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, & Letters
(NEW IRAN SANCTIONS, AKA, KILL THE JCPOA IF WE CAN) HR XXXX or S. XXX: Al-Monitor’s Julian Pecquet reported on 5/11 that new bipartisan, comprehensive Iran sanctions legislation – meaning, not only extension of the soon-to-expire Iran Sanctions Act, but additional new punitive actions targeting human rights, Iran’s ballistic missile programs, and who knows what else – is close to introduction. SFRC Chairman Corker (R-TN) told al-Monitor: “We have a bipartisan bill…and we’re getting ready to roll it out real soon.” The article indicates that leading House and Senate Democrats may not, in fact, be on board with this approach (including SFRC Ranking Member Cardin, D-MD, and HFAC ranking member Engel, D-NY) may not be on board, so “bipartisan” in this context may mean GOP members plus Menendez (D-NJ).
(UNDERMINE THE JCPOA ANY WAY WE CAN) HR 2028: Introduced 4/24/15 by Simpson (R-ID), the “Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016.” As reported in the 5/5/16 edition of the Round-Up, this bill hit a wall last week with an effort by Cotton (R-AR) to add language to the text barring the Administration from purchasing heavy water produced in Iran, leading Senate Democrats to block cloture on the bill. The Senate took on the issue again this week. On 5/9, Senators Alexander (R-TN) and Feinstein (D-CA), the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Appropriations Energy and Water Development subcommittee, each laid out in detail their reasons for opposing the amendment (Alexander here and here, Feinstein here), along with Durbin (D-IL), here. That same day, a cloture motion was filed; on 5/10 Cotton issued a statement expressing satisfaction that his amendment would get a vote, McConnell (R-KY) spoke out in support of the amendment, and Durbin again laid out the reasons Democrats views the amendment as a poison pill. Subsequently, on 5/11, the cloture vote was held and failed (“the yeas are 57, the nays are 42. Three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn not having voted in the affirmative, the motion is rejected.”) Democrats voting “yes” were: Blumenthal (D-CT), Donnelly (D-IN), Heitkamp (D-ND), Manchin (D-WV) and Menendez (D-NJ). Republicans voting “no” were: Alexander (R-TN) & Paul (R-KY). Cotton expressed satisfaction that the Senate had voted on the amendment and then withdrew it, permitting the bill to be passed in the Senate. Kirk (R-IL) issued a statement slamming the defeat of the amendment. Further reading: AP 5/11: Senate blocks measure to forbid buys of Iran ‘heavy water’; WaPo 5/11: Senate rejects amendment that inflamed tensions over Iran nuclear deal; Politico 5/11: Senate kills Cotton’s Iran amendment – and rescues spending bill
(FY17 NDAA – MIDEAST ELEMENTS) HR 4909: Introduced 4/12 by Thornberry (R-TX) and Smith (D-WA), the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017.” All amendments submitted to the Rules Committee (365) are here; it remains to be seen which will be ruled in order by the committee and considered on the floor. Mideast-related amendments are detailed below. The fate of these amendments will be reported in the Round-Up as the bill progresses to the floor. NOTE: A similar round of amendments – including a likely re-upping of the heavy water amendment offered to the E&W bill (discussed above) and a likely effort to attach broad new Iran sanctions (discussed above and here) –should be expected on the Senate NDAA, which could come to the Senate floor next week.
- Roskam (R-IL): “Establishes the sense of Congress that Israel should be delivered the defensive mechanisms necessary to ensure its independent capability to remove any existential threats and defend its vital national interests. It also requires the President to report on the necessary defensive mechanisms required and on the availability for sale or transfer of these items to Israel.” NOTE: This amendment goes beyond asserting/supporting Israel’s right to self-defense, to asserting/supporting Israel’s right to “remove” anything it (or Congress) defines as an existential threat to Israel – and the amendment explicitly defines as such a threat “nuclear and ballistic missile facilities in Iran.” In effect, it is a green light for Israel to attack Iran and calls for the U.S. to provide systems needed to make such an attack possible.
- Lamborn (R-CO): “Expresses a sense of Congress that it is in the United States’ national security interest for Israel to maintain control of the Golan Heights.” NOTE: This amendment includes among its findings: “The region has been stable and the attacks against Israel have significantly decreased since Israel has controlled the Golan” and “Israel has a legitimate territorial claim to the Golan Heights”.
