APN Legislative Round-Up: June 12, 2015

1. Bills & Resolutions
2. “Settlements=Israel” in 2 Trade Bills – Update  
3. Hearings
4.  Members on the Record

1. Bills & Resolutions

TRADE BILLS – UPDATE: See Section 2, below.

(FY16 FOROPS) HR XXX: See last week’s Round-Up for details of the House version of the FY16 ForOps bill.  Update since last week: the House Appropriations Committee has released its report on the bill, here. Notable in the report is language urging the Secretary of State to “take steps to enhance the military-to-military relationship with Egypt, including by expediting the delivery of equipment withheld since 2013.” Later in the report, the Committee “directs the Secretary of State, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, to expedite delivery of defense articles that were withheld from delivery to Egypt in October 2013 and to report to the Committees on Appropriations, not later than 30 days after enactment of this Act, if any articles remain to be delivered as of October 1, 2016. The Committee expects the report to include the timeline for delivering any outstanding items.” The report also directs that under “Reconciliation Programs,” $10 million in funding “shall be for reconciliation activities between Israelis and Palestinians.

(STATE DEPT AUTHORIZATION) S. XXX: On 6/9 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed its version of the FY16 Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act. This bill is NOT must-pass legislation and as a result rarely passes into law, mainly because members in both the House and Senate can never resist adding so many random provisions to it that consensus text is impossible. As noted in the press release touting the SFRC’s passage of the bill, Senators Corker (R-TN) and Cardin (D-MD) are offering the full text of the bill as an amendment to the NDAA now being debated on the Senate floor (where it has about zero chance of being adopted).  Middle East elements in the bill are examined in the section on the NDAA amendments, below. During SFRC consideration of the bill, the Committee rejected by a vote of 5-14 an amendment offered by Paul (R-KY) that sought to bar aid to the Palestinian Authority (text identical to his freestanding dead-on-arrival bill S. 633, entitled “The Stand With Israel Act of 2015).”

(NDAA) HR 1735: This week the Senate once again took up the FY16 NDAA. For Middle East-related elements in the Senate version of the base text bill (as introduced by McCain, R-AZ, as Senate Amdt 1463 to HR 1735), see last week’s Round-Up.  Senate consideration of further amendments to the bill (technically, amendments to McCain’s amendment) continues as of this writing. Middle East-related amendments submitted so far are listed below (none have been voted on as of this writing):

Introduced last week:

SA 1628: Offered by Ayotte (R-NH), to replace Sec. 1272 of the bill with a section authorizing “United States-Israel Anti-Tunnel Cooperation” (Why have a feasibility report before authorizing a new program?)  

SA 1667: Offered by McCain (R-AZ), to insert a sense of Congress on “the Security and Protection of Iranian Dissidents Living in Camp Liberty, Iraq”

SA 1710: Offered by Kirk (R-IL) and Menendez (D-NJ), to extend the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 until December 31, 2026.

SA 1758: Offered by Kirk (R-IL), to limit the provision of certain missile defense technology to the Russian Federation (conditions on waiving the limit include certifying that Russia “has terminated its contract to sell the S-300 air defense system to the Islamic Republic of Iran.” 

SA 1759: Offered by Kirk (R-IL), to require a far-reaching report on “Use by Iran of Funds Made Available through Sanctions Relief”

SA 1783: Offered by McCain (R-AZ) to amend the existing section on “Qatar Fighter Aircraft Capability Contribution to Regional Safety” to, among other things, add a finding stating that “the maintenance by Israel of a Qualitative Military Edge (QME) is vital, and due diligence is essential in thoroughly evaluating the impact of such a sale as it relates to the military capabilities of Israel”)

SA 1787: Offered by Sessions (R-AL), to insert a Sense of Congress implicitly critical of the Obama Administration’s handling of Iran negotiations and of the pending nuclear deal

Introduced this week:

SA 1842: Offered by Perdue (R-GA), to require a “a strategy for the United States for the Middle East in the event of a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran,” to include: “Efforts to counter Iranian-sponsored terrorism in Middle East region,” “Efforts to reassure United States allies and partners in Middle East,” and “Efforts to address the potential for a conventional or nuclear arms race in the Middle East.” Perdue’s press release, entitled “Senator Perdue Introduces NDAA Amendments to Combat Obama’s Failed Middle East Strategy” is here.

SA 1891: Offered by Sessions (R-AL), to add a Sense of Congress to the effect that, “the Government of Iran's stated opposition to inspections represents decisive questions and suggest a verifiable agreement may be unachievable” and “no nuclear agreement with Iran that does not include robust inspections and proper verification of all Iran's nuclear programs and related military installations and access to nuclear supporting scientists should be accepted.”

SA 1974: Offered by McCain (R-AZ) and Blunt (R-MX), to add a Sense of Congress regarding the security and protection of Iranian dissidents living in Camp Liberty, Iraq.

