APN Legislative Round-Up: May 15, 2015

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2. House Passes Iran Deal Oversight Bill (Corker)
3. Pro-Settlements Language Moves Ahead in Trade Bills   
4. NDAA Proceeds in House and Senate
5. Hearings
6. Members on the Record 

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

(CORKER’S IRAN DEAL OVERSIGHT BILL IN THE HOUSE) HR 1191: On 5/14, House leadership brought HR 1191 (formerly S. 615) to the House floor under suspension of the rules; following floor statements, the House passed the bill by a vote of 400-25For further details, see Section 2, below.  

(UPDATE ON PRO-SETTLEMENTS LANGUAGE IN TWO MAJOR TRADE BILLS) S. 995/HR 1890/HR 1314 and S. 1269/HR 1907/HR 644: The Trade Promotion Authority bill (TPA) bill and the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 bill (aka the Customs bill) both are moving now in the House and Senate.  Both include pro-settlements language (being touted, ignorantly or deceitfully as anti-BDS language), in various forms.  Note that the Senate numbers for both bills changed this week, with the Senate using two pieces of legislation previously passed by the House as vehicles to move forward with its own versions of these measures.  Thus, S. 995 is now HR 1314. and S. 1269 is now HR 644. For further details, see Section 3, below.

(MIDEAST IN THE NDAA) HR 1735/S. XXX: On 5/15, the House passed HR 1735, the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act, after adopting a number of amendments (including some related to Iran and the Middle East).  On 5/14, the Senate Armed Services completed its (closed) markup of its own version of the bill; text has not yet been released.  For further details, see Section 4, below.

(AMERICANS HELD IN IRAN) S. Con. Res. 16: Introduced 5/7 by Sen. Risch (R-ID) and having 18 cosponsors, “A concurrent resolution stating the policy of the United States regarding the release of United States citizens in Iran.”  In what some are seeing as an attempt to placate critics of Senate’s leadership for their decision to block amendments to HR 1191 when it was considered and passed in the Senate last week, on 5/11 S. Con. Res. 16 was brought to the floor by Unanimous Consent and passed by a vote of 90-0.  Floor consideration of the measure is here. Rep. Kildee (D-MI) issued a statement 5/12 applauding the Senate action, which called for release by Iran of his constituent, Amir Hekmati (he spoke further on the topic on the House floor on 5/14, here).

(HEZBOLLAH FINANCING) HR 2297: Introduced 5/13 by Royce (R-CA) and four cosponsors, the “Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015.” Referred to the Committees on Foreign Affairs and Financial Services.  On 5/13 the bill was brought to the floor under suspension of the rules and passed by a vote of 423-0.  A similar measure was passed in the House during the previous Congress (HR 4411), but died in the Senate. The measure was resurrected in the House this week in an apparent effort to appease GOP members who were unhappy that they would not get a chance to amend the Iran oversight bill that was passed on 5/15 (HR 1191, discussed in Section 2, below).


(DISCRIMINATION ON MIDDLE EAST AIRLINES) Murphy (D-CN) et al:  On 5/11, Senators Murphy (D-CT), Blumenthal (D-CT), Booker (D-NJ), Markey (D-MA), Schatz (D-HI), and Schumer (D-NY) sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker urging them to launch an investigation into reports that several Middle Eastern airline carriers are discriminating against passengers based on their country of origin or sexual orientation. In the letter, the senators cited recent reports of unjust treatment by Saudi Arabian Airlines and Kuwait Airways to deter travel for Israeli-passport holders as well as an openly gay traveler.  The letter states that “If you find these practices illegal, it is imperative that you proceed with immediate enforcement action and end such discriminatory behavior. It is troubling that two airlines possibly could be allowed to profit from serving U.S. passengers, benefit from infrastructure paid for by U.S. taxpayers, yet simultaneously infringe on the rights afforded all passengers. Any airline that ignores our laws should be punished to the maximum extent and possibly have their DOT-issued permit revoked that allows them to fly to and from U.S. airports.”


2.  House Passes Iran Deal Oversight bill

On 5/14, House leadership brought HR 1191 (formerly S. 615) – Senator Corker’s AIPAC-backed Iran deal oversight bill – to the House floor under suspension of the rules.  Following floor statements by members – some in support of diplomacy and a deal, some grandstanding over how much tougher they want to be on Iran and demonstrating clear opposition to any achievable deal – the House passed the bill by a vote of 400-25. For background on this bill, see past editions of the Round-Up (starting here).

House Opposition: As soon as HR 1191 was passed in the Senate last week, some in the House began making clear their intention to take up the gauntlet laid down in the Senate by Cruz (R-TX), Cotton (R-AL) and their ilk – with plans to offer their own set of poison pill amendments when the measure was brought to the House floor.  In a move clearly designed to fend off such efforts, House GOP leaders decided to bring the bill to the floor under suspension of the rules – a move that in effect prevented any amendments and sharply limited time for debate. 

