APN Legislative Round-Up: June 19, 2015

1. Bills & Resolutions
2. Hearings  
3. Members on the Record

1. Bills & Resolutions

(SETTLEMENTS = ISRAEL LEGISLATION) HR 2146: Following last week’s defeat of the Senate-passed version of the Trade Promotion Authority bill, HR 1314, the House on 6/18 took up part of that bill again – the “Fast Track” trade promotion part by itself – and passed it by a vote of 218-208. As discussed in detail in the 6/12/15 edition of the Round-Up, HR 1314 was actually composed of two parts – TPA and TAA (Trade Adjustment Assistance). The House last week voted on the two parts separately, passing TPA but defeating TAA (and thus defeating the bill). The text adopted in the House this week, HR 2146, is identical to Title 1 of HR 1314 (the TPA section of the bill), and thus includes the provisions conflating Israel and settlements/occupied territories and directing that protecting settlements/occupation from boycotts and other pressure be a principle negotiating objective of the U.S. in negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the EU.  For those wondering why this legislation now has yet another bill number, the answer is that since the House defeated HR 1314, a new bill already in play was required as a vehicle to move the TPA portion of HR 1314 on its own. The House utilized for this purpose HR 2146, which as of now is still appears in the COngressoinal Record with the title, “Defending Public Safety Employees' Retirement Act.” Yesterday’s vote in effect amended that to delete the existing text and replace it with Title I of HR 1314 (TPA).  HR 2146 now goes to the Senate, where Senate Democrats' commitment to pass TPA only if it includes TAA – or their willingness to trust their GOP colleagues that if they pass TPA, TAA will be passed separately – will be tested.

(FY16 FOROPS) HR 2772: On 6/15, the FY16 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill was reported out of committee and placed on the House calendar. For Middle East-related details of the bill, see the 6/5/15 edition of the Round-Up.

(FY16 NDAA) HR 1735: On 6/18 the Senate wrapped up its amendment process of HR 1735, the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act, and passed its version of the bill by a vote of 71-25.  For Middle East-related elements in the Senate version of the base bill (as introduced by McCain, R-AZ, as Senate Amdt 1463 to HR 1735), and in various amendments offered to McCain’s amendment, see the 6/12/15 and 6/5/15 editions of the Round-Up.  A total of 598 amendments were offered in the Senate, of which 65 were actually brought up on the floor. Of these, 51 were agreed to. Of those, the only ones focused on the Middle East were SA 2011 (offered by Ayotte (R-NH) et al, on US-Israel anti-tunnel cooperation – Ayotte press release on adoption of the amendment is here) and 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).

(FY16 INTELLIGENCE AUTH BILL) HR 2596: On 6/16, the House passed HR 2596, the FY16 Intelligence Authorization Act. During floor consideration of the bill, the House adopted by voice vote an amendment offered by Crowley (D-NY) – H. Amdt. 519 – to add a provision, Section 341 to the bill, entitled, “Report on national security cooperation between United States, India, and Israel.”  That section states: “Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Director of National Intelligence shall submit to the congressional intelligence committees a report on possibilities for growing national security cooperation between the United States, India, and Israel.”  Crowley’s press release on the amendment is here. The House also adopted by voice vote an amendment offered by Israel (D-NY) – H. Amdt. 509 – requiring the Director of National Intelligence to provide a report to the congressional intelligence and defense committees on the trends related to tunnel use by our adversaries and an update on collaborative efforts with partner countries. The report is due 10 months after enactment and biennially for the next four years. While the amendment does not specifically mention Israel (the country), in making the case for the amendment on the House floor Rep. Israel and other members focused on the issue of Israel/Gaza tunnels. Rep. Israel’s press release on the amendment is here.

