APN Legislative Round-Up: January 30, 2015

1.  Bills & Resolutions
2.  New Iran Sanctions? State-of-Play in the Senate
3.  Iran Sanctions Markup – the Amendments
4.  PA Aid Still in the Crosshairs
5.  Backlash Builds Over Boehner’s Bibi Bid
6.  Hearings
7.  Members on the Record

Of Special Note: 
1/27: APN Statement/Principles on Palestinians' & the International Criminal Court (ICC)

 

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

(NEW IRAN SANCTIONS) S. 269:  Introduced 1/27 by Kirk (R-IL) and Menendez (D-NJ), along with 14 other cosponsors, “The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015” (aka: “a bill to expand sanctions imposed with respect to Iran and to impose additional sanctions with respect to Iran, and for other purposes.”) Original cosponsors of the bill were:  Republicans (9): Kirk (R-IL), McConnell, (R-KY), Ayotte, (R-NH), Coats, (R-IN), Rubio, (R-FL), Graham, (R-SC), Cruz, (R-TX), Burr, (R-NC), Blunt, (R-MO); Democrats (7): Menendez, (D-NJ), Schumer, (D-NY), Blumenthal, (D-CT), Peters, (D-MI), Manchin, (D-WV), Donnelly, (D-IN), Casey  (D-PA).  On 1/28, an additional 19 Senators cosponsored the bill – all Republicans plus one Democrat, Sen. Coons (D-DE).  Referred to Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.  See below for discussion of the Banking Committee markup of a version of this bill, and related issues.

(NEW IRAN SANCTIONS) HR XXX:  On 1/21, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Royce (R-CA) announced the “Priorities for 114th Congress.”  The second priority listed is: “Pressuring Iran in order to stop Tehran’s march toward nuclear weapons.”  The announcement notes, “In the 113th Congress, both the Committee (unanimously) and the House (400-20) passed H.R. 850, the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act, introduced by Royce and Engel.  The legislation would increase pressure on the Iranian regime amid its continued attempt to acquire a nuclear weapons capability.  New legislation is being prepared” [emphasis added]. 

(IRAN NEGOTIATIONS/DEAL OVERSIGHT) S. XXX:  Credible rumors continue to circulate of new Iran legislation to be introduced by Boxer (D-CA) and Paul (R-TX), as reported previously in some media outlets, including here, here, and here.  No text is publicly circulating at this point.

(IRAN DEAL OVERSIGHT/VETO)  S. XXX:  Credible rumors continue to circulate of impending new Iran legislation to be introduced by Senator Corker (R-TN) seeking to legislate Congressional oversight – and Congressional approval/veto authority – over any Iran deal.  As discussed in the 1/9/15 edition of the Round-Up, this legislation is expected to be similar to legislation Corker introduced last year (S. 2650), which hit a wall (see the 7/25/14 edition of the Round-Up for details). 

(SUPPORTING IRAN NEGOTIATIONS) S. Res. 40:  Introduced 1/26 by Feinstein (D-CA) and 10 cosponsors, “A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate regarding efforts by the United States and others to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.”  Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.  Feinstein press release on the introduction of the resolution is here.  APN strongly supports this measure.

 Letters:

(NEW IRAN SANCTIONS IN MARCH) Menendez et al letter:  On 1/27, Sen. Menendez (D-NJ) sent a letter, co-signed by 9 of his Democratic colleagues, to President Obama.  The letter states that the signers support the new Iran sanctions bill being pushed in the Senate by Menendez and Kirk (R-IL), but that in deference to the Administration’s concerns, the signers promise “we will not vote for this legislation on the Senate floor before March 24.” The letter appears to be the fruit of a deal made by Menendez with some of the Democrats who cosponsored his previous Iran sanctions bill (S. 1881) but who were reluctant to cosponsor or support the new bill in the face of strong White House objections. The Menendez letter sets the stage for the next round in this sanctions battle (bearing in mind that Kirk-Menendez will have as much potential to derail talks in March as it does today). The letter was co-signed by: Schumer (D-NY), Blumenthal (D-CT), Peters (D-MI), Casey (D-PA), Cardin (D-MD), Coons (D-DE), Manchin (D-WV), Donnelly (D-IN), and Stabenow (D-MI, who is the only one who did not cosponsor S. 1881).  The only Democratic cosponsors of S. 1881 who did not sign the letter are Gillibrand (D-NY), Booker (D-NJ), and Warner (D-VA). 

