APN Legislative Round-Up: January 16, 2015 [Updated]

1.  Bills & Resolutions
2. Momentum Picking Up for New Iran Sanctions
3.  APN on Kirk-Menendez: Support Iran Diplomacy, Oppose New Iran Sanctions
4.  Palestinian Aid in the Crosshairs
5.  Hearings
6.  Members on the Record

 

[NOTE:  SEE SECTION 2 FOR ANALYSIS OF NEWER VERSION OF DRAFT KIRK-MENENDEZ BILL, CIRCULATING AS OF THIS AFTERNOON]

Of note:

The House Committee on Armed Services released its oversight plan for the 114th Congress, laying out the issues and areas it views as under its jurisdiction, including with respect to the Middle East and, notably, Iran (and oversight of negotiations and any deal).

 

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

(NEW IRAN SANCTIONS) S. XXX:  To be introduced imminently by Kirk (R-IL), Menendez (D-NJ) and as many original cosponsors as they manage to get on board, the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015.”  Reportedly, strong pressure continued this week for Senators to cosponsor the measure.  Notably, while text of the legislation has not been formally introduced and Senate staff throughout the week suggested that text was still being tweaked (draft text only began circulating this morning), on 1/14 AIPAC – which strongly backing the bill and reportedly pressing Democratic Senators to cosponsor, despite the fact that the Obama Administration opposes the measure – circulated its own summary of the bill.  For more, see Section 2, below.

(NEW IRAN SANCTIONS) H. XXX:  On 1/14, Al-Monitor reported that the House is working on its own Iran sanctions bill.  The article quotes Engel (D-NY), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, saying, “We feel very strongly that the House needs to play an important role, not just rubber-stamp whatever the Senate decides to do.  So we're going to put our heads together [with Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif.] and see what's the best way to proceed.” The article goes on to note, “The two lawmakers are expected to hunker down next week to decide on a strategy for moving forward, Engel said. Separately, Royce told Al-Monitor that he was planning to sit down Jan. 15 with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., for an update on the Senate strategy.  ‘We're in a stronger position in the House,’ said Royce, pointing out that the House passed legislation he co-authored with Engel on a 400-20 vote shortly before negotiations began in 2013.”

(CUTOFF $$ TO THE PA OVER ICC)  HR 277:  Introduced 1/12 by Hastings (D-FL) and no cosponsors, "To prohibit assistance to the Palestinian Authority until it withdraws its request to join the International Criminal Court."  Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.  Hastings’ press release touting introduction of the bill is here.

(CUTOFF $$ TO THE PA OVER ICC)  HR 364: Introduced 1/14 by Clawson (R-FL) and Byrne (R-AL), “To prohibit assistance to the Palestinian Authority until it withdraws its request to join the International Criminal Court.”   Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

 

2.  Momentum Picking Up for Iran Sanctions in Senate

[NOTE:  READ ON TO THE END OF THIS SECTION FOR ANALYSIS OF A NEWER VERSION OF THE KIRK-MENENDEZ BILL, A VERSION THAT BEGAN CIRCULATING SHORTLY AFTER THIS ORIGINAL ANALYSIS WAS POSTED}

Momentum picked up this week for action on new Iran sanctions in the Senate.  As noted in last week’s Round-Up, the current vehicle for these sanctions will be new legislation to be introduced by Sens. Kirk (R-IL) and Menendez (D-NJ) – in a re-run of the Iran sanctions battle of Fall 2013/Winter 2014 (see past editions of the Round-Up for details).  As discussed in Section 1, above, it appears that parallel action in the House is likely. 

Notably, while the new Kirk-Menendez bill has not been introduced as of this writing, and draft text only began circulating this morning, AIPAC apparently had such a good inside track on the bill that it went ahead and circulated a "summary" of the bill on 1/14.  Whether this AIPAC document accurately reflects the substance of the bill text is impossible to judge, since the final text is not yet public.  That said, based on the draft text that is circulating today, it seems clear that the "summary" reflects an effort to paint the legislation in the most innocent, anodyne terms possible -- as if there is nothing that could possibly be controversial here.  Such an approach would be consistent with AIPAC's reported efforts to convince Senate Democrats to cosponsor the bill, despite White House opposition.