- Higgins (D-NY) & Loudermilk (R-GA): “Authorizes the provision of maritime assistance to Israel in order to protect its offshore energy resources and infrastructure from state and non-state actors.” [Higgins & Loudermilk have also offered this as a freestanding bill: HR 5066]
- King (R-IA): “Prohibits the use of funds authorized by the NDAA from being used to transfer weapons or other military assistance to the Palestinian authority [sic].” NOTE: (a) The Palestinians Authority does not use any funding authorized by the NDAA for the Palestinians, for any purpose; (b) funding for the Palestinian Authority comes entirely under the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, under NADR, ESF and INCLE; and (c) even under these categories, the U.S. does not, in fact, provide weapons to the Palestinian Authority. But why let pesky facts get in the way of grandstanding? For full details of U.S. assistance to the Palestinians, see the March 2016 report from the Congressional Research Service: U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians.
- Roskam (R-IL): “Requires the President to report on the use by the Government of Iran of commercial aircraft and related services for illicit military or other activities.” NOTE: This appears linked to Roskam’s ongoing offensive against any Boeing sales to Iran].
- Walorski (R-IN) and Roskam (R-IL): “Prevents the DoD from using FY17 funds to contract, or conduct significant transactions with Iranian persons such as those who are on the SDN list, part of the IRGC, or part of the Government of Iran.”
- Lamborn (R-CO), Franks (R-AZ), Pompeo (R-KS), Hartzler (R-MO): “Expresses a sense of Congress that none of the funds authorized by this Act or otherwise made available to any Federal department or agency should be obligated or expended to purchase heavy water produced in Iran.” NOTE: See the discussion (above) on Cotton’s heavy water amendment to the Senate Energy & Water bill.
- Maloney, Sean (D-NY): “Requires the Director of National Intelligence to establish an integration cell among intelligence agencies to monitor Iranian implementation of and compliance with the JCPOA. Also encourages the creation of a joint intelligence fusion cell to combat Iranian support for terrorist proxy entities.”
- Pompeo (R-KS) & Lipinski (D-IL): “Requires the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to Congress on cooperation between Iran and the Russian Federation and to what extent such cooperation affects United States national security and strategic interests.”
- Meng (D-NY) & Zeldin (R-NY): “Extends the requirement for three years, consistent with the FY13 NDAA, that the President report to Congress on the use of certain Iranian seaports by foreign vessels and the use of foreign airports by sanctioned Iranian air carriers.”
- Ellison (D-MN) and Jones (R-NC): “Adds language that clarifies that the bill is not an authorization for the use of military force in Iran.”
- Ruiz (D-CA): “Authorizes assistance and training to countries bordering the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, or Mediterranean Sea in an effort to deter and counter illicit smuggling and related maritime activity by Iran. The program will run through FY2020.”
- Pompeo (R-KS) & Hill (R-AR): “Prohibits funds authorized or made available by this act to be obligated or expended to purchase heavy water produced in Iran.” NOTE: See the discussion (above) on Cotton’s heavy water amendment to the Senate Energy & Water bill.
- Peters, Scott (D-CA): “Expresses the Sense of Congress that the United States should work with our Gulf Cooperation Council allies to encourage an enable an integrated ballistic missile defense system to prevent an attack by Iran against such countries.”
- Yoho (R-FL), Franks (R-AZ) & Lamborn (R-CO): “Requires that any future purchase of nuclear goods from Iran be subject to DOD reprogramming. Requires that any OFAC license would have to sit with the congress for 90 legislative days.” NOTE: See the discussion (above) on Cotton’s heavy water amendment to the Senate Energy & Water bill.
- Moore, Gwen (D-WI): “Expresses the sense of Congress regarding the intentional targeting of attacks against medical facilities and medical providers in Syria.”
- Nolan (D-MN): “Prohibits funding from the Syria Train and Equip program to recipients that engage in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”
- Nolan (D-MN): “Prohibits funding from the Syria Train and Equip program to recipients that the Secretary of Defense has reported as having misused provided training and equipment.”
- DeLauro (D-CT) & Granger (R-TX): “Prohibits the Department of Defense from entering into a contract or subcontract with Russia’s state-arms dealer Rosoboronexport unless the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of State and Director of National Intelligence, certifies that the firm ceased transferring weapons to Syria, Russia pulled out of Crimea, Russian forces have withdrawn from the eastern boarder of Ukraine, and that Russia is not otherwise actively destabilizing Ukraine. Any such certification would be reviewed by the Defense Department Inspector General.”
