1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2. AIPAC Policy Conference - Hill Agenda
4. Members on the Record
5. From the Press
1. Bills, Resolutions, & Letters
(IRAN DIPLOMACY) HR 783: Introduced 2/15 by Lee (D-CA) and 10 cosponsors, the "Prevent Iran from Acquiring Nuclear Weapons and Stop War Through Diplomacy Act." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Further reporting here.
(BACKDOOR-TO-IRAN-WAR RES) S. Res. 65: Introduced 2/28 by Senators Graham (R-SC) and Menendez (D-NJ), along with 20 cosponsors, "A resolution strongly supporting the full implementation of United States and international sanctions on Iran and urging the President to continue to strengthen enforcement of sanctions legislation." Graham's press release and links to his audio remarks, here. Note that this is an S. Res, not an S. J. Res. (a pdf of the resolution circulating over the past few days showed it as an S. J. Res., but that was changed). In addition, the word "unshakeable" has been removed from resolved clause #7 (the earlier wording talked about the "unshakeable unbreakable commitment" to Israel, seemingly reflecting the drafters' inability to settle on just one emphatic adjective to characterize the strength of the U.S. commitment to Israel). Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. THIS RESOLUTION IS PART OF THE AIPAC LOBBYING AGENDA.
- The resolution, has been nicknamed by many the "Backdoor to War" resolution, because, while it deals in part with sanctions implementation, in its resolved clauses (clause #8), it (a) implies approval of Israeli military action against Iran in a case where Israel is "compelled" to take such action in self-defense (what constitutes such a case is entirely undefined, leaving this open to the interpretation that Congress is supporting an Israeli preemptive strike against Iran if it defines it as self-defense) and (b) urges that in such an event the U.S. "stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence." While the resolution does include a "rule of construction" stating that the measure shall not be construed as an authorization of the use of force or a declaration of war, it nonetheless represents the furthest Congress has yet been asked to go in approving potential Israeli military action and implicitly committing itself to support such action, either by Israel or the United States. It is difficult to interpret such language as anything other than an implicit Congressional green light for Israeli military action against Iran on the one hand, and, on the other, implicit pressure on the Obama Administration to act forcefully against Iran, before Israel does.
- In addition, the resolution's resolved clause number 5 blatantly misrepresents U.S. policy regarding Iran, stating, "the policy of the United States is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon capability..." In fact, the policy of the Obama Administration is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon - and repeated Congressional efforts (backed by AIPAC and others, including last year's AIPAC-backed "red lines" legislation) to pass legislation imposing the recklessly ambiguous "nuclear weapons capability"policy formulation on the Obama Administration have thus far failed.
(IRAN SANCTIONS & DESIGNATE IRGC AS FTO) HR 850: Introduced 2/27 by Rep. Royce (R-CA) and Engel (D-NY), along with 36 original cosponsors, "To impose additional human rights and economic and financial sanctions with respect to Iran, and for other purposes." Referred to the Committees on Foreign Affairs, Judiciary, Financial Services, Oversight and Government Reform, and Ways and Means. THIS RESOLUTION IS PART OF THE AIPAC LOBBYING AGENDA. Royce's press release announcing the bill is available here. Text of the bill (which as of this writing is not yet in Thomas) is available here. Royce's section-by-section summary of the bill is available here. Press reports on the bill: New York Times, Reuters, AFP. Video of Royce and Engel talking about the bill with Andrea Mitchell, here.
- As explained in analysis released 3/1 by NIAC, "H.R.850 seeks to impose sanctions that broadly target the entire Iranian economy. It would impose secondary sanctions on virtually all trade between Iran and any countries that do not reduce the value of non-oil trade with Iran." NIAC goes on to explain in detail specific concerns about the legislation. The full analysis is available here.
- Unlike S. Res. 65 (discussed above) this bill doesn't misrepresent the current U.S. policy regarding Iran. However, like S. Res. 65 and previous efforts (see above analysis), Section 2(b) of HR 850 seeks to change U.S. policy from preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon to preventing Iran "from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability" (a red line that as in previous efforts is left entirely ambiguous.