Members on the Record: Floor consideration of the bill will eventually be available here [as of this writing the House Record for 5/14 has not been published; as soon as it is published, the link includes here should work]. Given the huge number of members who spoke on the record regarding this vote – either on the House floor or in press releases – it is simply not practical (or possible) to compile all of them here; for statements by specific members, search the Congressional Record via the link provided above, or check their websites.  Overall, the floor discussion included some notable statements of support for Iran negotiations and a potential deal from a number of Democrats (like this powerful statement from Doggett, D-TX), as well as from some members who did not sign the recent pro-diplomacy letter quarterbacked by Doggett (D-TX), Schakowsky (D-IL), and Price (D-NC).  Overall, many House members who chose to speak stuck to “safe” statements –  expressing varying degrees of hostility and skepticism towards Iran and satisfaction that HR 1191 will permit Congress to have oversight over (or, for some, to hopefully block) a deal. 

“No” Votes: A total of 25 members voted “No” on HR 1191 (19 Republicans and 6 Democrats).  GOP “no” votes were explained in terms of opposition to the deal being negotiated, opposition to the perceived weakness of HR 1991, and anger that members were not permitted to amend it, for example: Babin (R-TX); Collins (R-GA), who framed his position almost wholly in terms of Israel; Fleming (R-LA, who on the one hand suggested that he voted on because he opposed elevating an executive agreement to a level “higher than that of a treaty” and on the other cited Netanyahu’s objections to a deal); Garrett (R-NJ, who demanded that any deal be treated like a treaty and require a 2/3 majority to be adopted); McClintock (R-CA, “I fear that this bill gives tacit approval to negotiations that Congress ought instead to vigorously condemn and unambiguously repudiate”); and Pompeo (R-KS). 

Where’s AIPAC?  As noted previously in the Round-Up with respect to statements made in the Senate around this same bill, the same unusual if not unprecedented phenomenon can now be observed in the House: members are coming out slamming a piece of legislation that has been backed and lobbied, very publicly, by AIPAC – and they appear completely confident that there will be no negative consequences for doing so. Indeed, they are not only criticizing (and in some cases voting against) a bill that was a central lobbying focus of the most recent AIPAC policy conference, but they are doing so in the most in-your-face-possible way. An example of this is the statement issued 5/8 by Pompeo (R-KS), in which he called the AIPAC-backed legislation as “a scam.” He went on to say, “While giving the illusion of Congressional review, the Senate has agreed to a bad deal, which will allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.  By ceding Congressional responsibility to approve international agreements, this legislation gives the President a free hand to make any deal he sees fit.  Even worse, the Senate is capitulating to the President before a single word of the Iranian nuclear deal is actually written down.”

From the press:  House easily passes Iran review bill (Politico 5/14); House passes Iran review bill, sending it to Obama’s desk for signature (Washington Post 5/14); Bill Giving Congress Right to Weigh In on Potential Iran Nuclear Deal Heads to White House (Wall Street Journal 5/14); GOP expected to buck conservatives on Iran (Politico 5/12); With House set to approve Iran deal, options to shape outcome remote (JTA 5/12)


3. Pro-Settlements Language Moves Ahead in Trade Bills

Two major trade bills are moving now in both the House and Senate.  Both the House and Senate versions of the bills include varying forms of pro-settlements provisions – provisions that continue to be framed ignorantly, disingenuously, or outright dishonestly as simply being about preventing boycotts and other discriminatory treatment against Israel, despite the fact that they explicitly conflate Israel with the settlements/occupied territories. In doing so, the articulate what, if/when adopted will be an unprecedented, dangerous shift in U.S. policy (implications laid out in this oped in the Hill: Dear Congress: ‘Pro-Israel’ is not ‘pro-settlements’). 

Technical note:  The Senate bill numbers changed this week (or, more accurately, action on the bills shifted to two bills with different numbers, rendering the original bill numbers irrelevant), with the Senate exploiting two bills previously passed by the House as vehicles for its own versions of these measures.  Thus, S. 995 is now HR 1314, and S. 1269 in now HR 644. The reason for the Senate doing this is discussed in detail in the 4/24 edition of the Round-Up, in the context of the Corker Iran bill. 

Current Status of TPA bill (Was S. 995, now HR 1314) in the Senate:  On 5/13, Hatch (R-UT) introduced Senate Amendment 1221 to HR 1314, substituting the full text of S. 995 (the Trade Promotion Authority bill, aka TPA) bill) into HR 1314.  On 5/14, the Senate voted 65-33 to proceed with debate and eventually vote on HR 1314.  Hatch subsequently offered S. Amdt. 1221 on the Senate floor, a move that was followed by some floor debate (and other amendments offered). The Senate is scheduled to take up HR 1314 again when it is back in session on 5/18.

