by Lara Friedman
The following are excerpts from the latest legislative update from Americans for Peace Now. It provides a summary of a number of Iran- and Israel-related issues and developments on Capitol Hill. Congress is now on spring break and won’t be back in session until the second week of April.
Bills, Resolutions, and Letters
(BUDGET VOTE-A-RAMA!) S. Con. Res. 11: This week was the Senate’s much-anticipated FY16 Budget Resolution Vote-A-Rama (yes, that it is what it is really called). This is an exercise in which senators are permitted to introduced as many amendments as they like on any topic, and then in marathon session the Senate considers and votes many (but not all) of those amendments. The Budget Resolution, S. Con. Res. 11, is non-binding, and amendments to it are non-binding as well. Nonetheless, they are important not just for grandstanding, but also for signaling what Senators may plan to pursue in the future, as well as, sometimes, for laying the groundwork future binding legislation. Middle East-related amendments to S. Con. Res 11 are discussed in Section 2, below, in detail, and one Iran-related amendment is discussed in this section, in the update on S. 269. Vote-a-rama concluded on 3/27, and the bill was passed by the Senate (as amended) by a vote of 52-46.
(UPDATE ON KIRK-MENENDEZ IRAN SANCTIONS BILL) S. 269: No new cosponsors have signed on to S. 269 and no new action was taken on it – but the bill was nonetheless very much in play this week. This is because Kirk (R-IL) offered an amendment to S. Con. Res. 11 (SA 545) that sought, at least symbolically, to mobilize and lock in support from other senators for S. 269. Reflecting this goal, on 3/25, Kirk took to the Senate floor to make his case. That evening, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) circulated an email urging its supporters to take action and urge senators to vote for the amendment and noting that “Like the budget resolution itself, Senator Kirk’s amendment would not have the force of law. But by expressing the ‘sense of the Senate’ regarding sanctions and Iranian compliance, it will set the stage for future actions.”
Things appear not to have gone according to plan. The original text of SA 545, sought Senate support for “efforts to immediately reimpose waived sanctions and impose new sanctions against the Government of Iran for violations of the Joint Plan of Action or a comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, by the amounts provided in such legislation.” This text is code for S. 269, and Kirk’s goal, it seemed, was to get Dems to support the logic of S. 269 in this non-binding form, in hopes that it would be harder for them to oppose it in a binding form. However, it appears that Dems were unwilling to cooperate and Kirk (and AIPAC, which is lobbying hard for S. 269) faced the prospect of a less-than-veto-proof majority supporting the amendment.
Rather than go ahead with a vote that would have an unfavorable outcome, Kirk appears to have elected to negotiate revisions to the text of the amendment with key Democrats, yielding an amendment that is much closer to the Boxer Iran deal oversight bill (S. 669) than to S. 269. The modified amendment, adopted 3/26 by a vote of 100-0, supports “efforts to immediately reimpose waived sanctions and impose new sanctions against the Government of Iran if the President cannot make a determination and certify that Iran is complying with the Joint Plan of Action or a comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.” Speaking before the vote in support of the amendment, Boxer (D-CA) stated, “I hope we all vote for this because it doesn’t do anything to cause disarray in negotiations. What it says is if there is a deal and there is a breakout and it is certified that there is a breakout with Iran, we would have a very quick way to restore sanctions.” Brown (D-OH) then also urged Senators to vote the amendment, which he referred to as the “Kirk-Brown-Boxer-Menendez” amendment. Kirk’s press release trying to spin passage of the amendment as support for S. 269 (deceptively titled “Kirk-Brown Budget Amendment to Immediately Impose Sanctions on Iran Passes Senate Unanimously” is here.
APN STRONGLY OPPOSES S. 269 AND URGES SENATORS TO REFUSE TO COSPONSOR IT OR SUPPORT IT IF IT IS BROUGHT UP FOR A VOTE
(UPDATE ON CORKER IRAN DEAL VETO BILL) S. 615: As noted last week’s Round-Up, S. 615 is scheduled for a markup and a vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee 4/14. In the meantime, pressure continues to be put on Senators to cosponsor. New cosponsors this week are Sasse (R-NE), Heller (R-NV) and, far more importantly, Schumer (D-NY), who cosponsored on 3/26. This brings the total number of cosponsors to 21, plus Corker (R-TN). Schumer’s decision to cosponsor is particularly notable; until now, Schumer appeared to be supporting President Obama, who has promised to veto S. 615 if it is passed. By cosponsoring S. 615, Schumer now appears to be signaling that he will stand with GOP (and some Democratic colleagues) against President Obama on this matter. It is worth noting that Schumer’s announcement that he would cosponsor the S. 615 does not appear on his website (as of this writing) and has not been reported in any mainstream media outlet; the only outlets reporting on it right-wing Israeli and Jewish media outlets (like Arutz Sheva, the Israeli media outlet associated with right-wing settlers). The full statement is apparently reproduced on one of those sites, here (with an intro attacking Schumer and the statement not being hardline enough on any Iran deal). Corker has been all over the media promoting his bill, including a 3/22 appearance on Face the Nation (video and article here).