Bearing in mind that the draft text should not be assumed to be final or authoritative, a few observations about its most blatantly problematic elements:

  • Existing sanctions snap back, even if there is an agreement:  According to this text, in the event a deal is announced by July 5, ALL existing sanctions snap back (and no new sanctions may be waived, even where waivers exist) until Congress has had time to review the deal and the Administration’s plans to verify Iranian compliance.  The bill stipulates that this review period last not less than “30 days of continuous session of Congress,” and defines “continuous session” as not including periods where Congress is in recess for more than 3 days.  What does this mean?  Looking at the House Calender for 2105 and counting the days, it means that if the Presidents sends the details of a deal and the required "verification assessment" to Congress on July 5, no sanctions may be waived, and all previously waived sanctions snap back, until at least November 13. 
  • Automatic new sanctions if no agreement or further delay:  According to this text, new sanctions would automatically be imposed, escalating over a period of months, in the event that  the Presidents fails to send to Congress the details of a deal and the required "verification assessment" by July 5.  This applies even in the case of an additional extension or the sides agreeing to a period to iron out the details of implementation of an agreement. 
  • Laying out far-reaching parameters for a deal:  While the Sense of Congress included in the bill is, be definition, is non-binding, it nonetheless sends a strong statement of Congressional intent.  And this Sense of Congress sends a statement of hardline red lines in order for any deal to be acceptable to Congress (and the lengthy review period imposed by this bill clearly implies that Congress will be reviewing any agreement to determine if it meets its standards – and implies that if it does not meet its standards, there will be concrete consequences). 
  • Promising that sanctions will continue, regardless of a deal.  Again, while the Sense of Congress is non-binding, it nonetheless sends a strong statement of Congressional intent.  And this Sense of Congress makes clear that even if there is a deal that verifiably addresses U.S. concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, Congress will seek to continue to impose far-reaching sanctions against Iran for other reasons.
  • Planting the seeds for a deal to far apart:  In addition to violating the JPOA, the key provisions of this bill are a clear poison pill for any agreement.  In effect, this bill undermines negotiations and weakens U.S. negotiators.  It promises more, rather than less, sanctions against Iran pursuant to a deal.  It establishes a 4-month period during which the President has even less power than he does now to ease sanctions – a period during which a deal is almost guaranteed to fall apart.  Months during which Iranian support for a deal will erode as Iranians see sanctions INCREASE.  Months during which mischief-makers in Congress will have ample time to push ahead with new legislation rejecting a deal or putting new conditions on its implementation and limitations on sanctions relief.  And given the Sense of Congress in this bill – which makes the case for continued Iran sanctions even after a nuclear deal, it is not a stretch to imagine that members of Congress would adopt such an approach during this 4 month waiting period.

What happens next?  Presumably Kirk-Menendez will be formally introduced imminently.  Then, on 1/20, the Senate Banking Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing to discuss new Iran sanctions.  According to multiple sources, this hearing will be followed in short order by a mark-up of Kirk-Menendez in that same committee (not yet officially announced). 

It is worth noting the remarkable extent to which the Banking Committee’s GOP leadership appears to be rushing this bill through the oversight process.  The official notice for the hearing on 1/20 was only issued on 1/14 (at 4:45pm), apparently violating Senate rules requiring 7-days notice for any hearing (Rule 26 – “4. (a) Each committee (except the Committee on Appropriations and the Committee on the Budget) shall make public announcement of the date, place, and subject matter of any hearing to be conducted by the committee on any measure or matter at least one week before the commencement of that hearing unless the committee determines that there is good cause to begin such hearing at an earlier date.”). 

