Note: House speaker Boehner (R-OR), who famously elected to keep the White House out-of-the-loop when he invited Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress earlier this month, will reportedly be leading a Congressional delegation to Israel before the end of the month.
(UPDATE ON CORKER IRAN DEAL VETO BILL) S. 615: After weeks of rumors regarding plans to bring S. 615 to a vote before the end of March, on 3/19 Senators Corker (R-TN) and Menendez (D-NJ) announced their agreement to bring the measure before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a markup and vote (i.e., regular order) on April 14. Since the AIPAC conference (for which S. 615 was a central lobbying focus, with the goal of achieving a veto-proof majority in support of the bill), 7 senators have added their names as cosponsors – Paul (R-KY), Collins (R-ME), Bennett (D-CO), Rounds (R-SD), Blumenthal (D-CT), Alexander (R-TN), and Murkowski (R-AK) – giving the bill a total of 18 cosponsors (plus Corker). The Obama Administration continues to oppose the bill on both substance and timing and has promised to veto the measure if is passed, even after April 14. On 3/14 White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough sent a letter to Corker in response to the letter Corker sent Obama on 3/12 (covered in the 3/13/15 edition of the Round-Up). The McDonough letter lays out the Administration’s views on Congress’ role in overseeing a deal. Media reports on the bill: Senate grants Obama weeks-long reprieve on Iran bill (Politico, 3/19); Corker puts off Iran bill until after Easter recess (Washington Examiner, 3/19); Senators Agree To Delay Committee Vote On Iran Bill (Reuters 3/19).
APN STRONGLY OPPOSES S. 615 AND URGES SENATORS TO REFUSE TO COSPONSOR IT OR SUPPORT IT IF IT IS BROUGHT UP FOR A VOTE (Action Alert here).
(UPDATE ON KIRK-MENENDEZ IRAN SANCTIONS BILL) S. 269: On 3/19, Shelby (R-AL) introduced S. 792; the bill was referred to and reported out of the Senate Banking Committee on the same day. So what is going on? This bill is the Senate Banking Committee’s version of S. 269, the AIPAC-backed Kirk (R-IL)-Menendez (D-NJ) Iran sanctions bill. As discussed in detail in the 1/30/15 edition of the Round-Up, on 1/29 the Senate Banking Committee held a mark-up of what was widely understood to be S. 269, when in fact (mainly due to poor management of the process) the Committee actually marked up text that was similar, but not identical to S. 269. Now, the version marked up and amended in committee on 1/29 has been reported out, paving the way for floor action. According to Senate rumor, the bill was reported out at this time under orders of GOP Senate leadership (a committee chair can hold a bill in committee indefinitely if he or she wishes). It is not known what Senate Majority leader McConnell (R-K) plans in terms of timing on the bill, but to move ahead will require floor action to bring up S. 269 and then adopt the text of S. 792 as a substitute (it will be a key goal of AIPAC and others to see the bill passed as S. 269, which they have been lobbying energetically and on which they are carefully counting cosponsors and have been working to muster a veto-proof majority). As of this writing, a total of 52 Senators are cosponsoring S. 269 (plus Kirk). Since the AIPAC conference (for which S. 269 was a central lobbying focus), a total of 3 senators have added their names as cosponsors: Toomey (R-PA), Sessions (R-AL) and Sullivan (R-AK).
APN STRONGLY OPPOSES S. 269 AND URGES SENATORS TO REFUSE TO COSPONSOR IT OR SUPPORT IT IF IT IS BROUGHT UP FOR A VOTE (Action Alert here).
(ANOTHER IRAN SANCTIONS BILL) S. 825: Introduced 3/19 by Cruz (R-TX) “to terminate the authority to waive certain provisions of law requiring the imposition of sanctions with respect to Iran , to codify certain sanctions imposed by executive order, and for other purposes.” Referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. According to the Congressional Record the measure has no cosponsors, but Cruz’s 3/19 press release (which includes a summary and link to bill text) says it is cosponsored by Franks (R-AZ). The bill is a re-run of S.2672, introduced by Cruz on 7/28/14, (which attracted no cosponsors and went nowhere).