(FREEZE PA AID OVER ICC BID) Rubio-Gillibrand et al:  On 1/29, Senators Rubio (R-FL) and Gillibrand (D-NY) sent a letter to Secretary of State Kerry – co-signed by 73 Senators – focused on three things: (1) That Kerry “make clear, publicly and privately, that the United States will veto any unilateral resolutions brought before the Security Council related to Palestinian statehood”; (2) that while “we believe it is in the interest of the United States for urgent humanitarian assistance to continue to be provided to the Palestinian people, we will not support assistance to the Palestinian Authority while you undertake a review of this matter” and (3) that Kerry and other US officials continue to speak out “in unambiguous support for Israel’s right to protect its citizens. We also urge you to highlight Hamas’ ongoing support for terrorism and documented use of innocent Palestinian civilians as human shields...”  The Rubio-Gillibrand letter is featured on the AIPAC website on the page entitled “Suspend Aid to the Palestinian Authority” (if you click on “Contact Your Senators” it pulls up an email window with the following text “Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) spearheaded a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry expressing deep concern regarding Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas’ 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. Thank your senators for signing this critical letter.”

(FREEZE AID TO THE PA OVER ICC BID)  HFAC letter:  On 1/27, a bipartisan list of chairs and ranking members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its subcommittees sent a letter to Secretary Kerry condemning the Palestinians’ decision to join the ICC and stating, “If the PA becomes a member of the ICC, it will undoubtedly attempt to exploit the organization for its own purposes and ultimately make the prospect of peace with Israel far more difficult to achieve. We believe the actions that the PA has taken require an immediate and forceful response from the United States that is commensurate with the gravity of its decision. We understand that the State Department is conducting a review of assistance to the PA in light of recent developments. The United States should not support direct economic assistance to the PA until it demonstrates a meaningful reversal of this destructive course and proves it can be a willing partner for peace.”  As of this writing, the HFAC letter is not mentioned on the AIPAC “Suspend Aid to the Palestinian Authority” page.

(RESCHEDULE BIBI SPEECH TO CONGRESS) Ellison et al:  On 1/28, Reps. Ellison (D-MN), Cohen (D-TN) and Waters (D-CA) began circulating a Dear Colleague seeking cosigners on a letter to Speaker Boehner (R-OH).  The letter calls on Boehner to “postpone this invitation until Israelis have cast their ballots and our consideration of the current round of Iran-related legislation has concluded.” 

(ACCUSE OBAMA ADMIN OF FUNDING ANTI-BIBI CAMPAIGN) Cruz-Zeldin letter: On 1/29 Sen. Cruz (R-FL) and Rep. Zeldin (R-NY) sent a letter to Secretary Kerry in effect accusing the Obama Administration of funding an effort inside Israel to defeat Netanyahu in the upcoming election.  Press release announcing the letter is here, including Cruz saying, “Has President Obama launched a political campaign against Prime Minister Netanyahu and his representatives? This administration’s relentless harassment of Israel is utterly incomprehensible. The Islamic Republic of Iran is pursuing the deadliest weapons on the planet, and there can be no doubt that their first target will be Israel, followed by the United States. This administration should be focusing its animosity on the very real enemies we face, not on our staunch allies.”

(HOUSE PROGRESSIVES OPPOSE NEW IRAN SANCTIONS AT THIS TIME) Progressive Caucus letter:  On 1/27, Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) Co-Chairs Reps. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Ellison (D-MN), along with CPC Peace and Security Task Force Chair Rep. Lee (D-CA) sent a letter addressed to Senate Banking Committee Chairman Shelby (R-AL) and Ranking Member Brown (D-OH), as well as to HFAC Chairman Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Engel (D-NY) urging them to postpone new sanctions legislation on Iran.

 

2.  New Iran Sanctions? State-of-Play in the Senate

On 1/27 the new Iran sanctions bill, S. 269, entitled the “The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015,” was introduced in the Senate by Kirk (R-IL and Menendez (D-NJ), along with 14 other cosponsors.  This introduction comes on the heels of the letter sent to President Obama from a group of Senate Democrats expressing support for the bill but vowing not to support a floor vote on the bill until after March 24 – with a subset of that same group of signers representing the full Democratic contingent of cosponsors on S. 269. 

On 1/27, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing entitled, “Perspectives on the Strategic Necessity of Iran Sanctions.” The hearing dealt with the question of sanctions but notably did NOT deal with the substance of S. 269.  Chairman Shelby’s (R-AL) opening is statement here; Ranking Member Brown’s (D-OH) opening statement here. Panel 1 witnesses were Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken [testimony] and Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen [testimony].  Panel 2 witnesses were Mark Dubowitz, FDD [testimony] and Patrick Clawson, WINEP [testimony].  A webcast of the hearing is here.