Such hurried action on a bill this controversial (the President has issued a veto threat) and with such huge implications for U.S. national security is remarkable, to say the least.  Given that the text of the bill has not even been introduced yet, it means, among other things, that Committee members (who have already left Washington for the Martin Luther King long weekend, and will only return to Washington on 1/20) will have very little time to study the bill or seek further information/views on it before the hearing and mark-up.  It also means that opponents of the bill -- be they in the Senate, the Administration, or the public -- will have a far less opportunity to challenge the pro-sanctions, AIPAC-backed narrative as this bill rushes forward. 

Updated analysis of Kirk-Menendez text (as of 3pm, 1/16)

In some annoying corollary to Murphy’s Law, shortly after posting analysis of the draft text of the new Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill (in which it was noted that the text should not be considered final or authoritative), a newer draft of the bill began circulating (underscoring the oddness of AIPAC circulating a “summary” of the bill while it was/is apparently still being tweaked).  Bearing in mind that this new text should still not be considered final or authoritative, the following are some observations about this newer text:

  • Existing sanctions don’t snap back, but additional sanctions relief remains elusive:  This newer text repeats language in the earlier draft to the effect that while following an agreement (and required notification to Congress) the President may not waive any sanctions on Iran until Congress has had time to review the deal and the Administration’s plans to verify Iranian compliance. The newer version includes language – completely absent in the earlier draft – stipulating that this ban on waiving sanctions does not apply to sanctions previously waived under the JPOA.  Notably, the updated version of the bill still stipulates that the Congressional review period during which the President is barred from waiving any new sanctions must last “30 days of continuous session of Congress,” and defines “continuous session” as not including periods where Congress is in recess for more than 3 days.  What does this mean?  Looking at the House Calender for 2105 and counting the days, it means that if the President sends the details of a deal and the required "verification assessment" to Congress on July 5, no new sanctions may be waived until at least November 13.
  • Automatic new sanctions if no agreement or further delay:  Like the earlier version, this text stipulates that new sanctions would automatically be imposed, escalating over a period of months, in the event that  the Presidents fails to send to Congress the details of a comprehensive deal reached with Iran and the required "verification assessment" by July 5.  This appears to apply even in the case of an additional extension or the sides agreeing to a period to iron out the details of implementation of an agreement.  It also stipulates that in the event that the President fails to send to Congress the details of a comprehensive deal reached with Iran and the required "verification assessment" by July 5, any sanctions previously waived by the President under the JPOA will automatically snap back on July 6.
  • Laying out far-reaching parameters for a deal:  Like in the previous version, the Sense of Congress included in the bill is, by definition, non-binding.  It nonetheless sends a strong statement of Congressional intent.  And this Sense of Congress, like the previous version, sends a statement of hardline red lines in order for any deal to be acceptable to Congress (and the lengthy review period imposed by this bill clearly implies that Congress will be reviewing any agreement to determine if it meets its standards – and implies that if it does not meet its standards, there will be concrete consequences).
  • Promising that sanctions will continue, regardless of a deal.  While, like in the previous version, the Sense of Congress is by definition non-binding, it nonetheless sends a strong statement of Congressional intent.  And this Sense of Congress once again makes clear that even if there is a deal that verifiably addresses U.S. concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, Congress will seek to continue to impose far-reaching sanctions against Iran for other reasons.
  • Planting the seeds for a deal to far apart:  The key provisions of this updated version of the bill, even amended, are a clear poison pill for any agreement.  In effect, this bill undermines negotiations and weakens U.S. negotiators.  Rather than offering more sanctions relief to Iran in exchange for a deal, it prohibits it, and establishes a 4-month period during which the President is explicitly deprived of any authority to deliver anything to Iran beyond what was already delivered during negotiations.   Assuming Iran would agree to a deal under such circumstances – which is doubtful – this bill sets into motion a dynamic in which Iranian opponents of a diplomacy will have an easy time arguing against the deal, and in which mischief-makers in Congress will have ample time to push ahead with new legislation rejecting a deal or putting new conditions on its implementation and limitations on sanctions relief.  And given the Sense of Congress in this bill – which makes the case for continued Iran sanctions even after a nuclear deal, it is not a stretch to imagine that members of Congress would adopt such an approach during this 4 month waiting period.