- Gabbard (D-HI), Nolan (D-MN), Takai (D-HI) & Jones (R-NC): “Removes the extension of authority for the Syria train and equip program.”
- Yoho (R-FL) & Peters, Scott (D-CA): “Expresses a sense of Congress condemning Assad’s regime for its use of chemical weapons, including chlorine, on the people of Syria. Includes a sense of Congress that the President should offer material support for the collection of evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria.”
- Yoho (R-FL) & Conyers (D-MI): “Provides for a prohibition on transfer of man-portable air defense systems to any entity in Syria.”
Saudi Arabia-related amendments
- Conyers (D-MI), Grijalva (D-AZ), Ellison (D-MN) & McGovern (D-MA): “States that none of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or otherwise made available for fiscal year 2017 for the Department of Defense may be obligated or expended to transfer or authorize the transfer of any cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia.”
(FY17 DOD APPROPS) HR XXX: On 5/10, the House Appropriations Committee released the Defense Subcommittee’s draft (pre-markup) of the FY15 Department of Defense Appropriations bill (press release here). On 5/11, the Defense Subcommittee marked up the bill (as of this writing the post-markup text has not been reported out of committee; full committee markup is scheduled for 5/17). That draft bill earmarks $600,735,000 for “Israeli Cooperative Programs,” broken down as follows:
- $62,000,000 for “procurement of the Iron Dome defense system”
- $266,511,000 for “the Short Range Ballistic Missile Defense (SRBMD) program, including cruise missile defense research and development under the SRBMD program, of which $150,000,000 shall for co-production activities of SRBMD missiles in the United States and in Israel to meet Israel’s defense requirements consistent with each nation’s laws, regulations, and procedures, of which not more than $90,000,000, subject to previously established transfer procedures, may be obligated or expended until establishment of a U.S.-Israeli co-production agreement for SRBMD”
- $204,893,000 for “an upper-tier component to the Israeli Missile Defense Architecture, of which $120,000,000 shall be for co-production activities of Arrow 3 Upper Tier missiles in the United States and in Israel to meet Israel’s defense requirements consistent with each nation’s laws, regulations, and procedures, of which not more than $70,000,000, subject to previously established transfer procedures, may be obligated or expended until establishment of a U.S.-Israeli co-production agreement for Arrow 3 Upper Tier”
- $67,331,000 for “the Arrow System Improvement Program including development of a long range, ground and airborne, detection suite”
(SANCTIONS FOR AIDING/ABETTING IRAN) HR 5222: Introduced 5/12 by Ratcliffe (R-TX), “To impose sanctions with respect to persons responsible for knowingly engaging in significant activities undermining cybersecurity on behalf of or at the direction of the Government of Iran, and for other purposes.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the Committee on the Judiciary. Press release announcing introduction of the bill is here. Also on 5/12, Ratcliffe issued a press release: “Rep. Ratcliffe leads congressional visit to Israel; Met with top leaders on homeland security and cybersecurity issues.” The press release notes: “The Iran nuclear deal was a top issue discussed throughout the trip, and Ratcliffe said he was reassured by Israeli officials’ steadfast opposition to the agreement. ‘It was certainly a privilege to speak face-to-face with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He places national security ahead of politics and decisive action above political correctness. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s remarks also reinforced a concern I’ve raised in Congress that funds from sanctions relief in the nuclear deal could be used to bolster Iran’s capabilities to launch increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks.’”
(RUSSIA-IRAN RELATIONS) HR 5200: Introduced 5/11 by Pompeo (R-KS) and Lipinski (D-IL), “To direct the Secretary of Defense to submit to Congress a report on cooperation between Iran and the Russian Federation.” Referred to the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Foreign Affairs.