On 1/29, the Senate Banking Committee held a markup of “The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015.”  For those who are interested in the deep details, please note that, contrary to what is being widely reported, on 1/29 the committee did NOT markup (and amend) S. 269

So why didn’t the committee deal directly with S. 269?  The answer appears to be that in its rush to move forward with new Iran sanctions legislation, committee leadership made error after error, making this one of the sloppiest legislative paths for a Senate bill in memory.  As a reminder, this markup had originally been scheduled for 1/22.  That original markup was only officially “noticed” to Committee members the afternoon of 1/16 – the Friday before MLK day when Senators had already left for the long weekend – with amendments due no later than noon on the 21st (in essence, giving committee members half of a working day to prepare).  Shortly after that original notice went out, Banking Committee staff circulated text of the bill to be marked up (bearing in mind that as of that date, Kirk and Menendez had yet to formally introduce their bill).   What followed that same afternoon/evening was a series of revisions and corrections to the notice (at least 4), revising the deadline for amendments, and then correcting errors in the revised notices (and apologizing for all the corrections).  Then, on 1/19 (over the holiday weekend), Banking Committee staff sent out a notice that the markup has been rescheduled for 1/29 – reflecting, it is widely surmised, the failure of the bill’s backers to muster sufficient Democratic support.

Which takes us to this week, when Kirk and Menendez finally introduced their bill on 1/27.  However, as noted above, on 1/16 the Banking Committee formally circulated the text that would be marked up in the 1/22, and then 1/29, hearing.  By the time S. 269 was introduced (and referred to the Banking Committee), it was too late for the Committee to swap this text for the final Kirk-Menendez version (the texts are not identical).  Meaning that what the committee marked up and amended on 1/27 was, in effect, an original Shelby (R-AL) bill (with no cosponsors) entitled, “The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015” – not S. 269.  Now it will be up to Senate leaders to decide procedurally how to deal with this mess (it is not at all clear that everyone has even realized what has happened here.) 

With respect to the 1/29 markup, Chairman Shelby’s (R-AL) opening statement is here.  Ranking Member Brown’s opening statement is here.  The mark-up included zero debate or even discussion of the bill itself (and as noted above, the substance of the bill was not addressed in the 1/27 hearing).  Rather, the mark-up served as a forum to simply rubber stamp a piece of legislation with profound national security implications for the United States, as well as to consider a small number of amendments.  The amendments that were submitted for the markup are discussed in Section 3, below (note that not all of the amendments were considered).  Following consideration of the amendments, the Banking Committee voted to adopt “The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015”, as amended and without even the pretense of any substantive debate or discussion of the underlying bill, by a vote of 18-4.

Notwithstanding Senate Banking Committee actions this week, this round of the “sanctions vs. diplomacy” battle has been won by the pro-diplomacy side.  The deal Menendez struck with Democratic supporters of the bill means that there should be no further action on S. 269 (except perhaps to address the problem of the Banking Committee actually amending the wrong version of the bill) until after March 24.  If the GOP brings it to the floor before that, it will likely not have any Democratic support.  After March 24, assuming there is a framework agreement, President Obama will face a new fight in the Senate, trying to convince Senators that moving ahead with S. 269 will undermine the progress that has been achieved (bearing in mind that it can be assumed that some senators will attack any framework agreement, both in principle and substance).  If there is no framework agreement achieved by March 24, President Obama will face an even harder task if he wants to convince Senators to give him more time to reach an agreement before the JPOA expires at the end of June. Either way, this battle is far from over.  (For excellent further analysis of the current situation, see this analysis from Amanda Waldron and Angela Canterbury: Senate Still Deciding: Sanctions or Diplomacy).

In other news, it appears action may be imminent with respect to the Corker (R-TN) effort to promote legislation requiring Congressional approval (or veto) of any Iran deal – an effort that some suggest may be competing with or even undermining efforts to promote the new Iran sanctions legislation.   Further reading:  Defense One 1/26: Iran Sanctions Showdown Is Drawing New Battlelines in Congress [excerpt:  Graham (R-SC): “Even though I don’t think sanctions should be seen as a deal breaker — if there’s any chance that it would be, I’m willing to forgo a vote on sanctions … Just bring it to the Congress so we get to look at it.   Because if you get a bad deal, you’re going to have a nuclear proliferation race.”]; Politico 1/22: Republicans stuck between two paths on Iran; ForeignPolicy.com 1/22: Congressional Infighting Could Boost White House in Iran Talks.

