) S. 2474: Introduced 2/1 by Cotton (R-AR) and as of this writing having scored 3 GOP cosponsors (Cruz, R-TX, Rubio, R-FL, and Gardner, R-CO), to permit the knowing and deliberate mis-labeling of the point of origin of goods made in Israeli settlements (or the official title, “A bill to allow for additional markings, including the words ‘Israel’ and ‘Product in Israel,’ to be used for country of origin marking requirements for goods made in the geographical areas known as the West Bank and Gaza Strip”). Referred to the Committee on Finance. Cotton’s press release is here. APN STRONGLY OPPOSES THIS BILL AND HAS URGED SENATORS TO REFUSE TO COSPONSOR IT AND TO OPPOSE IT IF BROUGHT UP FOR A VOTE. See Section 2, below, for analysis. See Section 3, below, for APN’s message to the Senate on this bill. The response to the bill by the State Department spokesman is here. Also see report in HuffPo: Tom Cotton’s New Law Would Allow A Product Made In Gaza To Be Labeled ‘Made in Israel’ and 2/4: Cotton’s “Made in Israel” bill: latest salvo in campaign to change US settlements policy(Lara Friedman in The Hill). The RJC is lobbying in support of S. 2474.
(UNDERMINING THE JCPOA) HR 3662: Introduced 10/1/15 by Russell (R-OK) and having 62 all-GOP cosponsors, the “Iran Terror Finance Transparency Act.” As highlighted in Part 1 of the 12/31/15 Round-Up, this bill is one a number pending initiatives aimed at undermining the JCPOA. Notably, it is entirely partisan, meaning efforts to move it are nothing more than grandstanding (even if Republicans could pass it on their own in the House and Senate, without Democratic support they cannot overcome a presidential veto). As reported in the 1/15/16 edition of the Round-Up, GOP leaders attempted nonetheless to pass the bill beforeImplementation Day of the JCPOA (which took place on 1/16). As also reported in the 1/15/16 edition of the Round-Up, that vote – which took place on 1/12 – did not go as planned: So many members showed up late (or not at all) that Speaker Ryan closed the vote swiftly to punish tardiness. As a result, the 1/12 vote was VACATED and a new vote rescheduled for 1/26. Snowzilla led to that vote being postponed. Finally, on 2/2 the GOP got its vote on HR 3662, which passed by a party-line vote of 246-181 (all GOP members voted in favor; all Democrats voted against, except for Graham, D-FL; Peterson, D-MD) and Scott, D-GA.) Which means that this week the House GOP passed Iran legislation that will never become law, seeking to prevent the president from lifting sanctions that, with implementation of the JCPOA, have for the most part already been lifted. None of which is to suggest that Congressional efforts to undermine the JCPOA should not be taken very seriously. For excellent analysis, see: Groundhog Day for the Iran Deal. Many (maybe even most) GOP members issued statements announcing their support for HR 3662 – which member websites for statements from specific members. A few members issued statements opposing HR 3662 this week, including Ellison (D-MN) and Grijalva (D-AZ), and Larsen (D-WA). Additional statement opposing the bill when it was originally brought to the floor can be found in the previous edition of the Round-Up.
(UNDERMINING THE JCPOA?) H. Amdt. 927 to HR 766: Offered 2/4 by Sherman (D-CA) as an amendment to the Financial Institution Customer Protection Act of 2015, “…to clarify that bill does not prevent federal banking regulators from requesting or requiring a financial institution to terminate a relationship with a customer because (1) the customer poses a threat to national security, (2) is engaged in terrorist financing, (3) is doing business with Iran, North Korea, Syria, or another State Sponsor of Terrorism, or (4) is doing business with an entity in any of those countries.” Adopted 2/4 by voice vote; floor consideration is here. Sherman explained that his amendment, “ clarifies that the underlying bill does not prevent banking regulators from requesting a financial institution terminate a relationship because the customer poses a national security threat, is engaged in terrorist financing, or is domiciled in Iran, North Korea, Syria, or another state sponsor of terrorism.”