(ACADEMIC BOYCOTTS OF ISRAEL) H. Res. 318: Introduced 6/16 by Curbelo (R-FL) and 8 cosponsors, “Condemning resolutions or policies calling for or instituting a boycott of Israeli academic institutions or scholars by institutions of higher learning and scholarly associations.”  Referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

(AMERICANS HELD IN IRAN) H. Res. 233: Introduced 4/29 by Kildee (D-MI) and having 202 cosponsors, “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that Iran should immediately release the three United States citizens that it holds, as well as provide all known information on any United States citizens that have disappeared within its borders.” Passed by the House 6/15 under suspension of the rules by a vote of 391-0.  Many members spoke on the floor or issued statements in support of H. Res. 233; many implied a linkage between support for an Iran deal and actions by Iran to free American citizens. Notably:

HFAC Ranking Member Engel (D-NY):“I will weigh the nuclear deal carefully when it comes to us, but Iran's leaders could send the American people a gesture of goodwill by providing more information about Robert Levinson and by freeing Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, and Jason Rezaian.”

HFAC Chairman Royce (R-CA): “…as we approach the deadline for negotiations on a nuclear agreement with Iran, we have to ask — if top Iranian officials can’t be counted on to release these wrongfully jailed Americans, how can they be counted on to honor the commitments they make at the negotiating table? I have serious reservations about the direction of our negotiations with Iran.  And this is based in no small part on its treatment of the Americans we are speaking about today.”

HFAC/MESA Ranking Member Deutch (D-FL):“If Iran wants the world to believe what it says at the negotiating table, if it expects the world to trust any of the commitments that it will make or promises to make in a nuclear deal, then it should send these Americans home.”

Majority Leader Boehner (R-OH): “…All four are being held hostage, and they must all be allowed to come home to their families immediately. This should be a condition of any potential agreement the Obama administration discusses with Iran.”

Smith (R-NJ):The President seems to think, however, that the Iranian regime can be trusted to keep a nuclear deal and no longer seek to develop and make nuclear weapons. I would suggest that a regime that continues to imprison our fellow citizens cannot be trusted.”

(HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT [ON IRAN]) S. 1627 (text is also here): Introduced 6/18 by Cruz (R-TX) and Kirk (R-IL), “to ensure the Secretary of State complies fully with reporting requirements in section 116(d) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.” The short title of the bill is “the Human Rights Accountability Act.” Cruz’s press release touting introduction of the bill is here.  If passed into law, the measure would withhold funds from the State Department’s operating budget for every 30 days a Congressionally-mandated annual human rights report is late.  Cruz argues in his press release that the U.S. should be “making Iran’s human rights record a negotiating tool, not something to be swept under the rug.” Cruz and 5 other Senators previously wrote to the State Department demanding the release of the report (letter) and insisting that Iran’s human rights record must be taken into account in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. The State Department’s response did not satisfy Cruz, who subsequently on 6/16 published an oped in the Washington Times arguing, among other things, that “Congress must have access to our State Department’s next official assessment before it can cast judgment on any deal the P5+1 might strike with Iran. If Iran’s already dismal human rights record has indeed continued to worsen over the last year, it would raise significant additional concerns about engaging in nuclear negotiations with this regime.”

(COMBATING TERRORIST FINANCING) S. 1617: Introduced 6/18 by Rubio (R-FL) and Shaheen (D-NH), “A bill to prevent Hizballah and associated entities from gaining access to international financial and other institutions, and for other purposes.” Referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

(FY16 STATE AUTH) S. 1635: Formally introduced 6/18 by SFRC Chairman Corker (R-TN), the FY16 Department of State Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act.  Placed on the Senate calendar 6/18.  As discussed in the 6/12 edition of the Round-Up, the bill was marked up and adopted by the SFRC on 6/9, and the text of the bill publicly debuted as an amendment offered by Corker to the NDAA (an amendment that by definition was non-germane).  S. 1635 is NOT must-pass legislation and this annual bill rarely passes into law (mainly because members in both the House and Senate pile on so many extraneous and controversial provisions).  Nonetheless, it is wise to pay attention to the Middle East-related provisions in the State Authorization bill, since if they do not pass in this bill, they are likely to appear somewhere else (those provisions, as previewed in the NDAA amendment, are covered in the 6/12 edition of the Round-Up). 