(SYRIAN WAR CRIMES) S. 756: Introduced 3/19 by Cardin (D-MD) and 4 cosponsors, “to require a report on accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.
(FUND FOR ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE) HR 1489: Introduced 3/19 by Crowley (D-NY) and Fortenberry (R-NE), “A bill to seek the establishment of and contributions to an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Crowley’s press release touting introduction of the bill is here. The introduction of the bill was covered in the Hill, here. A version of the bill was introduced on 12/4/14, HR 5797.
(SENATOR COTTON AS THE DEFENDER OF ISRAEL?) S. XXX: During a rambling 3/19 floor speech expressing his solidarity with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in their mutual antipathy for President Obama, Cotton (R-AR) railed against Obama’s failure to support Israel and vowed, “In the coming days--perhaps as soon as the debate over the budget resolution next week--I will propose legislation that reaffirms the longstanding policy of the United States to continue to defend Israel against attacks at the United Nations and other international agencies.” It remains to be seen what precisely Cotton has in mind – based on his recent initiative aimed at Iran’s leaders, it seems like almost anything, no matter how bizarre, is possible. Whatever it is, speaking as an advocate for bipartisan support for Israel, Cotton went on to “urge all Members of this body, including my colleagues on the other side of the aisle who have a long history of supporting Israel to join me in supporting such legislation [implied: if they fail to do – no matter how nutty or partisan my initiative may be – they will be henceforth labeled enemies of Israel].”
(SENATOR COTTON TO TAKE ON UN, ETC): S. XXX: But that’s not all! Cotton went on to threaten further measures against the UN and other international agencies: “should the United Nations, its subordinate agencies, the International Criminal Court or any other international agency take adverse action against Israel, I will consider introducing legislation to restrict U.S. funding for the offending agency.” It is not clear if Cotton understands that under current U.S. law, the U.S. is already required to cut off funding to any UN agency that admits the Palestinians (indeed, it is not at all clear what he means by “adverse action against Israel”).
(SENATOR COTTON: NO US AT UN UNLESS US VETOES ISRAEL MEASURES): S. XXX: But again, that’s not all! Cotton went on to threaten dire consequences if the Obama Administration fails to veto what he sees as anti-Israel resolutions at the UN – an unprecedented effort by any member of Congress to interfere in the conduct of U.S. diplomacy at the UN. He stated, “if the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations does not exercise the American veto against any anti-Israel resolution, I will also consider introducing similar legislation to restrict funding to the Ambassador's office.” Yes, you heard that right. Cotton seemingly sees cutting off the ability of the U.S. to operate at the UN as “punishment” for the Obama Administration – apparently failing to understand (or simply not caring about) the implications of such a move on the ability of the White House to protect and promote U.S. interests around the world.
(IRAN NEGOTIATIONS) Royce-Engel letter: On 3/19, the Royce (R-IN)-Engel (D-NY) letter was formally sent to President Obama, signed by a total of 342 House members. As was reported in the 3/6/15 edition of the Round-Up, this letter was the focal point of AIPAC lobbying in the House during the policy conference earlier this month. As noted in that Round-Up, Rather than go forward with a partisan effort, House leaders opted for a letter which constitutes a constructive, bipartisan approach. While some have suggested that the letter lays out red lines for an Iran deal, the actual operative language in the letter is in act quite measured and appears largely to in sync with how the Obama Administration is talking about an agreement. The letter stands in contrast both to the problematic Iran legislation pending in the House (S. 269 and S. 615) and to last week’s outrageous letter signed by 47 GOP Senators, addressed to the leaders of Iran.
(HOUSE GOP CONGRATULATES BIBI) DeSantis letter: On 3/18, DeSantis (R-FL) led a list of more than 150 GOP House members (hard to tell who signed exactly, as not all the signatures are legible) signed on to a letter congratulating Benjamin Netanyahu on winning this week’s Israeli elections and taking a shot at President Obama for not immediately congratulating Netanyahu on his victory.
(HOUSE DEMS SLAM GOP47 LETTER TO IRAN LEADERS) Waters et al letter to McConnell: On 3/16 Reps. Waters (D-CA), Cohen (D-TN), Conyers (D-MI), Lee (D-CA), and Ellison (D-MN) sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY), expressing their “immense concern and profound disappointment” over Senator Cotton’s (R-AR) letter to Iranian leaders, signed by 46 other Republican Senators (including McConnell). A press release announcing the letter is here.