(UNDERMINING THE JCPOA) S. XXX, S. XXX and S. XXX: From the Hill 2/2, “Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Tuesday that he’s working on a package of Iran-related bills that would go further than the administration’s.” From the Washington Post: “’We are looking at ways of having a much stronger pushback on the violations that took place,’ Corker said of his proposed sanctions aimed at Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests. The ballistic missile measure is part of a trio Corker is readying, along with a reauthorization of ISA — a sweeping, longstanding law to curb Iran’s nuclear and missile activities as well as its support for terrorism through sanctions on the trade, energy, defense and banking sectors. Corker is also crafting a third measure, but declined to identify its content.”
(UNDERMINING THE JCPOA) S. XXX: From the Hill 2/2, “Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) also said Tuesday that he’s working on new sanctions legislation unrelated to Iran’s nuclear program. He introduced legislation last year with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to extend the Iran Sanctions Act, which expires at the end of the year.” From the Washington Post: “Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) is also planning a package of “actions that we should be considering against Iran outside the nuclear portfolio.” Menendez has already co-authored, along with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), legislation to extend ISA past 2016, and wants to step up sanctions against Tehran for its ballistic missile tests and human rights violations.”
(UNDERMINING THE JCPOA) HR 4448: Introduced 2/3 by DeSantis (R-FL) and 20 cosponsors, “To amend the ComprehensiveIran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 to secure the authority of State and local governments to adopt and enforce measures restricting investment in business enterprises in Iran, and for other purposes.” DeSantis press release here. Referred to the House Committee on Financial Services.
(THREATENING SANCTIONS ON IRAN IF IT MISBEHAVES) S. 2485: Introduced 2/3 by Thune (R-SD) and 3 GOP cosponsors, “to provide for the immediate reinstatement of sanctions against Iran if Iran attempts to acquire nuclear weapons technology from North Korea. “ Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. Thune press release is here.
(THREATENING CONSEQUENCES FOR IRAN IF IT MISBEHAVES) H.Res.600: Introduced 2/3 by Moulton (D-MA) and 4 cosponsors, “Reaffirming the right for the United States to use all available options, including the use of military force, to preventIran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
(U.S.-JORDAN DEFENSE COOPERATION) HR 907: Introduced 2/12/15 by Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and having 13 cosponsors, the “United States-Jordan Defense Cooperation Act of 2015.” Passed in the Senate 2/3 with an amendment by Unanimous Consent. Amendment (offered by Rubio, R-FL) is here. Rubio press release is here.
(SYRIA) S. Res.361: Introduced 2/3 by Corker (R-TN) and having 10 cosponsors, “A resolution urging robust funding for humanitarian relief for Syria.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.
(FIX VISA WAIVER PROGRAM!) Huffman et al letter: On 2/4, 26 House members, let by Huffman (D-CA) sent a letter to Secretary of State Kerry and Secretary of Homeland Security Johnson urge them to protect dual national Americans and Americans traveling to Iran from visa restrictions and ensure that they are not are not unjustly targeted. Co-signers Conyers (D-MI) and Dingell (D-MI) put out their own press release on the letter, here.
(POINT-SCORING OVER THE JCPOA) Royce letter: On 2/3, House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Royce (R-CA) sent a letter to Secretary of State Kerry, “requesting detailed information regarding the Obama Administration’s January 17, 2016 announcement that the United States will pay this terrorist state $1.7 billion to settle a longstanding bilateral dispute.” The funds are repayment under a settlement reached to a lawsuit that had been pending under an international legal tribunal, and comprise $400 million from a trust fund used by Iran to purchase military equipment from the United States prior to the break in diplomatic ties, plus $1.3 billion in interest accrued since that time. Royce’s letter concludes with a laundry list of information demanded from Kerry, to be provided no later than 2/17/16, related to this settlement, to the release of the five American hostages; and to the JCPOA itself – including “Separate lists of all U.S. officials who participated in the negotiation with Iran” over each of these things.