SA 1983: Offered by Corker (R-TN) and Cardin (D-MD), to add to the NDAA the full text of an FY16 Foreign Relations Authorization Act (a bill that Congress almost never manages to pass into law). Middle East-focused language in the amendment includes:

  • a section that is identical to the text of SA 1842 (above), requiring “a strategy for the United States for the Middle East in the event of a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran”
  • a section establishing a Treasury find to be known as the “American Hostages of Iran Compensation Fund,” to be funded through the imposition of special additional penalties on anyone caught violating “any law or regulation that provides for a civil or criminal fine or monetary penalty for any economic activity relating to Iran that is administered by the Department of State, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Justice, the Department of Commerce, or the Department of Energy.”
  • a section entitled “Sense of Congress on anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement within the Palestinian Authority” expressing support and admiration for specified individuals and organizations “working to encourage cooperation between Israeli Jews and Palestinians”; reiterating “strong condemnation of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement in the Palestinian Authority…” and urging Abbas and the PA to “discontinue all official incitement that runs contrary to the determination to put an end to decades of confrontation.”

SA 2002 (appears identical to SA 1783): Offered by McCain (R-AZ) to amend the existing section on “Qatar Fighter Aircraft Capability Contribution to Regional Safety” to, among other things, add a finding stating that “the maintenance by Israel of a Qualitative Military Edge (QME) is vital, and due diligence is essential in thoroughly evaluating the impact of such a sale as it relates to the military capabilities of Israel”).

SA 2008: Offered by Graham (R-SC) to amend the existing section authorizing Israeli Cooperative Programs to eliminate a certification requirement and 90 day waiting period before the Director of the Missile Defense Agency may disburse funding under this section on the basis of a one-for-one cash match with such funds provided by the Government of Israel…” and transforms the certification into a requirement for a joint study (with some additional elements).

SA 2011: Offered by Ayotte (R-NH) et al, again, on US-Israel anti-tunnel cooperation. Ayotte spoke in support of her original amendment here. The amended amendment changes things up a bit and in a few places, among other things changing a required “certification” to a required “report,” and adding in a new requirement that any funds provided must at a minimum be matched by the Government of Israel. Also adds a clause sunsetting the provision after 3 years.

(IRAN HOSTAGES) S. 868: Introduced 3/26 by Isakson (R-GA), the “Justice for Former American Hostages in Iran Act of 2015.”  On 6/9, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee marked up and passed S. 868, as amended; the bill has not been reported out of the SFRC as of this writing. Isakson press release on the SFRC’s action is here.


2. “Settlements=Israel” in 2 Trade Bills – Update

The Trade Promotion Authority Bill (TPA) – HR 1314

On 6/30 the House voted narrowly to approve part – but not all – of HR 1314, the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill, as amended by the Senate. The House voted to adopt Title I of the bill by a vote of 219-211, but Title II of the bill was defeated by a vote of 126-302.  Reportedly House leaders will try again next week to get the House to adopt Title II of the bill, enabling the President to sign it into law.  Unless and until they achieve this, the bill is stuck. 

Notably, the portion of the bill the House adopted, Title I, included the problematic Cardin (D-MD) language conflating Israel and settlements and making it a U.S. priority in negotiations over a new trade agreement with Europe (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) to press Europe to refrain taking any steps that target settlements or the occupation with economic or commercial pressure. This language, if passed into law, would not condition TTIP on any formal agreement by Europe to do so; however, this language, if passed into law, would represent an unprecedented step by Congress to re-define support for Israel as support for Israel and the settlements.  For further background, see previous recent editions of the Round-Up.

On 6/11, Rep. Roskam (R-IL), the driving force in the House behind the effort to conflate Israel and settlements/occupied territories, issued a press release crowing that “Ahead of Critical TPA Vote, Pro-Israel Groups Rally in Support of Roskam Anti-BDS Provisions.” As in every other case where supporters of the pro-settlements legislation speak on the issue, the press release speaks only of supporting Israel and glosses over the blatantly pro-settlements nature of the text in question.  The press release includes glowing endorsements of the Roskam efforts from AIPAC, former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren (who for the purposes of this press release is, apparently, to be considered a pro-Israel organization in himself, rather than a senior Israeli official), the American Jewish Committee, the Israel Project, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, Stand with Us,, the ZOA, the Republcian Jewish Coalition, Scholars for Middle East Peace, Act! For America, EMET, and Jewish War Veterans.

The Customs Bill (TPA), HR 644

On 6/30, the House in effect rejected the Senate version of HR 644 by voting to replace the Senate text with its own text (available here) and pass the amended version by a vote of 240-190. The amended bill now goes back to the Senate for re-consideration.