(CONCERNS ABOUT IRAN NEGOTIATIONS) Corker letter: On 6/15 SFRC Chairman Corker (R-TN) sent a letter to President Obama (on his own, with no cosigners) attacking in harsh terms the Obama Administration’s Iran diplomacy efforts.  The letter opens with Corker asserting that “It is breathtaking to see how far from your original goals and statements the P5+1 have come during negotiations with Iran.”  Corker goes on to express alarm over recent reports that the administration might accept further restrictions on inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities and less than full disclosure of possible military dimensions of Tehran’s nuclear program in the context of a final deal.  He closes by urging President Obama to walk away from talks if Iran tries to cross the “few remaining red lines.”


2. Hearings

6/25: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “What Is A Successful Agreement? How To Evaluate Key Components Of The JCPOA.”  Scheduled witnesses are: David Albright, ISIS (the Institute for Science & International Security, not the terrorist organization); Ray Takeyh, CSIS; and Jim Walsh, MIT.

6/17: The House Armed Services Committee held a hearing entitled, “U.S. Policy and Strategy in the Middle East.”  Witnesses were Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter (written statement) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey (no written statement).  Video of the hearing is available here.

6/17: The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled, “Assad’s Abhorrent Chemical Weapons Attacks.” Witnesses wre: Ambassador Robert Ford, MEI (statement); Dr. Mohamed Tennari, Syrian-American Medical Society (statement); Farouq Habib, Mayday Rescue (statement); and Annie Sparrow, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (statement). Chairman Royce’s (D-CA) opening statement is here. Video of the hearing is available here.

6/17: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee held a hearing entitled, “The Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act: State Department’s Non-Compliance.” The only witness was Thomas Melito, Director of the GAO’s office of International Affairs and Trade (written statement). Video of the hearing is available here.

6/16: The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled, “Advancing United States’ Interests at the United Nations.” The only scheduled witness as U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power (statement). Chairman Royce’s (D-CA) opening statement is here. Ranking Member Engel’s (D-NY) is here.  Video of the hearing is available here. Predictably, the hearing included a great deal of focus the treatment of Israel at the UN in general, and in particular on whether the Obama Administration would veto any UNSC resolution related to Israel that Israel opposes.

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

3. Members on the Record

Murphy (D-FL) 6/19: Demanding that any Iran agreement “unequivocally guarantee that Iran cannot obtain nuclear weapons” and going one better than everyone (including AIPAC!) by arguing that “we owe it to the American people of this country to end up with not just a good deal, but a great deal.” Murphy then lays out what such a “great deal” would include – a list that closely parallels the requirements laid out in AIPAC’s “5 Requirements for a Good Deal” memo.

Russell (R-OK) 6/19: Long statement entitled “The ISIS crisis,” including a non-sequitur comment toward the end urging President Obama not to lift Iran sanctions and warning that doing so “will introduce tens of billions of dollars into these war-torn nations and will destabilize the entire region.”

Gohmert (R-TX) 6/18: You can’t make this stuff up -- Press release proudly reporting that Gohmert (whose regularly outlandish statement should be familiar to readers of the Round-Up) was been given the “Speaker of the Truth” award from the far right-wing organization known as EMET.

Graham (R-SC) and Menendez (D-NJ) 6/17: On the Senate floor warning against an Iran deal.

Veasey (D-TX) 6/17: Expressing support for Iran diplomacy & laying out five requirements for a deal (requirements that, as it happens, directly parallel those laid out by AIPAC in its “5 Requirements for a Good Deal” memo.

Rothfus (R-PA), Zeldin (D-NY), DeSantis (R-FL) 6/15: Colloquy on “Iran’s History of Terrorism” and opposing a deal with Iran.