APN STRONGLY OPPOSES S. 615 AND URGES SENATORS TO REFUSE TO COSPONSOR IT OR SUPPORT IT IF IT IS BROUGHT UP FOR A VOTE IN COMMITTEE OR ON THE FLOOR
(ANOTHER IRAN SANCTIONS BILL) HR 1540: Introduced 3/23 Franks (R-AZ), “To terminate the authority to waive certain provisions of law requiring the imposition of sanctions with respect to Iran, to codify certain sanctions imposed by executive order, and for other purposes.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, as well as the Committees on Financial Services, Oversight and Government Reform, the Judiciary, and Ways and Means. Based on the short title, this appears to be a House version of S. 825, introduced 3/19 by Cruz (R-TX) (as reported in last week’s Round-Up). That bill was a re-run of S.2672, introduced by Cruz on 7/28/14, (which attracted no cosponsors and went nowhere).
(NO BOYCOTTING ISRAEL OR SETTLEMENTS!) HR 1572: Introduced 3/23 by Lamborn (R-CO) and DeSantis (R-FL), “To require certifications by prospective contractors with the United States Government that they are not boycotting persons, and for other purposes.” Referred to the House Financial Services Committee, as well as the Committees on Foreign Affairs, Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform, and Ways and Means. Text of the bill is not yet available in the Congressional Record, but has been helpfully posted by Lamborn (in itty-bitty font) to accompany the press release touting the bill’s introduction. As with the other bills introduced in Congress purporting to oppose boycotts targeting Israel, this bill is written to include boycotts targeting settlements (the more likely target of actual boycotts dealt with under this bill). The bill does this by explicitly defines prohibited boycotts as refusal to do business with Israel, any Israeli national (regardless of location), or any “a business concern organized under the laws of the State of Israel” – language that in essence forbids any boycotts of settlement business or products.
(WARNING OFF OBAMA AT THE UN) Royce-Engel letter: On 3/25, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Engel (D-NY) sent a letter to US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power noting that Netanyahu has “contextualized” his recent anti-two-state-solution statements (implying, it seems, that these comments are thus not relevant in U.S. policy considerations) and expressing concern that the Obama Administration “is considering new steps at the United Nations that depart from our nation’s historic and principled defense of Israel at the United Nations against biased and one-sided resolutions.”
This is a startling statement, since it implies (intentionally or not) that the Obama Administration would actually support something that is outside U.S. policy vis-à-vis Israel and the Palestinians at the UN – as opposed to something that, while objected to by the Netanyahu government and perhaps some of Netanyahu’s sympathizers and apologists in Congress (like those now attacking the White House Chief of Staff for using the word “occupation” in a speech) – is entirely consistent with U.S. policy.
The letter goes on to state (among other things) that the U.S. has for decades “used its U.N. Security Council veto to protect Israel from undue pressure at the world body…” This statement is consistent with the false but extremely resilient narrative (which appeared around the same time that Obama took office) that no U.S. president has ever failed to veto resolutions critical of Israel in the UNSC. Those who are interested in the actual history of U.S. votes on UNSC resolutions critical of Israel since 1967 can check out this table (not exhaustive but close), which documents U.S. “yes” votes and abstentions on many, many UNSC resolutions critical of Israeli policies and actions – with respect to military engagements in the region, actions in Jerusalem, settlements, Gaza, treatment of Palestinians, etc… Back-of-the-napkin calculations show that under President Johnson, the U.S. voted for or abstained on resolutions critical of Israel at least 15 times. Under Nixon, the U.S. did so at least 17 times. Under Carter, at least 9 times. Under Reagan, at least 22 times. Under Bush (Sr.), at least 8 times. Under Clinton, at least 4 times. And under Bush (Jr.), at least 10 times. Ironically, only under President Obama is the number ZERO. And ironically, only President Obama has faced such outrage from “defenders of Israel” for allegedly failing to defend Israel at the UN. Royce’s press release on the letter is here.
