APN Legislative Round-Up: February 12, 2016

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2. Hearings
3. On the Record

Note: This week, APN issued an Action Alert opposing legislation in both the House and Senate that seeks to legitimize settlements by conflating settlements with Israel.  That action alert, “Tell Congress: Pro-Settlements is NOT Pro-Israel,” is here.

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

(SETTLEMENTS=ISRAEL – TRADE POLICY) HR 644: On 2/11 the Senate finally voted on the conference version of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, aka the Customs Bill, passing it by a vote of 75-20.  The conference version (i.e., the text agreed to by House and Senate representatives in a joint conference to iron out differences between their respective versions of the bill) was passed by the House before the winter recess and had been sitting at the Senate desk awaiting a vote since that time.

  • As has been exhaustively covered in past editions of the Round-Up, this bill includes the infamous “settlements=Israel” provision (taken from the House version of the bill) that would compel U.S. trade negotiators, in effect, to act as lobbyists for Israeli settlements.
  • Portman (R-OH), an original sponsor (along with Cardin, D-MD) of the AIPAC-backed freestanding version of this same pro-settlements language in the Senate (S. 619), spoke on the Senate floor after the vote touting the bill’s pro-settlements provision, as did Thune (R-SD) and Hatch (R-UT) during the floor debate—all without in any way acknowledging, per common practice, that the provision has nothing to do with Israel and everything to do with settlements.
  • Shortly after the Senate voted to pass HR 644 on 2/11, the White House issued a press statement making clear that the President would sign the bill into law (as was expected, given that this is a bill he very much wanted passed), but also, unusually, explicitly taking issue with the settlements=Israel provision the bill contains, noting that it “contravenes longstanding U.S. policy towards Israel and the occupied territories, including with regard to Israeli settlement activity.”
  • It should be emphasized that the 2/11 White House press statement should not be confused with a signing statement. A signing statement is a formal, written statement that is issued personally by the President when he signs a bill into law. Such a statement, if it is issued, will articulate the President’s view that a given provision in the law being signed is unconstitutional and therefore will not be implemented. For examples of signing statements, see this comprehensive database.
  • George W. Bush’s signing statement rejecting Congressional efforts to legislate U.S. policy on Jerusalem – a position upheld by the Supreme Court in 2015 in the Zivotofsky case, in a ruling that unequivocally justifies a similar signing statement now on the Customs Bill’s pro-settlements provisions – is here, number 2002-14. Based on this ruling, the President would be on firmer ground than at any time in U.S. history if he decided to issue a signing statement rejecting the settlements-related language in the Customs bill as unconstitutional.  As I noted in this article,

“efforts by Congress to use trade legislation to grant legitimacy to Israeli settlements in the West Bank are clearly analogous to the Zivotofsky case. In both cases, Congress is trying to legislate de facto U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty—in the first instance in Jerusalem (both East and West) and now in the West Bank. And in the Zivotofsky case, the Supreme Court confirmed, with greater clarity than at any time in U.S. history, that the authority to grant such recognition rests exclusively with the president.” And

this law[the Customs bill] represents, truly, an extraordinary constitutional usurpation by Congress. If left unchallenged, it will compel U.S. trade officials to act as if the U.S. de facto recognizes Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank, even though the executive has granted no such recognition. In doing so, it will transform U.S. trade negotiators into defenders and lobbyists for settlements, contrary to consistent U.S. policy dating back almost half a century, to the birth of the settlement project.”

(SETTLEMENTS=ISRAEL – STATE SANCTIONS) HR 4514/S. 2531: Introduced 2/10 in the House by Dold (R-IL) and Vargas (D-VA), and in the Senate by Kirk (R-IL) and Manchin (D-WV), “To authorize State and local governments to divest from entities that engage in commerce or investment-related boycott, divestment, or sanctions activities targeting Israel, and for other purposes.” The bills were referred to the House Committee on Financial Services and the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, respectively.

  • As has become the norm, these bills explicitly define “targeting Israel” to include actions targeting Israeli-controlled territories – code for settlements.
  • These bills actually go a step further than previous legislation in making clear that their purpose is defending settlements, referring to actions that are “for purposes of coercing political action by, or imposing policy positions on, the Government of Israel.”
  • These bills come in the context of continuing efforts at the State level to adopt legislation legitimizing settlements and sanctioning those who differentiate between Israel and settlements (under the guise of fighting BDS). A comprehensive look at state-level legislation is here.
  • Dold’s statement introducing the bill – which never once mentions the West Bank or settlements –is here. Kirk’s press release, which likewise makes no mention of the measure’s true focus on settlements but instead refers to “economic warfare against Israel,” is here. Kirk’s press release also includes a quote from an official from the American Jewish Committee endorsing the bill.
  • Advance text of the bill was helpfully posted by the Washington Free Beacon, whose enthusiastic coverage of the measures (unsurprisingly) conflates Israel and the settlements, but nonetheless does at least hint at the true purpose of the bills (“The legislation comes amid a new move by the European Union to single out all Jewish goods produced in disputed areas of the West Bank).  Similarly positive pre-introduction coverage of the bills in both Tablet and Breitbart News does not even hint that the bills are about anything but protecting Israel from BDS.

