APN Legislative Round-Up: April 18 - May 3, 2013

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2. Syria on the Hill
3. Members on the Record
4. From the Press/Blogs

Note: Both the House and Senate were in recess this week.

1. Bills, Resolutions, & Letters

(PALESTINIAN NON-DEMOCRATIC SUCCESSION) H. Res. 177:Introduced 4/23 by Roskam (R-IL) and Lipinski (D-IL), and currently having 8 other cosponsors, "Urging the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas to clarify a presidential succession plan, expand political freedom in the West Bank, and take preventative measures to limit the possibility of a Hamas takeover in the West Bank." Roskam's press release touting introduction of the resolution is availablehere. It should be noted that President Abbas came to power through internationally-monitored democratic elections - elections that the U.S. and others have long pointed to as the basis of Abbas' legitimacy. One would imagine that a "succession plan" in such a case would mean new democratic elections. However, given a choice between democratic Palestinian elections that could yield unwelcome results (like the PLC elections of 2006), and an undemocratic succession more akin to what might be expected in the context of a monarchy or dictatorship, it seems that some in Congress prefer the latter. Thus, the main message of this resolution is that Abbas should implement a non-democratic "succession plan," by way of "identifying figures committed to the peace process with Israel." The next sentence in the resolution is comprised, bizarrely, of a seemingly contradictory call for Abbas to "enact reforms to open the political process through fair and responsible elections, ensuring the freedom of speech, the press, and political assembly and allowing a new generation of leadership to freely express their views." The latter clause begs the question, do the drafters intend for these freedoms to be available only to those who are "committed to the peace process with Israel"?

(AID TO THE MIDDLE EAST) HR 1793: Introduced 4/26 by Connolly (D-VA) and two cosponsors, the "Global Partnerships Act of 2013." The short title of the bill is "To establish a framework for effective, transparent, and accountable United States foreign assistance, and for other purposes." Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, along with the Committees on Oversight and Government Reform, Rules, and Ways and Means. This very odd bill, which is neither a straight authorization bill nor an appropriations bill, includes some language governing assistance to the Palestinians (not clear why it includes this particular language) and some provisions touching on aid to Israel and Egypt.

(IRAN) H. Res. 183: Introduced 4/25 by Rohrabacher (R-CA) and no cosponsors, "Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the Broadcasting Board of Governors should broadcast and direct Azeri language content into the Islamic Republic of Iran and Baloch language content into the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan."

Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. For NIAC's take on this resolution, see: Congressman Urges U.S. to Foment Ethnic Tension in Iran

(IRAN/SYRIA) Schneider amendment to HR 527: On 4/26, during final floor consideration of HR 527, the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act, Rep. Schneider (D-IL) offered a motion to recommit the bill to the Committee on Natural Resources with an instruction to report the bill back to the full House with an amendment. The amendment he proposed states that nothing the bill authorizes the export of helium from the Federal Helium Reserve to Iran, Syria, or North Korea, or any party that is likely to transfer it to any of those countries. Schneider explained that the purpose of his amendment was "to ensure that our strategic reserve of helium gas does not fall into the hands of those who wish to harm the United States or target our allies abroad." Hastings (D-FL), on the original sponsors of the bill, spoke against the motion to recommit and the amendment, noting, "Nothing in our bill violates the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. Nothing in our bill violates that, and yet that's reflected in this MTR. Secondly, the countries that are mentioned in here are countries that are hostile to the United States. That's covered under an entirely different statute in the law." The motion to recommit (and with the amendment) failed by a vote of 186-211.

Letters

(Support Engel Bill to Arm Syrian Opposition) Engel-Rogers letter to fellow House members: On 4/24 House Foreign Affairs Committee Middle East Subcommittee Chair Engel (D-NY) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rogers (R-AL) circulated a letter to House colleagues asking for their support on the Free Syria Act (HR 1327), authorizing the President to provide certain arms to the vetted Syrian rebels.

(Palestinian Incitement) Lamborn-Engel-Franks letter to Abbas: On April 11 (not previously reported in the Round-Up), Reps. Lamborn (R-CO), Engel (D-NY) and Franks (R-AZ) sent a letter to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas expressing "grave dismay and deep concern over the recent broadcast of a children's program on Palestinian Television which included rabid incitement against the State of Israel and the Jewish people." The members urge Abbas to "immediately take whatever actions are necessary to ensure that such messages of hate are never broadcast again and that they end up in the dustbins of history." Lamborn, Engel, and Franks are the Bipartisan Chairmen of the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus.