(STOP IRAN TALKS BY CUTTING OFF FUNDING FOR NEGOTIATIONS) Roskam-Zeldin letter: As noted in last week’s Round-Up, on 3/19 Reps. Roskam (R-IL) and Zeldin (R-NY) circulated a Dear Colleague seeking cosigners on a letter addressed to House Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chair Granger (R-TX) and Ranking Member Lowey (D-NY) urging them to prohibit “funding for the ongoing U.S. involvement in dangerous P5+1 negotiations with Iran” in the FY16 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. Their Dear Colleague stated (among other things), “Over the past year, negotiations with the Iranian regime have failed to bring us closer to a final agreement that would sufficiently prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. Endless negotiations will only further enable Iran to advance its nuclear technology while reaping the benefit of billions of dollars in desperately needed sanctions relief. Moreover, the deal reportedly under consideration would leave Iran’s nuclear infrastructure virtually intact and expire in ten years, at which point the mullahs could freely pursue a nuclear weapon.” The letter closed on March 24 and the letter was sent to Granger & Lowey, signed by a whopping total of 9 members: Roskam (R-IL), Zeldin (R-NY), Gohmert (R-TX), Babin (R-TX), Rokita (R-IN), Johnson (R-TX), Byrne (R-A:), Franks (R-AZ), Weber (R-TX). Roskam’s press release on the letter is here.
Budget “Vote-a-Rama” in Senate: Middle East Amendments
This week the Senate is dealing with S. Con. Res. 11. “An original concurrent resolution setting forth the congressional budget for the United States Government for fiscal year 2016 and setting forth the appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2017 through 2025.” This annual exercise is nicknamed a “vote-a-rama,” with members permitted to offer as many amendments as they like on pretty much any topic, so long as they append the magic words at the end of every amendment: “provided that such legislation would not increase the deficit over either the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2020 or the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2025.” In shorthand, this means the amendment is “budget neutral.”
In past years, we have not seen a lot of Middle East provisions offered to the annual budget resolution – possibly because Senators prefer to attach Middle East-related amendments to binding, must-pass legislation like the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, or the Defense Authorization bill; or because there were stricter rules governing amendments; or just maybe because at no time in recent memory has the Senate (or some of its members) behaved in such a reckless and at times nutty-as-a squirrel-turd manner as is the case today.
In this context, it comes as no surprise that number of Middle East-related amendments were offered to S. Con. Res. 11. Below is a summary of those amendments. As was expected, most of these amendments were never considered, let alone voted on. And it should be kept in mind that even the ones that were adopted are non-binding. That being said, all of these amendments are worth paying attention to, offering valuable insight into possible intentions of some Senators to pursue these issues in the future, in the context of binding legislation.
(NEW IRAN SANCTIONS) SA 775: Submitted by Rubio (R-FL), “Sec. 352. Spending-neutral reserve fund relating to the imposition of new sanctions against the government of Iran because of that government’s support for terrorism and its human rights abuses against the people of Iran.” NOT CONSIDERED
(NO TAXPAYER DOLLARS FOR MOCs TO WRITE TO IRAN) SA 756: Submitted by Stabenow (D-MI), “Sec. __x. Deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to ending taxpayer funding of congressional letters to the government of Iran.” This rather brilliant and hilarious amendment was reported in TPM, here, as well as in HuffPo, here. NOT CONSIDERED
(SYRIA) SA 663: Submitted by Cotton (R-AR), “Sec. __x. Spending-neutral reserve fund relating to prohibiting the use of funds for negotiating with President of Syria Bashar al Assad and the government of Syria to resolve the Syrian civil war and combat the Islamic state.” NOT CONSIDERED
(IRAN) SA 660: Submitted by Cotton (R-AR), “Sec. __x. Spending-neutral reserve fund relating to prohibiting the use of funds for cooperating with the government of Iran in combating the islamic state.” NOT CONSIDERED
(CUT $$ FOR “PALESTINE”, INCREASE $$ FOR ISRAEL) SA 558: Submitted by Rubio (R-FL). “Sec. __x. Spending-neutral reserve fund relating to reducing foreign assistance to Palestine and increasing foreign assistance for Israel.” [To permit cutting U.S. funding to “Palestine” and give it to Israel. Apparently Rubio’s foreign policy expertise does not extend to knowing that the U.S. does not recognize or fund “Palestine.”