(REJECT PRESSURE ON ISRAEL OVER SETTLEMENTS) Portman-Cardin-Roskam-Vargas letter: Back in February 2015, Sens. Portman (R-OH) and Cardin (D-MD) and Reps. Roskam (R-IL) and Vargas (D-CA) launched the first attack in what has become the battle in Congress (and now in various US states) to exploit concerns about BDS against Israel in order to legislate (via stealth) U.S. support for settlements. They did so with the introduction of legislation (HR 825 and S. 619) that, among other things, would re-define “Israel” to mean “Israel-plus-territories-
(ISRAEL MOU) Senator Brown letter: On 4/12 (not previously reported in the Round-Up) Sen. Brown (D-OH) sent a letter to President Obama in support of a new MOU with Israel. Like the AIPAC-backed Graham-Coons letter, the Brown letter articulates clear support for Israel’s security and its qualitative military edge. In contrast to the AIPAC-backed letter, Brown’s letter does no implicitly trash the JCPOA, but rather argues the importance of holding Iran to its commitments under the deal, as well as to address other threats posed by Iran.
(HAPPY ISRAEL INDEPENDENCE DAY) Israel Allies Caucus letter: On 5/12, the House Israel Allies Caucus sent a letter to Israeli president Reuven Rivlin congratulating Rivlin and the people of Israel on the 68th anniversary of Israel’s Independence. The letter was signed by IAC co-chairs Engel (D-NY), Franks (R-AZ), Lamborn (R-CO) and Sherman (D-CA).
(SPECIAL ENVOY FOR PALESTINIAN CHILDREN) McCollum letter: On 5/5, Rep. McCollum (D-MN) began circulating a Dear Colleague seeking cosigners on a letter to President Obama focusing on the challenges facing Palestinian youth growing up under military occupation. The letter urges Obama to appoint a “Special Envoy for Palestinian Youth.” The letter is being lobbied by a range of groups, including FCNL, Churches for Middle East Peace, and the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation.
5/12: The House Judiciary Committee’s Executive Overreach Task Force held a hearing entitled, “Executive Overreach in Foreign Affairs.” Witnesses were: Eugene Kontorovich, Northwestern University School of Law (testimony); Stephen Vladeck, American University, Washington College of Law (testimony); and Steven Groves, the Freedom Project (testimony). The Committee announcement of the hearing is here. Ranking member Conyers’ (D-NY) statement is here. Unsurprisingly, Kontorovich focused on Iran [arguing that by failing to deliver to Congress “side agreements” between Iran and the IAEA, the Administration violated the law in going ahead and implementing the agreement] and the Palestinians [arguing that Administration if violating the law by continuing to fund climate change-related agencies and groups, since the Palestinians have signed the Climate Change convention]. Video is here.
5/12: The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled, “Terrorism, Missiles and Corruption: The Risks of Economic Engagement with Iran.” Witnesses were: Juan Zarate, Financial Integrity Network (testimony); Mark Dubowitz, FDD (testimony); and Elizabeth Rosenberg, CNAS (testimony). In the press release announcing the hearing, HFAC Chair Royce (R-CA) commented, “Chairman Royce on the hearing: “The Obama administration is turning a blind eye to Iran’s provocative acts and offering new concessions – well beyond the nuclear deal – to Tehran. This hearing will expose the dangers of giving Iran access to the U.S. financial system while it continues to fund terrorism and accelerates its illicit missiles program.” Royce’s opening statement slamming the JCPOA and pushing his bill to prevent Iranian access to US dollars (HR 4992) is here. Ranking member Engel’s (D-NY) opening statement is here. Video is here.
5/17: The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing entitled, “White House Narratives on the Iran Nuclear Deal.” No witnesses have yet been announced as of this writing, but, keepin’ it serious and classy, Committee Chairman Chaffetz (R-UT) tweeted out on 5/12: “Dear @PressSec , @SenTomCotton will testify if @rhodes44 is man enough to show. Let’s discuss the truth. #IranDeal.” For more see: The Hill 5/11: House GOP demands testimony from White House aide on Iran deal; CNN 5/11: House committee wants White House aide to testify over Iran comments
5/17: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “War in Syria: Next Steps to Mitigate the Crisis.” Scheduled witnesses are: Robert Ford, MEI; Nancy Lindborg, USIP; and Tamara Cofman Wittes, Brookings.
5/24: The Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “Understanding the Role of Sanctions Under the Iran Deal.” Scheduled witnesses are: Mark Dubowitz (FDD); Matthew Levitt (WINEP); Michael Elleman (IISS); and Elizabeth Rosenberg (CNAS).
5/25: The Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “Understanding the Role of Sanctions Under the Iran Deal: Administration Perspectives.” The sole scheduled witness is Adam Szubin, Acting Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Crimes, Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.