(SYRIA - Chemical Weapons) McCain et al letter to Obama: On 4/24 a group of senators - McCain (R-AZ), Levin (D-MI), Corker (R-TN), Menendez (D-NJ), Chambliss (R-GA), Casey (D-PA), Graham (R-SC) and Ayotte (R-NH) - sent a letter to President Obama asking him whether the Assad regime, or elements associated with or supported by the Assad regime, had used chemical weapons in the current conflict.

(SYRIA - Chemical Weapons) White House letter to McCain et al: On 4/25 the White House sent a letter to McCain et al (in response to the letter discussed above) stating (among other things) that "Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin..."

(Conditions on Egypt Aid) Franks et al letter to Granger/Lowey: On 4/18 a group of GOP representatives - Franks (R-AZ), Carter (R-TX), Pitts (R-PA), Bilirakis (R-FL), and Gowdy (R-SC) - sent a letter to the Chairwoman and Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee's ForOps subcommittee urging that specific conditions be placed on assistance to Egypt in the FY14 ForOps bill (specific bill text is provided in the letter). Under these conditions, no funds could be provided for assistance to Egypt unless the Secretary of State could certify that said government "is not acting to restrict the political, economic, or religious freedoms and human rights of the citizens and residents of Egypt"; "is continuing to demonstrate a commitment to free and fair elections and is not taking any steps to interfere with or undermine the credibility of such elections"; "continues to implement the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty"; "is taking all necessary action to eliminate the smuggling networks and detect and destroy tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza Strip and is taking all necessary action to combat terrorism in the Sinai"; and "has lifted restrictions in law and practice on the work and funding of Egyptian and international nongovernmental organizations, in particular in the human rights and democracy field." The language would also earmark not less than $50 million of any ESF provided to Egypt for "democracy and governance programs for Egypt, including direct support for pluralistic nongovernmental organizations, as well as programming for rule of law, human rights, good governance, and political competition." The language would also require a report from the Secretary of State on "recommendations with respect to policy and funding changes to programs providing assistance to Egypt" including "a report listing all of the Foreign Military Financing contracts for the Government of Egypt carried out over the previous ten years and describing plans for such contracts over the next five years." (H/T to POMED for originally reporting on this letter, here).

(Outrage over UN Official's Comments on Boston) Lamborn et al Letter to Ban Ki-Moon; Kelly et al letters to Ban Ki-Moon & ObamaOn 4/24, Reps. Lamborn (R-CO), Engel (D-NY), and Franks (R-AZ), the Bipartisan Chairmen of the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus, sent a "strongly worded letter" to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon condemning comments by Richard Falk, a top UN human rights official, who blamed the Boston bombings on "the American global domination project" and on the U.S. relationship with Israel. On 4/29, Rep. Kelly (R-PA) sent letters (which each got 25 signers total) to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and to President Obama on the same topic. The letter to Ban Ki-Moon urges the UN Secretary General to "to call upon the UN Human Rights Council to remove Falk on account of his long record of offensive statements, conduct, and poor judgment falling short of the standards established by the Council for mandate holders, culminating in his despicable comments blaming the U.S. and Israel for the horrific Boston Marathon terrorist bombings." The letter to Obama urges the president to "instruct U.S. Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council Eileen Donahoe to demand that the UN Human Rights Council take action to remove Falk on account of his long record of offensive statements, conduct, and poor judgment falling short of the standards established by the Council for mandate holders, culminating in his despicable comments blaming the U.S. and Israel for the horrific Boston Marathon terrorist bombings." Kelly's press releasing touting the two letters is available here. Reporting on the letters is also here and here.

2. Syria on the Hill

In recent days, reports that the Assad government has apparently used chemical weapons has sparked a wave of statements from members of the House and Senate. Responses varied from expressions of concern, to calls for arming the Syrian opposition, to language implying that President Obama is somehow to blame for the crisis and can/should intervene to solve the crisis. Below is a sampling of recent statements by key members, as well as related press commentary.