With respect to settlements and Israel, the language adopted by the House on 6/30 is similar (but not identical) to the text adopted previously by the House Ways and Means Committee (essentially the text of HR 825, introduced previously by Roskam, R-IL as freestanding legislation), and very different from the text adopted by the Senate: 

  • The version adopted in the Senate back on 5/14 is the least objectionable, as it is merely a Statement of Policy and conflates Israel and settlements in only one place. 
  • The version adopted by the House Ways and Means and reported out of committee on 5/14 is objectionable in the extreme, conflating Israel and settlements over and over and requiring reporting that would have opened the door for sanctions and other punitive actions against those refusing to abide by this conflation in the commercial operations. 
  • The version adopted by the House 6/30 remains extremely objections, but a slight improvement over the version adopted in the House Ways and Means committee.  On the positive side, the 6/30 version out the very problematic reporting requirements.  On the negative side it repeatedly and comprehensively conflates Israel and settlements (including an explicit provision defining “boycott, divestment from, and sanctions against Israel” as meaning “actions by states, non-member states of the United Nations, international organizations, or affiliated agencies of international organizations that are politically motivated and are intended to penalize or otherwise limit commercial relations specifically with Israel or persons doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories.”

 For further background, see previous recent editions of the Round-Up.

3. Hearings

6/17: The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “U.S. Policy and Strategy in the Middle East.”  Scheduled witnesses are Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey.

6/17: The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “Assad’s Abhorrent Chemical Weapons Attacks.” Scheduled witnesses are: Ambassador Robert Ford, MEI; Dr. Mohamed Tennari, Syrian-American Medical Society; Farouq Habib, Mayday Rescue; and Annie Sparrow, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Press release announcing the hearing is here.

6/17: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee will hold a hearing entitled, “The Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act: State Department’s Non-Compliance.” The only scheduled witness thus far is Thomas Melito, Director of the GAO’s office of International Affairs and Trade.

6/16: The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “Advancing United States’ Interests at the United Nations.” The only scheduled witness thus far is U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power. The hearing notice notes that among the issues to be covered are “Iran and North Korea, peacekeeping reform, and Middle East security.”

6/15: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to receive a closed briefing on “lifting sanctions on Iran, focusing on practical implications.” The closed nature of this hearing is unusual, given that the briefers are both from local think tanks (not from government agencies) and the content will thus not be classified. The two scheduled briefers are Mark Dubowtiz (Foundation for the Defense of Democracies) and Peter Harrell (Center for a New American Security).

6/10: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee held a hearing entitled, “Iran's Enduring Ballistic Missile Threat.” Witnesses were: General Michael T. Flynn, Former Director, Defense Intelligence Agency (testimony); Robert Joseph, Former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security (testimony); David A. Cooper, U.S. Naval War College (testimony); and Anthony H. Cordesman, CSIS (testimony). HFAC Full Committee Chair Royce (R-CA) opened the hearing with a statement of his own (text is here). Subcommittee Chair Ros-Lehtinen’s (R-FL) statement is here.  Video of the hearing is available here.

4.  Members on the Record

Members denounce SCOTUS decision on Jerusalem passport case – and in most cases blame Obama 100%, ignoring the fact that the legislation in question was passed by Congress under George W. Bush (who issued a signing statement declaring it unconstitutional and refused to implement it). And ignoring the fact that exactly two of the sitting justices of the Supreme Court were appointed by Obama. And ignoring the fact that 5 out of 9 current Supreme Court justices were appointed by GOP presidents.  Franks, R-AZ; MacCarthur (R-NJ); Salmon (R-AZ); Roskam (R-IL); Cotton (R-AR); Rubio (R-FL)

Roskam (R-IL) and Meng (D-NY) 6/12: Press Release - Roskam and Meng Secure Boost for U.S.-Israel Missile Defense Systems

Menendez (D-NJ) 6/11: On nuclear talks and the pending deal with Iran, and accusing the State Department of trying to cover up Iran’s noncompliance with interim obligations; concluding with, “I will use the refrain that the administration at one time used, which is that no agreement is better than a bad agreement, and that is what my concern is--that we are headed toward a bad agreement.”

Cotton (R-AR) 6/11: Slamming the Supreme Court for “wrongly” deciding the case of Zivotofsky v. Kerry, calling the SCOTUS decision “an unprecedented decision which impairs Congress's role in foreign policy and which is an affront to our close ally Israel.”

Wilson (R-SC) 6/11: Floor statement slamming Obama’s “legacy,” asserting (among other things) that “Iran continues with nuclear weapons development, building intercontinental ballistic missiles to achieve their goal of death to Israel, death to America.”

Pitts (R-PA) 6/10: Urging President Obama to secure “a verifiable nuclear agreement with Iran” and expressing hope that Obama’s promise to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran “will not be another vanished red line for the President

Williams (R-TX) 6/10: Floor statement standing with Netanyahu against Obama on Iran, generally slamming Obama on his treatment of Israel, and mischaracterizing the State Department’s approach to Iran as “trust above all else” [quote marks in the original text]. The latter is a turn of phrase Williams employed previously in his response to Netanyahu’s speech to Congress (not in quote marks); now he appear to be quoting HIMSELF and making it appear to be the Administration’s words…

Hurd (R-TX) 6/7: Press release - Will Hurd talks nuclear weapons with Netanyahu during Tel Aviv visit

Reid (D-NV) 6/5: Press Release - Reid Statement on Orange’s Threat to Leave the Israeli Market