(IRAN SANCTIONS) SA 545: Submitted by Kirk (R-IL), “Sec. 3__. Deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to reimposing waived sanctions and imposing new sanctions against iran for violations of the joint plan of action or a comprehensive nuclear agreement.” ADOPTED 3/26 (MODIFIED VERSION) BY A VOTE OF 100-0. See Section 1, above, for full discussion.
3/24: The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing entitled, “United States Policy in the Middle East.” McCain’s (R-AZ) opening statement is here. Witnesses were Ray Takeyh, CFR (statement); Ken Pollack, Brookings (statement); Col Derek Harvey, University of Florida (no written statement); and Dafna Rand, CNAS (statement). Video of the hearing is here.
3/24: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia held a hearing entitled, “Iran’s Noncompliance with Its International Atomic Energy Agency Obligations.” Video of the hearing is here. Witnesses were: William Tobey, Harvard University [statement]; Rebeccah Heinrichs, George C. Marshall Institute [statement]; and David Albright, ISIS [statement].
Members on the Record
Menendez (D-NJ) 3/26: Senator Menendez Reacts to Associated Press Report on Allowing Iran to Operate Centrifuges at Fordow
Royce (R-CA) 3/26: Chairman Royce Reacts as Iran Continues to Stonewall International Inspections
Boozman (R-AR) 3/26: Troubling News from the Negotiations
Johnson (R-TX) 3/26: Railing against an Iran deal Obama is pursuing, which will “hurt our national security interests and sell out our proven ally and friend, Israel.”
Gohmert (R-TX) 3/26: Expounding on (among other things) the sin committed by the White House CoS for using the word “occupation” in his speech at J Street, the nefarious Muslim that this same CoS said nice things to, and the various sins of the White House against Israel in general
Issa (R-CA) 3/25: Rep. Darrell Issa Addresses Saudi Arabia Military Action in Yemen
Murphy (D-CT) 3/25: Trying to be the sober voice of reason in favor of giving the Obama Administration a chance to get to a deal with Iran and then judging that deal on is merits (i.e., CRAZY TALK)
McCaul (R-TX) 3/24: In opening statement at hearing “A Global Battleground: The Fight Against Islamist Extremism at Home and Abroad,” slamming Obama policy, referencing Netanyahu speech to Congress
Rubio (R-FL) 3/24: Oped on ForeignPolicy.com – It’s Time To Stop Enabling Iran
Dold (R-IL) 3/24: Floor statement warning against Obama attacking Israel at the UN
McCain (R-AZ) & Graham (R-SC) 3/24: McCain Floor speech on the Middle East and Iran (among other things excusing/contextualizing Bibi’s recent anti-two-state statements) and urging Bibi to treat Obama with “contempt” and suggesting that the Israelis may have to “go rogue” on Iran (you can’t make this stuff up), followed by colloquy with Graham slamming any deal with Iran.
Graham (R-SC) 3/23: OUTRAGED that White House CoS suggested in his J St conference speech used the word “occupation” (Graham: “The language used by the Chief of Staff of the President of the United States is exactly what Hamas uses. So now our administration is taking up the language of a terrorist organization to describe our friends in Israel…. Today, the Chief of Staff of the President of the United States used language to describe Israel that has been reserved for terrorist organizations up until now.” Apparently Graham is unaware that Israel uses the term as well, but no matter).
Buchanan (R-FL) 3/23: Rep. Buchanan Urges Tough Stance Vs. Iran
Cotton (R-AR) 3/23: Railing against Iran’s Ayatalloh Khomenei an Iran deal and (without even a hint of irony) objecting to a deal because “Ayatollah Khomeini wants the world to know that Iran will not be bound in perpetuity by any deal, no matter its terms” (was the Cotton letter to Iranian leaders – in effecting warning them that Congress or the next President would likely kill abrogate an deal the Obama Administration makes with Iran – really only a couple of weeks ago?)
Foxx (R-NC) 3/23: Railing against the UN for anti-Israel behavior, as exemplified by the Commission on the Status of Women by adopting a resolution that singles out and condemns Israel for violating the rights of women, when Israel actually has an outstanding record with respect to the rights of women in Israel [she ignores the fact that the resolution actually criticized Israel’s record with respect to the rights of PALESTINIAN women, noting “the Israeli occupation remains the major obstacle for Palestinian women with regard to their advancement, self-reliance and integration in the development of their society” and “Palestinian women and girls still face significant obstacles in accessing basic services, health care, psychosocial support, water and sanitation, justice institutions and economic opportunities.”]
Coffman (R-CO) 3/20: Oped in the Washington Times – “Why I believe Iran Cannot Be Trusted”