- Notably, the bill would compel the Secretary of State to designate the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization. It is worth noting that Congress does not have the legal authority to force the Executive branch to designate any group an FTO. It is also worth noting that this is an issue that came up in the Hagel confirmation hearing. At that time, Hagel noted (in explaining his opposition to legislation like this in the past):
"...The effort against it, the main point made on the floor of the Senate came from Senator Jim Webb. And his point was we have never, ever designated a part of a legitimate government, a state -- when I say legitimate, it doesn't mean we agree with Iran, but it is a member of the United Nations. Almost all of our allies have embassies in Iran. So that's -- that's why I note an elected legitimate government, whether we agree or not. But we have never made any part of a legitimate independent government, designated them or made part -- made -- made them part of a terrorist organization. We've just never done that. And you say, 'Well, so what, what's the big problem? 'The problem was, at least 22 of us believe -- they were both Republicans and Democrats by the way in that vote, but it was Jim Webb who was on the floor most of the time on it, said that if you do that, that's tantamount to giving the president of the United States authority to use military force against Iran without having to come back to get a resolution from or partner with or cooperate with the Congress of the United States. Essentially, if we vote for this, we're giving that -- we're giving a president in a sense that authority. Now you can agree or disagree with that, but I listened to that debate and there was (sic) some pretty thoughtful debate and that's -- that debate, I thought, was pretty powerful with me. We were already in two wars at the time and I thought that this made sense, and so I voted against it. That's why I voted against it. You might also remember secretary-designate -- almost secretary of state Kerry voted against it. Then-President Obama -- Senator Obama, he gave speeches against it, he didn't vote that day. Vice President Biden voted against it, Dick Lugar voted against it. Other -- there were some other Republicans."
(BEST-ALLY-WITH-BENEFITS STATUS FOR ISRAEL) HR XXX: Legislation reportedly to be introduced in the context of the AIPAC conference under which Congress would designate Israel a "major strategic ally" - a designation that appears to have no legal meaning (and no formal precedent) but that effectively means that Israel will considered a "best ally with benefits." Ron Kampeas at the JTA reported 2/26:
"The AIPAC official interviewed by JTA said that part of what motivates the push to name Israel a major strategic ally is an appeal to maintain defense assistance funding, averaging more than $3 billion annually, at a time when both parties are seeking ways to drastically cut spending. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wrote congressional appropriators last week to warn that across-the-board "sequestration" cuts due to kick in Friday -- unless the White House and Congress achieve a compromise -- will hit Israel funding, among other things. 'This is no time to cut aid to an ally,' the AIPAC official said. Conferring major strategic ally upon Israel 'would mean that the United States and Israel would work together on a cooperative basis on missile defense, homeland security, energy independence, medical research and innovation and military technology,' the official said.
"The push to name Israel a major strategic ally comports with a longstanding preference among some leading Republicans to tweak apart assistance for Israel from other foreign aid, which the conservative wing of the party advocates slashing. The overriding consideration in such a designation, however, was Israel's increasingly close security ties with the United States, in the Middle East and across the globe, where the two nations have collaborated on cyber-security issues, the AIPAC official said. The major strategic ally legislation will be introduced in the House and Senate in the coming days."
(IRAN SANCTIONS) HR 893: Introduced 2/28 by Reps. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Sherman (D-CA), "To provide for the imposition of sanctions with respect to foreign persons who transfer to or acquire from Iran, North Korea, or Syria certain goods, services, or technology that contribute to the proliferation activities of Iran, North Korea, or Syria, and for other purposes." Referred to the Committees on Foreign Affairs, Oversight and Government Reform, the Judiciary, Science, Space, and Technology, Financial Services, and Transportation and Infrastructure. Text of the bill is not online as of this writing, but Ros-Lehtinen's 2/28 press release provides some details. The timing of the introduction of the measure might be viewed as reflecting an effort by Ros-Lehtinen and Sherman to claim some attention/credit during the AIPAC policy conference.
(DESIGNATE IRGC AS FTO) HR 854: Introduced 2/27 by Rep. McCaul (R-TX) and no cosponsors, "To direct the Secretary of State to designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force as a foreign terrorist organization, and for other purposes." Referred to the Judiciary Committee and the Foreign Affair Committee. It is not clear whey McCaul introduced this, given that the same issue is covered in HR 850, which will be the focus of a massive lobbying effort. For details on the whole designation of the IRGC as an FTO, see the discussion of HR 850, above.
(SUSPEND MILITARY AID TO EGYPT) H. Res.87: Introduced 2/27 by Griffin (R-AR) and 8 cosponsors, "Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the President should suspend the delivery of F-16 fighter aircraft, M1 tanks, and other defense articles and defense services to the Government of Egypt." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
(DE-COUPLING ISRAEL AID FROM OTHER COUNTRIES) H.Res.88 : Introduced 2/27 by Rep. Ted "and-that's-just-the-way-it-is" Poe (R-TX) and 13 cosponsors, "Amending the Rules of the House of Representatives to prohibit the consideration of any bill or joint resolution that appropriates foreign assistance for more than one country." The (unstated) purpose of this resolution is to de-couple foreign aid to Israel, which Poe and other Tea Party members support and which for years has been viewed as the "engine" that drives the annual foreign aid bill, from U.S. foreign aid for countries who "don't like us." Referred to the House Committee on Rules.