Finally, for the vote-counters among us, please note that supporters of new Iran sanctions do not have a guaranteed veto-proof majority supporting S. 269, notwithstanding the very …optimistic… spin being promoted by, among others, the Israel Project.  On the GOP side, 52 votes can be assumed (Flake, R-AZ, and Paul, R-KY, have both expressed opposition).  On the Democratic side (as of this writing) the bill has 8 cosponsors.  An honest prediction of a vote count must take into account the following:

  • Supporters of S. 269 are suggesting that the 8 cosponsors will automatically vote YES on S. 269 after March 24.  In fact, if the bill is brought to the floor after March 24, Democratic support – even of cosponsors – will depend on what has been achieved by that time.  If there is no framework agreement by that date, it is likely that Democrats who signed the Menendez letter would vote YES in a floor vote, but not certain.  It depends on the case that Obama makes at that time. If there IS a framework agreement by that date, Democrats who signed the Menendez letter and cosponsored are by no means certain to vote YES in a floor vote, against the President and against continued diplomacy (which is what this vote in effect would be). 
  •  Supporters of S. 269 are also suggesting that the two Democratic senators who signed the Menendez letter but did not cosponsor the bill can be counted on to automatically vote YES in a floor vote – a suggestion that makes no sense.  These senators chose not to cosponsor because apparently they don't want to go that far, even before March 24; it makes no sense to assume they would automatically vote against the President and against negotiations after March 24, no matter what happens between now and then.
  •  Supporters of S. 269 are also suggesting that the three Banking Committee Democrats who voted in favor of the sanctions bill in yesterday’s markup (none of whom are cosponsors or signed the Menendez letter) can be counted on to vote YES on the floor.  This, again, is a reach.  Voting yes in Committee is not the same as promising to vote YES whenever the GOP brings this to the floor.
  •  Finally, pro-S. 269 vote counters are suggested that the three other Democrats who supported S. 1881 last year will automatically vote YES on S. 269, despite the fact that these three did not sign the Menendez letter or cosponsor S. 269.  In reality, if these three senators had already decided that they were going to vote against Obama and support S. 269 according to a schedule that suits the GOP (and AIPAC, and the Israel Project) they would have already cosponsored S. 269, rather than staying off of the bill and opening themselves up to what will inevitably be future bogus accusations of not being tough enough on Iran or pro-Israel enough.

 

3.  Iran Sanctions Markup – the Amendments

As noted in Section 2, above, the 1/29 mark-up of “The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015” included zero consideration/discussion of the bill itself, but simply rubber-stamped the legislation after affording brief consideration of a few amendments.  All of the amendments that were submitted for the markup are listed below, along with a short summary of what each sought to do, and their fate.  Not all of the amendments were considered; however, those amendments that were not considered, along with those that failed, offer a useful glimpse into some of the thinking in the Senate about how to get even “tougher” on Iran (and make clear that at least for Senators like Cotton, R-AR, the explicit goal of any new sanctions it to kill diplomacy as quickly as possible). 

Amendments submitted for the 1/27 Banking Committee markup of S. 269

- Amdt 1 (Shelby, R-AL) seeks to require an additional assessment report relating to economic sanctions relief for Iran.  This requirement is already included in S. 269, and was apparently added to the Committee version in order to make the text being marked up by the committee agree with the text introduced by Kirk and Menendez.  ADOPTED by voice vote.

- Amdt 2 (Vitter, R-LA) requires an additional assessment regarding nuclear proliferation. This assessment must start with a statement on the "consistency of the text of the agreement with the requirements of this Act" – a strange requirement, since the underlying bill does not lay out requirements for the text, other than in the non-binding Sense of Congress (i.e., these are not “requirements” of the Act).  The rest of the Act is about reporting/assessment/verification requirements and sanctions that will be imposed if those requirements aren't met.  It is not clear how Vitter expect an agreement with Iran to be “consistent” with those requirements.   ADOPTED by voice vote.

- Amdt 3 (Vitter, R-LA) appears to be a green light for the use of force by Israel against Iran.  The underlying messages appears to be: fine, maybe we can't prevent the Obama Administration and P5+1 partners from negotiating with Iran, and maybe we can't prevent a deal, but we can give a green light for a foreign country to launch military action that would make negotiations and/or a deal moot.  And, for those who have short memories, please note that Congress already came down firmly on this issue – supporting Israel if it attacks Iran, in 2013, with the passage of S Res 65.  Making this amendment gratuitous and redundant. ADOPTED by voice vote.