(EU MPs & GOP MEMBERS OPPOSE “BAD DEAL” WITH IRAN) Lamborn-Weber Letter: On 3/17, Reps. Lamborn (R-CO) and Weber (R-TX) began circulating a Dear Colleague seeking signers on a letter addressed to President Obama, UK Prime Minister Cameron, French President Hollande, and German Chancellor Merkel. According to the Dear Colleague, the letter is cosigned by one member of Parliament from the UK (David Burrowers), one from France (Meyer Habib) and two from Germany (Roderich Keisewetter and Johann Wadephul); Al-Monitor’s Julian Pecquet notes that “Burrowes is a member of British Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party and an officer of the Conservative Friends of Israel group. Habib, who is Jewish and holds dual French and Israeli nationalities, represents French citizens living abroad around the Mediterranean, including in Israel. And Kiesewetter and Wadephul are both members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union.” The Dear Colleague and the letter both note: “we remain skeptical of the Iranian regime’s sincerity and commitment to reach an agreement.” They go on to assert, “We do not wish to hinder the negotiations. However, Iran must realize that any failure to negotiate an acceptable deal --one that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran -- will result in tougher sanctions than ever. As President Obama and other leaders have stressed many times, no deal is better than a bad deal. Together, we can convince Iran of this very truth -- a good deal is better than no deal.” The closing date for the letter is March 23.
(STOP IRAN TALKS BY CUTTING OFF FUNDING FOR NEGOTIATIONS) Roskam-Zeldin letter: On 3/19 Reps. Roskam (R-IL) and Zeldin (R-NY) circulated a Dear Colleague seeking cosigners on a letter addressed to House Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chair Granger (R-TX) and Ranking Member Lowey (D-NY) urging them to prohibit “funding for the ongoing U.S. involvement in dangerous P5+1 negotiations with Iran” in the FY16 Foreign Operations Appropriatons bill. Their Dear Colleague states (among other things), “Over the past year, negotiations with the Iranian regime have failed to bring us closer to a final agreement that would sufficiently prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. Endless negotiations will only further enable Iran to advance its nuclear technology while reaping the benefit of billions of dollars in desperately needed sanctions relief. Moreover, the deal reportedly under consideration would leave Iran’s nuclear infrastructure virtually intact and expire in ten years, at which point the mullahs could freely pursue a nuclear weapon.” The letter closes on March 24.
(GOP CALL TO INVESTIGATE ANTI-BIBI ELECTION CAMPAIGN $$$ - OneVoice) House GOP Statement: On 3/16, a group of 14 House GOP members issued a statement calling on the OneVoice to “provide the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Chairman Rob Portman and Ranking Member Claire McCaskill a full accounting of their funding of Victory 15 and their political campaigning which appears to have as its objective to impact the outcome of the Israeli elections.” The statement contends that “Promotional and website information, including their slogan, ‘replace the government,’ provide clear indication of election organizing, beyond the legal status of a not-for-profit organization” and notes that “As Members of Congress, we are greatly concerned to hear allegations of our own State Department spending American tax dollars that were then used to influence foreign elections. Israeli elections should be left to the citizens of Israel and not the influence of U.S. taxpayer-funded grants which may be considered illegal.”
In addition to the House GOP letter discussed in Sec. 1, above, numerous members of Congress issued statements congratulating Benjamin Netanyahu in his victory in this week’s Israeli elections. Many GOP members (like signers of the House letter) welcomed Netanyahu’s victory I fawning terms, and used the occasion to take shots at President Obama for not congratulating Netanyahu or accused Obama of actively working against Netanyahu’s reelection (GOP members who apparently have no sense of irony, or shame, or both). None said anything at all about Netanyahu’s statements during the last days and hours of the campaign opposing a Palestinian state or in support of settlements, or about Netanyahu’s openly racist Election Day appeal to voters. Not a word was uttered about Netanyahu using his appearance before Congress in an eleventh hour campaign ad.