(IRAN HOSTAGES FUND) HR 904: Introduced 2/28 by Reps. Braley (D-IA) and Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), "To establish a common fund to pay claims to the Americans held hostage in Iran, and to members of their families, who are identified as class members in case number 1:08-CV-00487 (EGS) of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, and for other purposes." Referred to the Committees on the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs.
(CAMP HURRIYA) H. Res. 89: Introduced 2/28 by Ted "and-that's-just-the-way-it-is" Poe (R-TX) and 13 cosponsors, "Condemning the attack on Iranian dissidents living at Camp Hurriya, and for other purposes." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
(ARM SYRIAN OPPOSITION) HR XXX: Speaking on one of the Sunday talk shows on 2/24, House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Eliot Engel (D-NY) stated his intention to introduce legislation to provide weapons to rebels in Syria. He stated: "I think it is the choice. And I will be introducing legislation to allow the president to arm the rebels. I think it's time to do that. I think the Free Syrian Army needs help. We know who they are. And I think it's time that we make that move." The Huffington Post reports: "Adam Sharon, a spokesman for Rep. Engel, confirmed over the phone to The Huffington Post that such a bill is in the works, saying it will be introduced in the coming days." More coverage here, here and here.
(SEQUESTER - PROVIDE FUNDS FOR DOD, INCLUDING ISRAEL PROGRAMS) S. Amdt. 23 to S. 16: Introduced 2/28 by Collins (R-ME) and King (I-ME), an amendment to a bill offered by Sen. Inhofe (R-OK), "A bill to provide for a sequester replacement." The amendment seeks to insulate funding for the Department of Defense, including for "Israel Cooperative Programs" - including Iron Dome, as stipulated in the bill - from the sequester (Sec. 8069 of the amendment).
(CLUSTER MUNITIONS) HR 881 and S.419: Introduced 2/28 by Rep. McGovern (D-MA) and 2 cosponsors, and by Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) and 16 cosponsors, respectively, "To limit the use of cluster munitions." Referred to the House Armed Services and the Committee on Foreign Affairs, respectively. Cluster munitions legislation has been a sticky issue in Congress, given Israel's use of the weapons in the last war in Lebanon. Statements from Feinstein and Leahy (D-VT) on the introduction of S. 419, here.
Action taken on Old Stuff:
(JERUSALEM) HR 104: Introduced 1/3 by Garrett (R-NJ) and 13 cosponsors, the "Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act of 2013." On 2/25 the measure was referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa, potentially paving the way for a mark-up.
(JERUSALEM) HR 252: Introduced 1/15 by Chaffetz (R-UT) and no cosponsors, the "Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act of 2013." On 2/25 the measure was referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa, potentially paving the way for a mark-up.
(VISA WAIVER FOR ISRAELIS) HR 300: Introduced 1/15 by Sherman (D-CA) and having 68 cosponsors, the "Visa Waiver for Israel Act of 2013." On 2/28 the bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, potentially paving the way for a mark-up.
2. AIPAC Policy Conference
AIPAC's annual Washington Policy Conference will take place March 3-5. March 3 & 4 are taken up with sessions covering a range of topic - the schedule is available here. The list of confirmed speakers is available here. Speakers from House (so far) are Cantor (R-VA), Cornyn (R-TX), Hoyer (D-MD), and Fudge (D-OH). From the Senate (so far) they are Sen. Gillibrand (D-NY), McCain (R-AZ), and Menendez (D-NJ).
On March 5, conference-goers will take to the Hill to lobby for AIPAC's agenda items. This year's lobbying agenda will focus on Iran and the U.S.-Israel relationship, and includes nothing related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The specific legislative initiatives that will be the focus of conferees' Hill lobbying is discussed in Section 1, above. In addition, it has been reported that AIPAC conferees will be asking members to protect Israel from any funding cuts related to the sequester. This issue came up some weeks back during the Hagel confirmation hearing, in the following exchange between Senator Gillibrand (D-NY) and Hagel:
Gillibrand: "...if we have to have a continuing resolution, the funding for Iron Dome will be well below the authorized amount for fiscal year 2013. In such a case, will you recommend either reprogramming other funds or sending forth an anomaly budget requesting to fully cover our commitment to this program?"
Hagel: "...I would have to better understand what our restrictions are going to be in our budget before I could make any decisions like that. And I would have to talk with our chairman of the Joint Chiefs and each of the -- of the chiefs, and want to better understand, depending on how bad and deep the sequestration might -- might get. But make no mistake, it -- it's clearly a priority program. I believe we will continue to fund it. We should. I'll support the continuing funding."
Gillibrand: "Well, I hope you'll also be a strong advocate. Because our budget is, even under sequestration, significant. And this is a very high priority, certainly for me."