(Vitter press release touting his two amendments is here).

- Amdt 4 (Vitter, R-LA) is an effort to water down the Presidential waiver authority added to this bill in Sec. 208.  As the bill is currently written, all waived sanctions snap back on July 6 and new sanctions start to kick in on that day if the requirements of the bill are not met.  Sec. 208 allows the President to waive all of this for successive 30 day periods. Vitter wants to limit this waiver such that the President can prevent new sanctions from kicking in and can prevent all previously-waived sanctions from snapping back, but with this amendment (which is a "notwithstanding" provision), some of those waived sanctions would still snap back regardless, at a rate of 30% per month.  So if talks extended more than 90 days, they'd snap back completely.  In short, this is an effort to make sure that talks are not extended and if they are, that in advance their failure is guaranteed.  Not considered.

- Amdt 5 (Vitter, R-LA) looks like a backdoor amendment to impose a new kind of sanctions on Iran, targeting international organizations (similar to what Congress already does with the Palestinians and UN agencies). In doing so, this would create another “cutting off our nose to spite our face” law –undermining international organizations whose operations are important (even vital) to U.S. interests and weakening U.S. leverage in those organizations, in order to “punish” those organizations dealing with Iran.  This approach vis-à-vis the Palestinians is already threatening the foundations of the UN system; adopting this approach vis-à-vis Iran would appear to involve an even graver threat, given that Iran is a sovereign nation and member of the UN and international agencies because they understand what a mess it would make.  Not considered.

- Amdt 6 (Toomey, R-PA) is basically seeking to legislate red lines for negotiations (complete dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear program, zero enrichment, etc.) that everyone agrees are a deal-killer.  No ifs, ands, or buts. OFFERED (and defended by Toomey) and then withdrawn by Toomey.

- Amdt 7 (Toomey, R-PA) is basically seeking to give Congress formal veto authority over any agreement. Not considered.

- Amdt 8 (Toomey, R-PA) is a watered-down version of Amdt 7, making it more of a sense of Congress that Congress should get veto authority, rather than that it shall have veto authority.  ADOPTED by a vote of 14-8.   Toomey press release on his amendment is here.

- Amdt 9 (Cotton, R-AR) seeks to eliminate Sec 208, the 30-day waiver authority added (belatedly) to the bill by its authors. Basically this amendment is saying that if a deal is not signed, sealed, and delivered by the beginning of July it's all over - even if the sides just need a few more hours or days to avoid war. Not considered.

- Amdt 10 (Cotton, R-AR) seeks to drastically water down Sec. 208 so that at most the President could have 30 days after the JPOA expires to keep negotiating.  After that, he would have zero authority to waive the snap-back of previously-waived sanctions or the imposition of new sanctions, as laid out in this bill.  Basically this amendment is saying that if a deal is not signed, sealed, and delivered by the beginning of August it's all over - even if the sides just need a few more hours or days to avoid war.  REJECTED by a vote of 10-12.

- Amdt 11 (Cotton, R-AR) seeks to impose all the new sanctions laid out in the bill, including the snap back of previously-waived sanctions, on the day this Act becomes law.  It thus removes even the pretense that these are "triggered" sanctions, in effect removing the "trigger."  Not considered.

- Amdt 12 (Cotton, R-AR) seeks to change the bill from one that would impose escalating sanctions over a period of months (assuming sanctions are triggered under the bill) to a bill that would impose all the sanctions in one fell swoop once the trigger is tripped.  It thus eliminates even the pretense of imposing gradual pressure (in the event that talks fail) in order to convince Iran to play ball.  REJECTED by a vote of 10-12.

- Amdt 13 (Cotton, R-AR) appears to be laying the groundwork for compelling the Administration to continue to classify Iran as a country that supports international terrorism - a designation involves mandatory sanctions – until new conditions are met, including requiring certification that “there has been a fundamental change in the leadership and policies of the government of the country concerned” – language that seems to be code for regime change. Not considered.

 

4. PA Aid Still in the Crosshairs

This week letters were sent from both the House and Senate, putting the Administration on notice that Congress wants to freeze funding for the PA over its decision to join the ICC.  As noted in Section 1, above, the House letter was sent by leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; the Senate letter – which is now featured on AIPAC’s page, “Suspend Aid to the Palestinian Authority,” was spearheaded by Sen. Rubio (R-FL) and Gillibrand (D-NJ), and signed by 73 Senators total.