Further reading:

Fox News 1/15: GOP-led Senate plans swift push for more Iran sanctions, despite nuclear talks
New York Times 1/15: Obama and Senator Robert Menendez Spar on How to Handle Iran
HuffPo 1/15: The Senate's Gift to ISIS: Sanctions on Iran (Trita Parsi)
Bloomberg 1/14: Congress Moves Against Obama on New Iran Sanctions
Reuters 1/14: Despite White House Warnings, Congress Will Push Ahead With Iran Sanctions
Politico 1/14: Obama to Senate Dems: ‘I’m going to play offense’ - The president said he’s prepared to veto hostile legislation, including an Iran sanctions package.
Politico 1/12: Samantha Power urges GOP Congress not to pursue Iran sanctions [“Sanctions did indeed help to bring Iran to the negotiating table. But sanctions did not stop the advance of Iran’s nuclear program. Negotiations have done that, and it is in our interest not to deny ourselves the chance to achieve a long-term, comprehensive solution that would deny Iran a nuclear weapon.”]
Jerusalem Post 1/12: Senate prepares new Iran sanctions bill before State of the Union

 

3.  APN on New Kirk-Menendez bill: Support Iran Diplomacy, Oppose New Iran Sanctions

Americans for Peace Now (APN) strongly opposes this new Iran sanctions effort.  APN issued an Action Alert on 1/14, available here.  On 1/15, APN sent the following message to relevant staff in every Senate office:

According to reports in the media and from Congressional sources, new Iran sanctions legislation will soon be introduced in the Senate. I am writing to urge your boss to stand firm in support of diplomacy and in opposition to new sanctions at this time, for the sake of U.S. national security now and in the future, as well as for the sake of the genuine national security interests of Israel.

Pursuing new sanctions legislation makes no sense at this time. Doing so risks:

  • Undermining negotiations: Pursuing new sanctions will be seen as a violation of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA). It will – understandably – bolster Iranian concerns that U.S. will not deliver on its end of any negotiated agreement. It will strengthen Iranian hardliners who would welcome a pretext to pursue policies of their own that will likewise threaten diplomacy.
  • Reversing progress already made: Under the JPOA, Iran agreed to important limits on its nuclear program and an enhanced inspections regime. These achievements, which are already highly significant in terms of limiting Iran’s nuclear program and increasing U.S. knowledge of the full dimensions of that program, could easily evaporate in response to new sanctions.
  • Sending a dangerous message: Regardless of Congressional intent, pursuing new sanctions while negotiations are going on will send a message that some in Congress favor confrontation with Iran to diplomacy, armed conflict with Iran to any negotiated deal. Such views, ironically, may be mirrored among hardliners in Tehran, but they are clearly at odds with the majority of Americans, who do not want more war.
  • Taking the U.S. closer to the brink of war: If negotiations fail as a result of new sanctions, Congress will bear responsibility for hastening and perhaps making inevitable the day when the U.S. will be forced to choose between going to war or living with a nuclear-armed Iran.

Should negotiations end without a deal, there is nothing preventing Congress and the Obama Administration from re-visiting the full range of policy responses, including additional sanctions, at that time. For now, National Security Advisor Susan Rice has stated that new Iran sanctions would “blow up” negotiations – and with them, the chances for a deal that could address the very real threats posed by Iran’s nuclear program. For the Senate to ignore this warning would be reckless in the extreme.

With the clock ticking down to the end of negotiations in July, diplomacy must be given every possible chance to produce a deal that verifiably curbs Iran's nuclear program. Given the extraordinary stakes, now is the time for U.S. legislators – like your boss – to rise above politics and pressures and staunchly support the efforts of the Obama Administration and the international community to achieve a negotiated final agreement that does just that.