2/27: The House Foreign Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations held a two-panel hearing entitled: Anti-Semitism: A Growing Threat to All Faiths. Panel 1 consisted of: Zudhi Jasser, American Islamic Forum for Democracy (prepared statement); Katrina Lantos Swett, Ph.D., U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (prepared statement); Elisa Massimino, Human Rights First (prepared statement); John Garvey, Catholic University (prepared statement) and Eric Metaxas, author/commentator (opening statement). Panel 2 consisted of Rabbi Andrew Baker, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (prepared statement), Tamás Fellegi, Former Hungarian Minister of National Development (prepared statement), Rabbi David Meyer, Pontifical Gregorian University (prepared statement), Willy Silberstein, Swedish Committee Against Anti-Semitism (prepared statement), Rabbi Yaakov Bleich, Chief Rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine (prepared statement), and Andrew Srulevitch, Anti-Defamation League (prepared statement). The hearing was covered in the Times of Israel.
2/26: The House Foreign Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa held a hearing entitled: Demonstrations in Tahrir Square: Two Years Later, What Has Changed? Testimony at the hearing was delivered by Elliott Abrams, Council on Foreign Relations (prepared statement), Katrina Lantos Swett, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (prepared statement), and Tamara Cofman Wittes, The Brookings Institute(prepared statement). Subcommittee Chair Ros-Lehtinen's opening statement, published under the headline "As Our Nation Faces Automatic Cuts, U.S. Should Not Be Sending Millions of U.S. Taxpayers Dollars to the Muslim Brotherhood Regime Without Conditions," is available here.
4. Members on the Record
Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 2/26: As Nuclear Talks Begin in Kazakhstan, Iran Continues to Buy Time As Centrifuges Continue to Spin
Durbin (D-IL) 2/26: Trip report, including a report on Bahrain praising Bahrain for generously hosting the Fifth fleet and noting, "These dedicated sailors help keep shipping lanes open and ensure that Iran does not threaten its neighbors or U.S. interests. Their presence alone is likely to make Iran think twice about reckless moves in the Persian Gulf."
Levin (D-MI), Inhofe (R-OK), Durbin (D-IL), Coats (R-IN), Cornyn (R-TX), Carper (D-DE), Wicker (R-MS) 2/26: Prior to voting on cloture on nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, various senators took to the Senate floor to once more time make their case, including for or against Hagel's pro-Israel credentials.
Collins (R-ME), Cochran (R-MS), Feinstein (D-CA) 2/26: Prior to voting on the nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, various senators took to the Senate floor to once more time make their case, including for or against Hagel's pro-Israel credentials.
Cardin (D-MD) 2/26: Report on his trip to Israel over the past recess and discussion of Syria situation.
Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 2/20: Ahead of Palestinian Authority Representatives Visit to the White House, Abu Mazen Must Demonstrate He is Willing to Negotiate With Israel
Thompson (D-CA) 2/20: Statement on Intel Committee Trip to Israel and Palestine
Rubio (R-FL) 2/16: Visiting Jordan and Israel. More from him on his trip here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Cotton (R-AR) 2/15: Linking the challenge of North Korea to the imperative to stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons "capabilities."
Franks (R-AZ) 2/15: Long floor speech on the danger of a nuclear Iran, stopping just short of explicitly calling for war.
Gohmert (R-TX) 2/15: Another rant, including some Hagel-bashing over Iran/Israel.
Bilirakis (R-FL) & Duetch (D-FL) 2/14: Congressman Bilirakis and Congressman Deutch Launch Congressional Hellenic-Israel Alliance
Sherman (D-CA) 2/14: Sherman Lauds Senators Wyden and Hatch for Introducing the Visa Waiver for Israel Act in the Senate
5. From the Press
Times of Israel 3/1: Sequestration may have dramatic repercussions for IDF
JPost 3/1: In US spending cuts, there is pain for Israel too
Times of Israel 3/1: Israelis risk permanent ban to work at US malls
JTA 2/28: Brian Schatz's first pro-Israel shot: Get over the sequestration, Congress
JTA 2/28: Lawmakers at Inouye memorial pledge Iron Dome support
Al Monitor 2/27: Rubio Says US Should Give Ammunition to Syrian Rebels
Haartez 2/27: Israel denies entry to American teacher working in West Bank
The Cable 2/27: Rubio: Peace process not a top priority for Israel right now
JPost 2/27: Outrage at US Congress staffer over 'get' refusal (Rep. Camp staffer)
JPost 2/26: View from the Hills: Settlers out to lunch with Congress
AP 2/20: Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio calls Jerusalem Israel's capital
Arutz Sheva 2/18: Congress, Jewish Leaders Gear Up for Iron Dome Tribute
Israel Hayom 2/17: Congress and Knesset jointly urge Obama to release Pollard