Corker (R-TN): “The oldest and most stable democracy in the Middle East has once again gone through a hotly contested election and will peacefully form a new government. We congratulate Mr. Netanyahu on his victory and Mr. Herzog on his competitive run, and we look forward to continuing to build on our mutual interests.”
Feinstein (D-CA): “In light of his election victory, it is my hope that Prime Minister Netanyahu puts together a coalition government that works together in a sensible manner and strives for peace and stability. Despite campaign rhetoric, Israel must pursue a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians. This is the only way to ensure Israel remains a secure, Jewish, democratic state. Now that the election is over, continuing to mend tensions in the U.S.-Israel relationship needs to be a priority for everyone, regardless of political affiliation. I hope the new Israeli government can work toward that end.”
Cotton (R-AR): Lengthy statement congratulating Bibi, slamming the Obama Administration, vowing to be the protector of the US-Israel relationship, and promising new legislation to protect Israel (as discussed in Section 1, above). Honestly, you gotta read the whole thing.
Rubio (R-FL): A lengthy statement slamming the White House for not welcoming the outcome of Israeli elections and for failing to treat Netanyahu with enough respect, defending Bibi as wanting peace, etc…
Cruz (R-TX): “Prime Minister Netanyahu has been an extraordinary leader for Israel, and I congratulate him on what appears to be a victory today. His electoral success is all the more impressive given the powerful forces that tried to undermine him, including, sadly, the full weight of the Obama political team. American officials should not be undermining the elected leaders of our closest allies, especially when Prime Minister Netanyahu's heroic - even Churchillian - opposition to a nuclear Iran has done such tremendous service to U.S. national security. The American people are proud to stand steadfastly with our Israeli brothers and sisters. May our friendship grow and prosper, and may the Nation of Israel stay forever strong."
Miller (R-MI): “Yesterday, Israelis, in record numbers, exercised one of the most fundamental rights to democracy, the cherished right to vote, and they reelected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – a great leader who has been a great friend and ally of the United States of America. His commitment to the defense and security of Israel should be commended. We must now, as a nation, recommit to continuing our close partnership with Israel and help ensure that the Iranian regime does not gain nuclear capabilities that would certainly put regional and international security at risk.”
Ryan (R-WI)(on Fox and Friends): “I think it’s great. I think he’s a strong leader. I think he says it like it is. I’m pleased to see him reelected, and I actually think the Obama administration helped contribute to his victory because of the way that they treated him. It helped him consolidate his coalition so that he could have this landslide victory, and I am pleased to see it happen. . . . I think we have to maintain our very strong ties with Israel and I am looking forward to doing that.”
McMorris Rodgers (R-WA): "Now that the Israeli elections have ended, we should pause to celebrate and praise our closest friend and ally in the Middle East, Israel, for its steadfast commitment to democracy and Western values. As Prime Minister Netanyahu has said, Israel is not what’s wrong in the Middle East — Israel is what is right in the Middle East. It now looks like the steady and familiar hand of the prime minister will continue to steer the Israeli ship of state after the resounding Likud victory. Israelis turned out to cast their votes in record numbers for dozens of political parties, ranging from the conservative religious groups to the far left and Israeli Arabs. The whole world saw that Israel is a land that cherishes free speech and open debate. Now, as Israeli society pulls together after this hard-fought election, so too should the United States and Israel recommit to their close partnership and undiminished friendship. Let us reaffirm our everlasting bond with Israel, our commitment to the defense and security of Israel, and our pledge to prevent Iran or any of Israel’s foes from gaining the capabilities to develop nuclear weapons and threatening the lifeblood of the Jewish state."
Stutzman (R-IN): “I would like to congratulate Prime Minister Netanyahu for his historic victory in yesterday’s election. I’d also like to commend Isaac Herzog and his allies on a well fought race. Going forward, I am hopeful that Israel will remain a steadfast ally so we can work together to achieve peace with the Palestinians, fight global terrorism, and prevent the terror-sponsoring tyrannical regime in Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. It is important to remember that the relationship between the United States and Israel must always transcend domestic political squabbles and stand by each other in tumultuous times for generations to come. I am excited to see what our two countries can achieve, as we work together in pursuit of our common goals.”