 

4.  Palestinians Aid in the Crosshairs

New Legislation:  This week, two more bills were introduced to cut off aid to the Palestinians, ostensibly as punishment for the Palestinians’ decision to join the ICC (a decision that under the law Congress passed in December does not, in fact, necessitate any punitive U.S. action).  These bills – HR 277 and HR 364 – join S. 34, introduced last week by Paul (R-KY). 

Senate Threat:  Added to these legislative initiatives – which on their own are unlikely to go anywhere – was a potentially far more consequential statement 1/9 issued by  Kirk (R-IL), Graham (R-SC), Menendez (D-NJ), Schumer (D-NY) and Corker (R-TN).  In their statement, this bipartisan group – comprising the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, two GOP members of the Appropriations Committee, and a prominent Jewish Senator – threatened “a strong response” to the PA’s “deplorable, counterproductive” decision to join the ICC.  The statement goes on to state the Congress will “will reassess its support for assistance to the PA and seek additional ways to make clear to President Abbas that we strongly oppose his efforts to seek membership in the ICC.”  It adds that “If the ICC makes the egregious mistake of accepting the Palestinian Authority as a member, given that it is not a state, Congress will seek ways to protect Israeli citizens from politically abusive ICC actions.”

AIPAC takes off the gloves: AIPAC is now openly lobbying forall assistance to the Palestinian Authority to be cut off.  This includes lobbying a Senate letter (not yet public) on the issue: “Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are spearheading a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry expressing deep concern regarding the PA's steps to bypass Israel in the peace process.  The letter supports a suspension of aid to the PA while the State Department reviews the Palestinian’s actions at the U.N. Security Council and the International Criminal Court.  Urge your Senators to sign this critical letter.”

Further reading: 

Huffington Post 1/13: Israeli Military Officers: Don't Punish Palestine for Joining the ICC
Algemeiner 1/12: Bipartisan Momentum Grows for Halt to US Funding of Palestinian Authority
Israel Hayom 1/11: US senators threaten cut to Palestinian aid over ICC bid
Christian Science Monitor 1/11: With eye on 2016, Rand Paul tries to block US aid to Palestinians
Jerusalem Post 1/10: Senate warns 'strong response' prepared to Palestinian ICC action

 

5.  Hearings

1/20: The Senate Banking Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “Perspectives on the Strategic Necessity of Iran Sanctions.”  No witnesses have been announced as of this writing (and, notably, 1/19 is a holiday).  While new Iran sanctions (Kirk-Menendez, discussed above) have not yet been formally introduced, this hearing is expected to be a lead-up to a mark-up of that legislation in the near future.  See Section 2, above, for more details.

 

6.  Members on the Record

Kirk (R-IL) 1/15: Kirk Condemns Iran's Construction of New Nuclear Reactors

Corker (R-TN) 1/15: “I think it’s only right that Congress has the ability to weigh in. Congress got us to the table. Certainly the administration was involved heavily in that too, but Congress played a major role, and we need to play a major role in ensuring that whatever final agreement that is negotiated [with Iran] is one that will stand the test of time.”

Cruz (R-TX) 1/13: It’s Past Time to Recognize Israel’s Historic Capital Both in Word and Deed

Cotton (R-AR) 1/13:  U.S. Has ‘Surrendered Repeatedly to Iran’s Demands’ (supporting regime change)

Casey (D-PA) 1/13: “Iran May Be Gaining Ground Amid Eased U.S. Sanctions, Casey Says” [“…he thinks there will be a vote on sanctions before the July deadline for the nuclear negotiations, and he contended that would help maintain pressure on Iran.”]

Nadler (D-NY) 1/12: On lessons of Paris attacks: “…demonstrating once again the essential role of Israel as a refuge for Jews, who have been persecuted and murdered in so many nations, and whose safety in much of Europe is, for the second time in a century, sharply in question.”

 

comments powered by Disqus