These letters are less a threat than a statement of policy, given that Congress on its own has the authority to freeze aid to the PA (all assistance to the PA must be “notified” to Congress before it can be expended, giving members of both the appropriations committee and the authorizing committees (HFAC and SFRC) the opportunity to place a “hold” on the funding).  Given this reality, these letters are basically a heads-up to the State Department not to try to move any new funding for the PA for the time being.   In addition, it is notable that both of these letters clearly focus on assistance to the PA, as distinct from assistance to the Palestinian people.  This distinction was made clearly in legislation passed following the legislative elections in 2006 that Hamas won, but has been eroded in recent years as some members of Congress (notably Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL), have sought to lash out at the Palestinians, but discovered that going after PA assistance was not a real option, since it would hurt Israel.  With that avenue blocked, the remaining (and relatively small amount) of humanitarian aid the U.S. provides to the Palestinians has been repeatedly targeted.  These letters appear to be a step towards restoring this funding distinction.

Finally, as was noted in the most recent edition of the Round-Up, AIPAC is now actively lobbying the Hill to suspend PA assistance.  Interestingly, according to both House and Senate sources, it appears that AIPAC and the Israeli government have decided at this point that they prefer these Congressional letters, rather than legislation that would formally freeze or further condition PA assistance.  This preference may reflect a recognition that it will likely be in Israel’s interests to maintain some flexibility on the issue for the future – and concern that if legislation gets moving, it may be impossible to stop, even if it ultimately is problematic for these same Israeli interests (i.e., it is not in Israel’s interest to have security cooperation with the PA end, or to have the PA collapse). 

 

5.  Backlash Builds Over Boehner’s Bibi Bid

Speaker Boehner’s (R-OH) invitation for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress on March 3 has sparked anger and controversy on and off the Hill, as reported extensively in the media (with even commentators on Fox News criticizing Boehner and Bibi for this gambit).  Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu has been criticized or breaching protocol (it was not cleared with White House or Democratic leadership) and for its timing (based on the speech’s proximity to Israeli elections and its intended goal of meddling in the ongoing battle over Iran sanctions and negotiations).  It has even been suggested that the invitation is unconstitutional (for a fascinating discussion of this question, see here, here, here, and here).

On 1/22 APN issued a statement on the issue:  APN to Boehner: Postpone Israeli Prime Minister's Congressional Speech; Respect Israeli Democracy.  APN subsequently issued an Action Alert on the same topic: APN Action Alert:  Tell Speaker Boehner to reschedule Netanyahu's speech before Congress

Shortly after Boehner’s announcement of Netanyahu’s upcoming address, House Minority Leader Pelosi (D-CA) stated, “…two weeks before his own election, right in the midst of our negotiations, I just don't think it's appropriate and helpful.”  More recently, she noted, “It's a serious big honor that we extend. That it should be extended two weeks before an election in a country without collaboration among the leaders of Congress, and without collaboration with the White House, is not appropriate…But the bigger issue is what would that do … to see how diplomacy will work or not [in the Iran talks]. If it doesn't work, we have to determine a course of action. But our strength in determining whatever course of action that is, I think, springs from the fact that we gave diplomacy a chance.” 

Senator Feinstein (D-CA) told Haaretz newspaper, that the invitation was “highly inappropriate.” 

On 1/30 the New York Times reported that Senator Minority leader Reid (D-NV) is now articulating concerns about the Netanyahu visit.  The NYT reported, “…Mr. Reid, a strong supporter of Israel, said in an interview that he had had a candid conversation with Mr. Netanyahu. He said he had advised the prime minister that the speech, scheduled for March, had become such a problem that some Democratic senators had backed off their support of the quick imposition of new sanctions on Iran…”

Rep. Schiff (D-CA) called the invitation “a terrible mistake,” adding, “I think for us to extend an invitation two weeks before the Israeli election gives Israelis the impression we're trying to meddle in their politics and I also find it extraordinary that a world leader would be invited before the Congress effectively to lobby in favor of a bill that the president opposes.”

On 1/28, Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR) published on oped entitled, “Speaker Boehner, Cancel Netanyahu's Address to Congress.”

In addition, as noted in Section 1, this week a group of House Democrats – Ellison (D-MN), Cohen (D-TN) and Waters (D-CA) began circulating a Dear Colleague seeking cosigners on a letter to Speaker Boehner (R-OH).  The letter calls on Boehner to “postpone this invitation until Israelis have cast their ballots and our consideration of the current round of Iran-related legislation has concluded.”  APN strongly supports this letter and is urging activists to contact their members and ask them to sign on.