Current Status of Customs bill (Was S. 1269, now HR 644) in the Senate:  On 5/13, Hatch (R-UT) introduced Senate Amendment 1224 to HR 664, substituting the full text of S. 1269 (the “Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015” bill, aka the Customs bill) into HR 644.  On 5/14, that amendment was adopted on the floor by Unanimous Consent, and HR 644, as amended, was passed by a vote of 78-20. A subsequent Hatch amendment to change the name of the bill was adopted by Unanimous Consent. The bill will now be referred to the House, which can either accept the Senate version or substitute its own text (which is different), opening the door to House-Senate negotiations in conference to try to reach agreed-on text.  PLEASE NOTE: In the 4/24/15 edition of the Round-Up it was reported that Hatch (R-UT) had added the text of HR 825 (the Roskam, R-IL, pro-settlements language) to S. 1269, as indicated in a document posted on the Senate Finance Committee’s website entitled, "modifications of the Chairman's Mark." However, when the bill was finally reported out of committee on 5/11, it did not include the text of HR 825, but instead included a section entitled “Statements of Policy with Respect to Israel.” This section (quite different from the Roskam text) lays out opposition to boycotts and other policies targeting Israel, and in one place does conflate Israel and the settlements, noting that Congress “supports efforts to prevent investigations or prosecutions by governments or international organizations of United States persons on the sole basis of such persons doing business with Israel, with Israeli entities, or in territories controlled by Israel.” It does not, however, mandate any specific actions or reporting.  Given the opaque nature of the committee process, it is not clear why the Roskam text didn’t make it into the bill, and it should be noted that the Roskam text IS in the House version of the bill (HR 1907) and thus remains very much in play.

Current Status of TPA (HR 1890) in the House:  On 5/1, HR 1890 was reported out of the Ways and Means Committee and placed on the House calendar. The report accompanying the bill (H. Rept. 114-100) factually mischaracterizes the Israel-related portion of the bill, stating “The principal negotiating objective set forth in subparagraph 2(b)(19) directs the Administration to seek to address boycotts, divestments, and sanctions against Israel in the TTIP negotiations.” This summary ignores the fact that the text, as adopted by the Committee, applies not only to Israel but to “Israeli-controlled territories” – i.e., settlements and the occupied territories – and represents an unprecedented shift in U.S. policy regarding these areas. The Report goes on to make clear that as far as the Committee is concerned, the bill text does not go far enough: “Commercial Partnerships: The principal negotiating objective set forth in subparagraph 2(b)(19) directs the Administration to address the growing trend of boycotts, divestments, and sanctions against Israel. The negotiating objective specifically directs the United States to discourage and eliminate these actions in the context of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations, but this Committee also expects the Administration to explore addressing these actions in other fora, including other trade agreement negotiations and other bilateral and multilateral programs or activities of international engagement including but not limited to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Group of 20 (G20), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), as well...”  

NOTE: Contrary to what was suggested during the Ways and Means Committee markup by backers of the language – and, bolstered, bizarrely, by USTR General Counsel Tim Reif – it has NEVER been U.S. policy to make protecting/promoting Israeli settlements a priority in trade talks. It has been longstanding U.S. policy to fight the Arab Boycott of Israel, and this has been made a priority in negotiations over Free Trade Agreements concluded with Arab countries, but no country has ever been required to agree that Israel and “territories controlled by Israel” are one and the same.  Video is the markup is here; discussion of the pro-settlements provisions, including supportive comments from Reif, start at 01:07. Reif’s failure to recognize (or his decision to ignore) the fact that the language he is addressing explicitly conflates Israel with “territories controlled by Israel” is shocking, given that as General Counsel to Washington’s top trade official, Reif of all people should be cognizant of (and extremely concerned about) the policy-changing implications of this text. 

Current Status of Customs bill (HR 1907) in the House:  On 5/14, HR 1907 was reported out of the Ways and Means Committee, discharged by all committees of jurisdiction, and placed on the House calendar.


4.  NDAA Proceeds in House and Senate

NDAA in the Senate: On 5/13, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) began its closed markup of its version of the FY16 NDAA, continuing on the 14th and finalizing text late afternoon (the irritatingly closed nature of the process in the Senate has given rise to an “Open NDAA” coalition (see article this week in the Hill, here).  As of this writing the SASC has not released bill text; it did release a press release with highlights, here, which notes that the bill authorizes, among other things: $165 million “for co-production with the Government of Israel of the David’s Sling Weapon System and the Arrow 3 Upper Tier Interceptor program”; not more than $41.4 millionfor the Government of Israel to procure the Iron Dome short range rocket defense system”; and $268.8 million “in RDT&E for U.S.-Israeli cooperative missile defense programs, including an increase of $166.0 million for continued development of the Arrow-3 upper tier interceptor missile and the David’s Sling short range ballistic missile defense system.” (It should be recalled that these sums are separate from and in addition to the $3.1 billion in annual military assistance (FMF) provided to Israel under the ForOps bill). The press release also notes that the bill, “Requires the Director of the Missile Defense Agency to deploy by the end of 2020 a long-range discrimination radar or other appropriate tracking and discrimination sensor capabilities in a location optimized to support the defense of the homeland against emerging long-range ballistic missile threats from Iran.”