Legislating Labeling of West Bank Goods
This week, Cotton (R-AR) introduced S. 2474, a bill to allow the knowing and deliberate mis-labeling of the point of origin of goods made in Israeli settlements. Below is a Q&A on the bill – what it is about, and what are its prospects.
Q: Is this bill a surprise?
A: No. Given Congressional (misplaced, manipulated, supported by AIPAC) outrage over last year’s new EU’s labeling requirements for products made in settlements, it was only a matter of time before some enterprising member of Congress noticed that U.S. labeling requirements are not that different, and sought to score political points by introducing legislation mandating a change.
Q: Is Congress reacting to a new Obama Administration labeling policy?
A: No. U.S. policy since 1995 has mandated that products made in the West Bank (and Gaza) cannot be mis-labeled to show their point of origin as Israel. For comprehensive background on U.S. labeling policy (and a comparison to the EU policy) see here.
Q: What, then, is Cotton’s pretext for introducing this bill now?
A: His pretext is a notice sent out by U.S. Customs on 1/23 reminding the trade community of the labeling policy. That reminder was issued in the wake of what are reportedly numerous inquiries regarding possible violations of the Customs regulations.
Q: Have the existing regulations been controversial before now?
A: No. The government of Israel has never objected to the existing labeling requirements –not when they were adopted in 1995, or when they were amended in 1997, or anytime since then. AIPAC has never lobbied Congress to change the regulations and as recently as last month, AIPAC stated that they had no problem with the regulations.
Q: Whatever its reasons, can Congress pass legislation like this?
A: Congress can pass whatever it wants.
Q: Is there a good chance that this will pass?
A: A solo effort by Cotton (who is not considered a team player even within the GOP), without backing from AIPAC or bipartisan cosponsors , has little chance of passing. However, that doesn’t mean someone more mainstream won’t pick up and run with the issue, introducing their own legislation and/or attaching it to a piece of must-pass legislation (like an appropriations bill). In that case, given the (so far) extraordinary victory of AIPAC et al in framing anything focusing on settlements as a form of BDS against Israel, something like this could well be very pass. Indeed, the groundwork for legislation like this has already been laid with what have thus far been treated as non-controversial Congressional attacks on the EU for its labeling policy.
Q: What happens if it passes into law?
A: There are two ways this could go, and both end the same way. (1) If this effort passes into law on its own, the President (this one or the next) would likely veto it. He or she would do so not only because it directly contradicts longstanding U.S. policy vis-à-vis settlements, but also because it represents a clear effort by Congress to usurp the president’s constitutional authority, in effect legislating de facto U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank. If Congress somehow overturned that veto, he ro she would likely declare the measure unconstitutional. (2) If this effort passes into law as part of a piece of bigger legislation that the president doesn’t want to veto, she or he will almost certainly issue a signing statement declaring the labeling provision unconstitutional (for the reasons discussed in #1).
Q: What happens if this becomes law, on its own or as part of another bill, but the President declares it unconstitutional?
A: An outside party could sue the Administration to try to force it to implement the law. This is what happened with the famous Zivitovsky case, in which an American citizen (with the backing of major Jewish organizations and Congress) sued the U.S. government to try to force it to record the birthplace of his child, born in Jerusalem, as “Israel” in the child’s passport – contrary to consistent U.S. policy dating back to 1948 that does not recognize Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. That case dragged on for a number of years and was ultimately taken up twice(!) by the Supreme Court. Last year, that court ruled that the case revolved around the question of who has the right – Congress or the Executive – to recognize foreign sovereignty. In its ruling, the Court confirmed with unprecedented clarity that this recognition right resides exclusively with the Executive. In this context, the President is in the strongest position at any time in history to declare unconstitutional any law passed by Congress that, through legislating labeling regulations or anything else, seeks to grant de facto U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank.
Photo: Tom Cotton (R-AR)