On 1/28, apparently responding to the very broad criticism that his invitation to Netanyahu has sparked, Boehner’s office issued a very defensive statement giving “background” on the invitation.  That statement noted, among other things, that the invitation has been coordinated in advance with Senate Majority leader McConnell (R-KY) – the first time McConnell has been implicated in this mess.

For those who have been living under a rock or are for some other reason not following this story, some background reading might include: The Atlantic 1/21: Now Speaking for the Republicans: Benjamin Netanyahu; MSNBC 1/26: Unexpected critics pan GOP/Netanyahu gambit; NBC News 1/28: Upcoming Congressional Speech Backfires on Boehner, Netanyahu;  New York Times 1/23: Playing Politics on Iran; The Hill 1/21: Boehner, Netanyahu blindside Obama with speech to Congress; and Politico 1/21: John Boehner’s Bibi invite sets up showdown with White House

 

6.  Hearings

2/4: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia will hold a hearing, “The Palestinian Authority’s International Criminal Court Gambit: A True Partner for Peace?”  Scheduled witnesses (representing a rather limited array of viewpoints on the subject, to say the least) are: Jonathan Schanzer, FDD (who has weighed in on the topic here); Eugene Konotorvich,  Northwestern University School of Law (whose views in the topic were laid out recently, and clearly, here); Danielle Pletka, AEI (who does not appear to have written or spoken out on topic or to have any specific expertise on it; however, her AEI colleague, John Bolton, has done so, here); and David Makovsky, WINEP (who weighed in on the topic here).

1/29: The Senate Banking Committee held a markup of the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015.” Chairman Shelby’s (R-AL) opening statement is here; Ranking Member Brown’s opening statement is here. Webcast is here.

1/27: The Senate Banking Committee held a hearing entitled, “Perspectives on the Strategic Necessity of Iran Sanctions.” Brown (D-OH) opening statement here. Panel 1 witnesses were: Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken [testimony]; and Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen [testimony].  Panel 2 witnesses were: Mark Dubowitz, FDD [testimony]; and Patrick Clawson, WINEP [testimony].  Webcast here.

1/27: The House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing entitled, “Iran Nuclear Negotiations After the Second Extension: Where Are They Going?” Chairman Royce’s (R-CA) opening statement is here.  Witnesses were: Eric Edelman, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (and JINSA) [statement];  John Hannah, FDD [statement];  Ray Takeyh, CFR [statement]; and Robert Einhorn, Brookings [statement].  Video of hearing:  Part 1, Part 2

1/21: The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations: Committee held a hearing entitled, “Iran Nuclear Negotiations: Status of Talks and the Role of Congress.”   Corker’s (R-TN) opening statement is here.  Menendez’s (D-NJ) opening statement is here.  Witnesses were: Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken [testimony] and Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen [testimony]. Webcast here

1/21: Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, “Global Challenges and U.S. National Security Strategy.” Chairman McCain (R-AZ) opening statement here; Ranking Member Reed (D-RI) opening statement here.  Witnesses were former U.S. National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew  Brzezinski (no written testimony provided).  Webcast available here.

 

7.  Members on the Record

Warner (D-VA) 1/29: Statement of U.S. Sen. Warner on Today's 18-4 Vote on Iran Sanctions by the Banking Committee (no vote until after March deadline)

Rubio (R-FL) 1/29: Rubio To Kerry: Support Independent Investigation Into Death Of Argentine Prosecutor Investigating Iran's Role In 1994 Bombing

Kirk (R-IL) 1/29: Kirk Statement on Committee Passage of Bipartisan Legislation to Increase Pressure on Iran

Schumer (D-NY) 1/28: Schumer Announces Support for New Bipartisan Legislation to Stop Iran’s Nuclear Threat

Ayotte (R-NH) 1/28: Ayotte Backs Bipartisan Legislation (S. 269) to Stop Iran's Nuclear Threat

Gohmert (R-TX) and Clawson (R-FL) 1/28: Rambling statement on Iran, Israel, and radical Islam…

Isakson (R-GA) 1/27: Isakson Praises Committee Passage of Bill to Impose More Sanctions if Iran Fails to Reach Agreement with World Powers on Dismantling its Nuclear Program

Barletta (R-PA) 1/26: Defending Boehner’s invitation to Bibi to address Congress on threat of Iran

Olson (R-TX) 1/26: Defending Boehner’s invitation to Bibi to address Congress on threat of Iran

Westmoreland (R-GA) 1/26: Defending Boehner’s invitation to Bibi to address Congress on threat of Iran

Isakson (R-GA) 1/26: Tribute to Commemorate the Anniversary of the Release of the Iran Hostages

Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 1/26: Defending Boehner’s invitation to Bibi to address Congress on threat of Iran

Poe (R-TX) 1/26: Opposing Iran diplomacy, including: “…We must impose such sanctions that cripple Iran's economy to force the Iranians to stop their nuclear weapon development. And hopefully at some point the people of Iran will soon have had enough warmongering by its leaders and replace their government.”