Senate

Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Menendez (D-NJ): ""The situation in Syria is clearly deteriorating. The Assad regime has crossed a red line by using chemical weapons, which forces us to consider all options as to how we act to influence the balance of the conflict. Among these options would be the enforcement of an internationally-recognized no-fly zone, providing lethal assistance to vetted opposition forces, and sanctioning the transfer of arms to the regime. The greatest humanitarian crisis in the world exists in and around Syria. It is clear that we must act to assure the fall of Assad, the defeat of extremist groups, and the rise of democracy. We must do everything possible to prevent the regime's use of chemical weapons and to ensure those stockpiles are secure."

Foreign Relations Committee Middle East/South Asia Subcommittee Chairman Casey (D-PA): "Mounting evidence of chemical weapons underscores the imperative that the United States stand with the people of Syria during this critical period. The fall of Assad is not only good for Syria, but will deal a significant blow to Iran and Hezbollah. Degrading the destructive power of Iran and Hezbollah is in the national security interests of the United States and Bashar al -Assad is a key link between them. I believe that a political transition to a government that reflects the will of the Syrian people is in the core interests of the United States in the region. I have made the case consistently that the U.S. should lead efforts to support the moderate Syrian opposition. I have also said that the U.S. should consider measures that would hamper the ability of the Syrian Air Force to conduct aerial attacks on civilians. The administration should also examine and assess other ways in which the Syrian Air Force can be deterred and degraded including the use of surface-to-surface tomahawk missiles to degrade the Syrian air force on the ground."

Inhofe (R-OK): ""President Assad's use of chemical weapons against his own people clearly crosses the 'red line' established by President Obama. This marks a significant turning point in what's already been a tragic two years that has left over 70,000 dead and forced millions more to flee their homes. Without American leadership, Iran and Russian will eagerly fill the vacuum. It's more important now than ever that President Obama finally steps up and fulfills his constitutional duty as the commander-in-chief to lead. It's time that he come forward with a plan that will help stem the violence and demonstrate to Assad that his barbaric actions will have consequences. Continued inaction by the President, after laying out a clear redline, will only embolden Assad and his benefactors in Tehran to continue their brutal assault against the Syrian people. Every day that the President fails to lead, the situation will become more dire, thousands more will suffer, and American influence in the region will continue to diminish."

Rubio (R-FL): "According to administration reports and the assessments of some of our closest allies, chemical weapons have been introduced into the Syrian conflict. It's clear the 'red line' drawn by President Obama has now been crossed. The time for passive engagement in this conflict must come to an end. It is in the vital national security interest of our nation to see Assad's removal. He is Iran's closest ally in the region and a tyrant who has been murdering his own people for more than two years, while threatening regional stability. We must not allow Assad to continue violating all international norms by using these vile weapons and allowing Syria to descend further into chaos and instability. This will have disastrous consequences for U.S. interests for decades to come. I urge President Obama to explain to Congress and the American people how he will ensure Syria's chemical and biological weapons stockpiles are secured, how we'll work with our allies to prevent further use of these deadly weapons, and what additional measures he is ready to take to follow through on his previous statements."

Corker (R-TN): "Today, the White House stated that the intelligence community has 'assess[ed] with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent, Sarin.' This assessment is deeply troubling, and if correct, means that President Obama's redline has certainly been crossed. While more work needs to be done to fully verify this assessment--like making sure we understand the chain of custody of the evidence--it is becoming increasingly clear that we must step up our efforts. I should make clear, however, that it if it comes to the use of military force, before the president takes any action to commit U.S. forces to any effort in Syria or elsewhere, I expect him to fully consult with the Senate and seek an authorization for the use of military force." (Also, see Corker's NYT op-ed, here).

Senate Republican Policy Committee: "...President Obama has drawn a "red line" that Iran cannot be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon. It is hard to imagine how Iran would be deterred from crossing that red line if Syria is allowed to cross the red line against chemical weapons without consequence. President Obama must respond appropriately so that the red line Syria has crossed does not begin to look like a pink line, or worse, no line at all. Nothing less than the credibility of the United States is on the line."

House

Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Royce (R-CA): "Today's announcement comes after similar assessments from the French and British governments. The Assad regime's use of chemical weapons against its own people is abhorrent, but comes as no surprise given its demonstrated brutality. Use of chemical weapons can never be accepted. This new information only solidifies my belief in the urgency of seeing the Syrian opposition succeed. Tomorrow, I will be briefed on the Syria situation by Secretary Kerry. At that briefing, I will ask the Secretary to explain the Administration's new plans in Syria."

Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ranking Minority Member Engel (D-NY): ""The Administration's assessment that Syrian President Assad has used chemical weapons is, if confirmed, no surprise to those of us who know what President Assad and his terrorist government are capable of doing...Assad has repeatedly demonstrated that he will do whatever is necessary to stay in power, including using both conventional, and weapons of mass destruction, to murder his own people. The use of these weapons of terror is an obscenity to civilization and a crime against humanity. Assad must go and it is time for the U.S. and our allies to immediately arm vetted elements of the Syrian opposition to bring an end to his government. When I spoke with the White House today, I told them that we must act now to stop Assad before he uses these weapons again."

Armed Services Committee Chairman McKeon (R-CA): ""If the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on the Syrian people, this is an astounding violation of human rights. I trust and agree with President Obama that the use of chemical munitions or the transfer of those weapons to terrorists would be a red line for his Administration, and with it the civilized world. As the Commander-in-Chief, there is a national security imperative here. As the leader of the free world, there is a deep moral imperative as well. Instead, it appears that the President is outsourcing our national security analysis to the United Nations. I do question the utility of red lines if they lack clearly delineated boundaries and meaningful consequences. I am confident the President does not wish for America's resolve to be called into question."

Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Smith (D-WA): ""Based on the intelligence that we have, it appears that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against the Syrian people. If true, this is a sad and worrisome development in an ongoing humanitarian crisis. We must work with our partners in the region and the international community to confirm beyond a doubt that chemical weapons were in fact used and, if so, determine who used them and when. The seriousness of the situation dictates a thorough and thoughtful approach. If it turns out that chemical weapons were used, it would be the latest atrocity committed by the Assad regime. The civil war in Syria is an enormous humanitarian catastrophe caused by a brutal and desperate regime. But as we consider option to respond to this atrocity, I am not convinced that military action is appropriate at this time. There is no evidence that U.S. military action will achieve anything, except cost American lives and treasure. As we respond, we must remember the lessons we have learned from the war in Iraq. We should work with the international community, as well as our allies in the region, to consider the best options to remove Assad from power and promote a regime that has the support of the Syrian people. However, we should be under no illusions that this will be easy. It won't. We must exercise extreme caution, and we must not assume that the U.S. military can resolve this civil war. The Syrian people deserve the right to live free of tyranny and oppression and the United States must continue to be a force for good in the world. I encourage the Administration to take the time necessary to confirm what has taken place and to develop an appropriate response."

Intelligence Committee Chair Rogers (R-MI): "This is an important acknowledgement by the President. It is important that we read the intelligence as it is laid out, not as we would like it to be. President Obama correctly said that Syria's use of chemical weapons would be a red line for the United States. Now that we have confirmed their use, the question is what is our plan for transition to a post-Assad Syria? I have laid out several steps, short of boots on the ground. The world is waiting for American leadership."

Homeland Security Committee Chairman McCaul (R-TX): ""After more than two years of senseless murder and violence in the Levant, the United States should be clear with the world about our interests and objectives in Syria. The security of the United States is at risk when armed extremists are given safe haven in a country with scores of chemical and biological weapons that could be proliferated and used against us and our allies. President Obama must show leadership and level with the American people about how his administration plans to respond to these new developments, which, by his definition, have crossed a 'red line'."

Majority Leader Boehner (R-OH): "I have and will continue to support the President's articulated red line of confirmation of the use of chemical weapons or the transfer of such weapons to terrorist groups. At the same time, I am deeply concerned with reports that further confirmation of use may be outsourced to the United Nations. If Assad sees any equivocation on the red line, it will embolden his regime. The United States has vital national interests in Syria becoming a peaceful country with a stable, representative government. After two years of brutal conflict, it's past time for the President to have a robust conversation with the Congress and the American people about how best to bring Assad's tyranny to an end."