On the Record
On the Ben Rhodes “profile” in the New York Times Magazine
Roll Call 5/11: White House Picks a Fight With No. 3 House Republican
LaMalfa (R-CA) 5/11: Floor statement – “White House Deception on Iran Arms Deal”
Ryan (R-WI) 5/10: “The White House spent Monday playing damage control after a senior administration official boasted about misleading the American public in order to sell the Iran deal. Their response? Ignore this controversy and focus on the facts about the nuclear agreement. That’s exactly what we did. Yesterday, Speaker Ryan published an op-ed in IJ Review outlining how key promises made about the deal are already unraveling…”
Sullivan (R-AK) 5/10: “…a top White House official is pretty much admitting that he was fabricating a narrative to get the American people and the Congress of the United States to “sell” and “buy off” on the Iran deal.”
Gohmert (R-TX) 5/10: “…people around the world will die as a result of the lies that Ben Rhodes has now admitted to. God help us all.”
DeSantis (R-FL) 5/10: “…This was a deal made in conjunction with Iran’s hard-liners; and as we are seeing now with how they are behaving, it is benefitting Iran’s hard-liners. ObamaCare we can fix. It will be tough. But we may not be able to recover if Iran gets a nuclear weapon.”
Cotton (R-AR) 5/9: “The only question is whether that falsehood was the administration’s entire rationale for the Iran deal or one staffer’s grandiose claim that he manufactured that rationale out of whole cloth to manipulate the press and the American people.”
McCain (R-AZ) 5/9: “…the article exposed how the White House manipulated and, in some cases, manufactured facts to sell the reckless Iran nuclear deal to the American people as a prelude to large-scale disengagement from the Middle East.”
Sasse (R-NE) 5/9: Sasse read the entire article into the record
Honoring Israel on its Independence Day
Deutch (D-FL) [also getting a shot in against BDS], Foxx (R-NC), Hoyer (D-MD), Frankel (D-FL), Cicilline (D-RI), Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) [also pitching for new MOU], Israel Allies Caucus [Engel (D-NY) Franks (R-AZ), Lamborn (R-CO) and Sherman (D-CA)], Engel (D-NY) [separate from IAC], Hastings (D-FL), Wasserman Shultz (D-FL), Pelosi (D-CA), Pompeo (R-KS),
Blunt (R-MO) 5/12: Slamming the JCPOA (“There may be only five people in the world–and they are all in the Obama administration—who believe that Iran has kept up its end of the deal.”)
Poe (R-TX) 5/12: “Israel and U.S. Must Face Common Threats Together” (Iran, Hamas, Hizballah, the PA; calls the JCPOA “this Neville Chamberlain deal.”
Higgins (D-NY) 5/10: Press release announcing introduction of HR 5066, the US-Israel Maritime Security Partnership Act (the bill was actually introduced 4/26 – covered in the last Round-Up; not clear why he took so long to announce this; the press release also fails to note that the bill is being offered as an amendment to the NDAA).
Quigley (D-IL) 5/11: Floor statement: United States’ Relationship With Israel Is More Important Than Ever
Royce (R-CA) 5/10: Statement in support of HR 4985, the Kingpin Designation Improvement Act, focusing on “the extensive role of Iran’s primary regional proxy–Hezbollah–in the international drug trade” and arguing, “Sanctions relief for Iran as a result of the Administration’s flawed deal with that regime, and the resulting inflow of Iranian money to Hezbollah will not likely cause them to turn away from the lucrative drug industry. Rather, it may enable Hezbollah to double down on their efforts to finance their destructive regional activities.”
Roskam (R-IL) 5/10: Floor statement – Urging Boeing Not to Sell Airplanes to Iran
Roskam (R-IL) 5/10: Press release – “Boeing” and “Terrorism” Should Not Appear in the Same Sentence
McCain (R-AZ) 5/9: Statement on Iran’s Ballistic Missile Test
Ayotte (R-NH) 5/9: Ayotte Renews Call t
o Impose Ballistic Missile Sanctions Against Iran
This post is excerpted from the Legislative Round-Up published by Americans for Peace Now.
Americans should ask themselves why Congressmen and women fight to see who can introduce a bigger and more generous aid package to Israel while telling beleaguered Americans their Social Security, Medicare and pensions will have to be cut and we don’t have money to replace lead-lined water pipes, or repair our broken infrastructure.
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