Pittinger (R-NC): “The re-election of Prime Minister Netanyahu will bring a straightforward and unwavering commitment to protect both Israel and America. The Prime Minister’s clear understanding of the gravity of our threats is in contrast to President Obama in his deferential appeasement of our adversaries, including Iran. President Obama’s election team spent months in Israel working to defeat Prime Minister Netanyahu in an unprecedented engagement in a foreign election. Truth prevailed in Israel.”
3/19: The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled, “Negotiations with Iran: Blocking or Paving Tehran’s Path to Nuclear Weapons?” Witnesses were Antony Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State (statement); and Adam Szubin, Acting Undersecretary of the Treasure for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (statement). Chairman Royce’s (R-CA) opening statement is here; Ranking Member Engel’s statement is here. Video of the hearing is here: Part 1, Part 2. The entire hearing deserves close watching – many members of the committee deserve credit for asking serious questions (others were guilty of shameless grandstanding) and the witnesses provided substantive, serious answers. Not specifically related to Iran but worth noting are comments by Connolly (D-VA) with respect to the disrespect shown to President Obama by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and the comments by GOP members attacking Obama for his treatment of Israel and Netanyahu (starting at around 02:10 in Part 1 of the hearing).
3/18: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa held a hearing
entitled, “Does the President's FY 2016 Budget Request Address the Crises in the Middle East and North
Africa?” Witnesses were Anne Patterson, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (statement);
and Paige Alexander, Assistant USAID Administrator
for the Middle East (statement). Video of the hearing is available here.
3/18: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa and Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a joint subcommittee hearing entitled, “Iran and Hezbollah in the Western Hemisphere.” Witnesses were author Joseph Humire (statement); Former Vice Minister of Interior of Peru Dardo López-Dolz (statement); Scott Modell, from the Rapidan Group (statement); and Michael Shifter, President, Inter-American Dialogue (statement). The opening statement of Chairman Duncan (R-SC) implied that the Obama Administration is giving Iran a pass for bad behavior in the Western Hemisphere because it is so eager for a nuclear deal.
3/17: The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled, “The FY 2016 Budget Request: Assessing U.S. Foreign Assistance Effectiveness.” Witnesses were Alfonso Lenhardt, Acting USAID Administrator (statement); and Dana Hyde, CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (statement). Chairman Royce’s opening statement is here. Video of the hearing is available here.
Pittinger (R-NC) 3/20: On Fox News - “UN SHOULD COMPEL PALESTINIANS TO DENOUNCE HAMAS, NOT FORCE ISRAEL INTO INDEFENSIBLE POSITION”
Blunt (R-MO) 3/19: Defending signing Cotton letter
Cardin (D-MD) 3/19: On his bill calling for Syrian war crimes accountability
Gohmert (R-TX) 3/19: Calling for bombing Iran
Blumenauer (D-OR) 3/18: Gaza’s Water Shortage
Coats (R-IN) 3/18: Coats Column: Iran Must Be Denied Nuclear Weapons Capability
Ayotte (R-NH) 3/18: Defending signing Cotton letter
Barrasso (R-WY) 3/17: Slamming Iran negotiations
Gohmert (R-TX) 3/17: Slamming the Obama Administration over Iran negotiations (“Now this administration, in order to get any deal that is a terrible deal, is willing to turn its back on the fact that Iran and Hezbollah have terrorists in their lead, and they should not be recognized as anything but terrorists.”)
Durbin (D-OH) 3/16: Slamming Cotton letter, defending Iran negotiations
Coats (R-IN) 3/16: Explaining why he didn’t sign the Cotton letter, even though he agreed with its goals
Coats (R-IN) 3/16: Railing against a possible Iran deal, opposing a sunset clause, etc.
Cotton (R-AR) 3/16: A Gohmert-style rambling rant about the Middle East, Iran, Israel, and the varied alleged sins of President Obama with respect to these issues
Kelly (D-IL) 3/16: Speaking against Cotton letter and partisan efforts to undermine the President on Iran
Leahy (D-VT) 3/16: Speaking out against the assault on freedom of the press in Turkey
Ryan (D-OH) 3/16: Slamming GOP Senators for signing Cotton letter