As noted in last week’s Round-Up, given the composition of the committee (which includes reckless, grandstanding hotheads like Cotton, R-AR), it is likely that the bill will include other interesting  provisions, including related to Iran and other Middle East issues.  Full analysis of the bill text will be in the Round-Up as soon as that text becomes available.

NDAA in the House:  On 5/12, the Rules Committee issued its rule regarding which amendments (out of the more than 350 amendments to the NDAA submitted by members) the House would be permitted to debate and vote on during floor consideration of the bill (and, annoyingly, giving new numbers to all the amendments).  Late afternoon on 5/14, the House began floor consideration of HR 1735 and began dealing with those amendments, continuing until around 9:30pm, and then concluding its work on 5/15.  After dispensing with amendments, the House voted to pass HR 1735 by a mostly partly-line vote of 269-151. The fate of all amendments can be seen on the HASC amendment tracker page, here.  Middle East-related amendments submitted to the bill, and their fate, are summarized below.  It should be noted that many amendment were adopted as part of packages of amendments presented to the House en bloc: 



  • Franks (R-AZ) amdt #18 - States that it is the sense of Congress that any deal with Iran regarding their nuclear program abide by certain terms and conditions [including zero enrichment, etc…].
  • Nolan (D-MN) amdt #86, 87 - Prohibits funds from being used to carry out the Syria and Iraq Train and Equip programs (each slightly different)
  • Yoho (R-FL)/Conyers (D-NY) amdt #112 - Limits on MANPADS for actors in Syria
  • O’Rourke (D-TX) amdt #132 - Require the President to submit a comprehensive strategy for US operations in Iraq and Syria
  • Cooper (D-TN) amdt #163 - Replaces subsection B of section 1670 with a Sense of Congress encouraging US and Israel to enter into a coproduction agreement on missile defense.
  • Ellison (D-MN) amdt #265 - States that authorized funds may be made available to the Government of Egypt only if the Secretary of State certifies that Egypt has held free and fair elections, and does not have in its custody any American citizen being held as a political prisoner.


5.  Hearings

5/20: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia will hold a hearing entitled, “Egypt Two Years After Morsi: Part I.” Scheduled witnesses are: Eric Trager, WINEP; Samuel Tadros, Hudson; and Nancy Okail, Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.

5/13: The House Oversight Committee held a hearing aimed largely, it seems, at the ever-expanding tin-hats contingent on the Hill, entitled "The EMP Threat: The State of Preparedness Against the Threat of an Electromagnetic Pulse Event."  One notable witness was Dr. Vincent Pry, the Executive Director of something called the Task Force on National and Homeland Security.  Pry's testimony included (among other fun stuff) the following ominous warning: “Iran, North Korea, China and Russia appear to be perfecting what Moscow calls a ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’ that is potentially more decisive than Nazi Germany's Blitzkrieg (‘Lightning War’) strategy that nearly conquered the western democracies during World War II. The New Lightning War would attack the electric grid and other critical infrastructures--the technological and societal Achilles Heel of electronic civilization--with coordinated employment of cyber, sabotage, and EMP attacks, possibly timed to leverage severe space or terrestrial weather.”

6.  Members on the Record

[Note: the House Congressional Record for 5/14 was not published in time to be included in this week’s Round-Up]

Gohmert (R-TX) 5/13: “Blood of Millions of People Will be on Obama’s Hands if Iran Gets Nuke”

Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 5/13: Statement – “Ros-Lehtinen Concerned Vatican Recognition of Non-Existent State of Palestine Sets Back Peace Process”

Cotton (R-AL) 5/13: Slamming Obama Administration policy on Syria and Iran

Durbin (D-IL) 5/12: On the humanitarian crisis in Syria

Lamborn (R-CO) 5/12: Oped in the Times of Israel, “Five ways Washington can help bring peace” [Way #1: supporting for two-state solution should no longer be U.S. policy]

Whitfield (R-KY) 5/11: “President Obama has become so divisive and ineffective, that he is not respected or taken seriously on the world stage.” [In response to news that Saudi King will not attend meeting at Camp David]

Nelson (D-FL) 5/11: Calling for Iran to take action to freed Bob Levinson (related to vote on S. Con. Res. 16).

Hurd (R-TX) 5/11: Netanyahu Tells U.S. Reps: Alliance with U.S. is ‘Our National Security’