Foreign Affairs Committee Middle East Subcommittee Chair Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL): "The Administration's foreign policy agenda toward Syria, and the entire region, has been murky and muddled. However, President Obama has stated many times that use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross the 'red line' and should Assad 'make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there where be consequences,' and he 'will be held accountable.' Last month in Israel, President Obama reiterated that 'once we establish the facts, I have made clear that the use of chemical weapons is a game changer.' Mr. President, it's time for your Administration to put forth a cogent and decisive plan to deal with Syria's chemical weapon stockpile. The growing threat of Assad unleashing his WMDs poses a direct national security threat to the U.S., the Syrian people, and our allies in the region. Earlier this year, I introduced the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Accountability Act to increase sanctions on any person or entity transferring goods, services, or technology for the chemical, biological, or advanced conventional weapons program of Iran, North Korea, and Syria. The Administration's top priority must be to secure Syria's WMDs safely to ensure they do not continue to be utilized nor fall into the wrong hands, but we must also hold Assad accountable for this atrocious act. If we do not hold Assad accountable, this would send a dangerous message to Iran, North Korea and others, as our response to this crisis in Syria will help dictate the nuclear calculus for Pyongyang and Tehran going forward."

From the press:

Bloomberg 5/2: The Worst Reason to Go to War in Syria
The American Conservative 4/30: Where's Congress's 'Red Line'?
NYT lead editorial 4/29: Ill-Considered Advice on Syria
Washing Post 4/27: Obama, Congress proceeding carefully as US seeks firm evidence of Syrian chemical weapons use
YNet (Israel) 4/26: US lawmakers demand action on Syria chemical weapons
Bloomberg 4/26: Congress Urges Obama Act on Syria With No Accord on What
The Washington Diplomat 4/26: 'A Dilemma with Horns': Congress Steps Into Syria Fray
FoxNews 4/25: Lawmakers demand 'action' in Syria after intel confirms chemical weapons use

3. Members on the Record

Royce (R-CA) 5/1: Chairman Royce Meets with Israeli Prime Minister
Maloney (D-NY) 4/26: In Honor of Israel's 65th Independence Day
Granger (R-TX) 4/25: Weekly Enewsletter: Our Ally Israel
Engel (D-NY) 4/25: Ranking Member Eliot Engel Opening Statement at Hearing, "The FY 2014 Budget Request: U.S. Foreign Assistance Priorities and Strategy
Turner (R-OH) 4/25: Strengthening Our Strategic Alliances
Sarbanes (D-MD) 4/25: Recognizing the Armenian Genocide
Levin (D-MI) 4/24: Observing Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day
Turner (R-OH) 4/24: Our Nation's Missile Defense Isn't a Bargaining Chip
Bilirakis (R-FL) and Maloney (D-NY) 4/24: Statements in Response to Kidnapping of Syrian Bishops
Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 4/22: Assad Continues his Assault on Syrian People, While Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood Tighten Their Grip Despite Persistent Calls for Democratization in Egypt,
Sen. Levin (D-MI) 4/18: Opening Statement of SASC Hearing on Worldwide Threats
Israel (D-NY) 4/18: In Honor of Israel's 65th Independence Day

4. From the Press/Blogs

National Review 5/2: Rand Paul Embraces Israel
The Hill (Blog) 5/2: Israel shouldn't be allowed to discriminate against any US citizens
Algemeiner 5/4: Israel to Expand Efforts to Strengthen Relationship With U.S. Hispanic Population
New Jersey Jewish News 5/1: A day to play an outsized role for Israel (re: NORPAC on the Hill)
St. Louis Post Dispatch, 5/1: Legalizing discrimination against U.S. travelers
DefenseNews 4/29: Israelis Slam US-Hyped Arms Package
Baltimore Sun 4/29: Don't let Israel discriminate against Americans based on religion
Al Monitor 4/28: Debunking Five Myths of Washington's Leverage in Egypt
Amwal al Ghad (Egypt) 4/28: U.S. Congress Delegation Arrives In Cairo For 3-Day Visit
LA Times 4/28: Israel's free pass from Boxer
JTA 4/23: In budget battles, Obama administration sees Jews as playing key role
POMED 4/21: POMED Notes - FY14 Department of State Budget Hearing
HuffPo 4/20: Congress Should Not Reward Israel With Visa Waivers
POMED 4/19: POMED Notes: Senate Hearing "National Security and Foreign Policy Priorities in the FY2014 International Affairs Budget"
POMED 4/19: POMED Notes: "Budget Hearing - Department of State"
POMED 4/19: POMED Notes: "Securing U.S. Interests Abroad: The FY 2014 Foreign Affairs Budget"

 

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