Royce (R-CA) 1/23: Chairman Royce Calls for International Investigation into Death of Alberto Nisman

Burgess (R-TX) 1/22: Defending Boehner’s invitation to Bibi to address Congress on threat of Iran

Gohmert (R-TX) 1/22: Another lengthy, meandering diatribe (ostensibly in response to the SOTU) covering most prominently the threat of radical Islam, the Obama Administration’s failure to stand up to radical Islam, its negligence in Benghazi, its failure to support Israel, its alleged effort to push Bibi out of office, etc.

Corker (R-TN) 1/22: Corker on CNN: Proposal for Vote in Congress on Iran Nuclear Agreement “Gaining Momentum”

Turner (R-OH) 1/21:  Defending Boehner’s invitation to Bibi to address Congress on threat of Iran

Murphy (D-CT) 1/21: Response to SOTU, “…We all agree that Iran must never become a nuclear power, and the talks we are now engaged in are our best hope for achieving that goal. The U.S. and our partners have been making significant progress, and it would be deeply harmful for Congress to impose new sanctions now and risk giving the Iranians an excuse to walk away from the table.”

Boehner (R-OH) 1/21: Press release – Speaker Boehner Invites Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to Address Congress, “In this time of challenge, I am asking the Prime Minister to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life.”

Boehner (R-OH) 1/21: “Another priority is protecting the United States and our allies overseas.  That’s why I have invited Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on the grave threats of radical Islam and the threat that Iran poses to not only the Middle East, but frankly, to the world.  America and Israel have always stood together.  We have a shared cause, we have common ideals, and now we must rise to that moment once again.”

Graham (R-SC) 1/21: From his response to the SOTU, “…the Iranians continue to pursue nuclear weapons capability. A nuclear-capable Iran represents a threat to our strongest ally in the region, Israel, as well as to our own national security given Iran's record of sharing military technology with terrorist organizations.”

Feinstein (D-CA) 1/20: From her response to the SOTU, “I strongly support the president’s call to Congress to refrain from imposing additional sanctions on Iran. New sanctions now would violate the interim agreement, collapse the negotiations and take us out of lockstep with the international community.  We have a responsibility to support the diplomatic negotiations and see them through. If they fail to achieve a deal, then we should consider sanctions and next steps, but we shouldn’t prejudge that outcome.”

Boehner (R-OH) 1/20: Press release – SOTU FACT: President Faces Bipartisan Opposition on Iran Sanctions Veto Threat

Royce (R-CA) 1/20: From his response to the SOTU, “The President presented a false choice on Iran sanctions.  We can have negotiations and more economic pressure.  The Obama Administration has been negotiating with Tehran for over a year.  Meanwhile, Tehran has advanced its nuclear capabilities.  By the Administration’s own account, significant differences remain with Iran.  One thing that could change Tehran’s resistance to accepting a meaningful and effective agreement to keep it from developing a nuclear weapons capability is the threat of more economic pressure. Economic pressure is the only reason the Iranian regime is at the table.  Instead of ruling out what has worked, the President should work with Congress to increase the negotiating pressure on Iran.”

Deutch (D-FL) 1/20: From his response to the SOTU, “…I also reject the premise that negotiations over Iran’s nuclear weapons program would be derailed by Congress passing carefully-crafted sanctions that only take effect if the regime fails to live up to its international obligations.  After all, it was sanctions that drove Iran to the negotiating table in the first place.”

Donnelly (D-IN) 1/20:  Press release - Bipartisan delegation focuses on national security concerns in the Middle East [other delegation members:  McCain (R-AZ), Corker (R-TN), Graham (R-SC), Barrasso (R-WY), King (I-ME), and Kaine (D-VA)].

Kaine (D-VA) 1/18: Press release - Kaine Arrives in Israel with Bipartisan Congressional Delegation after Visits to Saudi Arabia and Qatar

King (I-ME) 1/18: Press release - King Visits Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Israel

Zeldin (R-NY) 1/17: Press Release: Zeldin Urges President to Reconsider Veto Threat on Iran Sanctions

Boehner (R-OH) 1/16: Press release: Days Like This Are Why We Must Always Stand With Israel

 

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