(SETTLEMENTS=ISRAEL - LABELING) HR 4503: Introduced 2/9 by Poe (R-TX) and no cosponsors, to permit the knowing and deliberate mis-labeling of the point of origin of goods made in Israeli settlements (or the official bill title, “A bill to allow for additional markings, including the word ‘Israel’ to be used for country of origin marking requirements for goods made in the geographical areas known as the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”) Referred to the Committee on Ways and Means. This is the House version of S. 2474, introduced last week by Cotton (R-AR), and as of this writing having 6 cosponsors, all GOP. On 2/9, the ZOA published a statement urging all senators to support the Cotton bill (presumably the ZOA will update this soon to include a call for House members to support the Poe bill). Unsurprisingly, the ZOA’s statement is replete with factually incorrect assertions (like asserting that the U.S. labeling requirements for the West Bank are new, when in fact they date to 1995 – for a reminder of the facts, see this handy explainer) and fantastical assertions (including suggesting that failing to legitimize settlements is “harmful to the cause of peace”).

NOTE: AIPAC’s “Fight the Boycott of Israel” page now includes HR 4514 and S. 2531, in addition to the two pending settlements=Israel resolutions (H. Res. 567 and S. Res. 346) and the original settlements=Israel bills, HR 825 and S. 619. This means that it is a good bet that some or all of these measures will be lobbied heavily during With AIPAC’s upcoming policy conference, starting on March 20. As of this writing, AIPAC’s page does not mention the Cotton and Poe bills.


(THROW THE PLO OUT OF US) HR 4522/S. 2537: Introduced 2/10 in the House by Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and 13 all-GOP cosponsors, and in the Senate by Cruz (R-TX) and no cosponsors, “To amend the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1987 with respect to certain prohibitions regarding the Palestine Liberation Organization under that Act.”  These bills come on the heels of the 12/18/15 letter, signed by Cruz and 31 House members (including Ros-Lehtinen) calling for the closure of the PLO office (a letter praised effusively by the ZOA).  A joint statement introducing the bills, from Cruz and Ros-Lehtinen, is here. This legislation – which is unlikely to become law, given its partisan nature – would prevent the President from waiving the ban on the PLO operating in the United States (a legal ban that dates back to the era when the PLO was a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization – something it has not been since 1994) unless he could certify that Israel and the Palestinians have reached a peace agreement (which of course would make this provision irrelevant, since at that point there would be a Palestinian state, which would not be represented by the PLO but by its own diplomats) or that:

(A) the Palestinians have not, on or after April 1, 2015, obtained in the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof the same standing as member states or full membership as a state outside an agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians;

(B) the Palestinians have officially ceased to be members of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and have withdrawn from the Rome Statute;

(C) any preliminary examination or ongoing investigation against Israel, the Government of Israel, the Israeli Armed or Security Forces, or any Israeli national initiated by, or on behalf of, the Palestinians, or referred to the ICC by a state party, the United Nations Security Council, or a Pre-Trial Chamber has been withdrawn and terminated;

(D) the PLO and the Palestinian Authority no longer provide any financial award, payment, or salary to Palestinian terrorists imprisoned in Israel who have committed terrorist attacks, or their families; and

(E) the PLO and the Palestinian Authority no longer engage in a pattern of incitement against the United States or Israel;  [defined in the next section as:  “(1) statements, media, communication, or other activities against any religion, ethnicity, or nationality; (2) advocacy, endorsement, or glorification of violence, martyrdom, or terrorism; or (3) endorsement, glorification, honor, or other memorialization of any person or group that has advocated, sponsored, or committed acts of terrorism, including the naming after or dedication to such person or group of any school, community center, camp, stadium, public square, street, land, landmark, waterway, or other facility.”]

(US-JORDAN COOPERATION) HR 907: Introduced 2/12/15 by Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the “ United States-Jordan Defense Cooperation Act of 2015.” This bill has been bouncing back and forth between the House and Senate. On 2/10, the House voted to adopt the most recent Senate version, which should clear the way for this bill to go to the President.

(IRAN – ROBERT LEVINSON) S. Res.99: Introduced 3/10/15 by Nelson (D-FL), Rubio (R-FL), and 2 other cosponsors, “A resolution calling on the Government of Iran to fulfill its promises of assistance in the case of Robert Levinson, the longest held United States civilian in our Nation's history.” Passed 2/11 by Unanimous Consent. Rubio (R-FL) statement touting passage of S. Res. 99 is here.

(SYRIA – HUMANITARIAN RELIEF) S. Res. 361: Introduced 2/3 by Corker (R-TN) and 10 cosponsors, “A resolution urging robust funding for humanitarian relief for Syria.” On 2/10, placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar.

(NORTH KOREA) HR 757: Introduced 2/5 by Royce (R-CA) and having 36 cosponsors, the “North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2016.” On 2/10, passed in the Senate, with an amendment, by a vote of 96-0.  A few things worth noting:

  • Floor debate on the bill (here) included a great deal of comparing the U.S. approach to North Korea’s nuclear program to the approach adopted with respect to Iran.
  • The Senate amended version of HR 757 does not include the section from the House version entitled, “Report on nuclear program cooperation between North Korea and Iran.”
  • Sen. Heller (R-NV) offered an amendment to HR 757, SA 3299 (text here), seeking to force the President to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That amendment (clearly non-germane) was not considered.
  • Sen. Perdue (R-GA) offered two amendment to HR 757, SA 3293 and SA 3294 (text here), requiring reports on Iran-North Korea nuclear cooperation and ballistic missile cooperation, respectively. Neither amendment was considered. Perdue’s floor statement in support of his amendments is here.

(TUNISIA NOBEL PRIZE) S. Res. 330: Introduced 12/7/15 by Coons (D-DE) and having 3 cosponsors, “A resolution congratulating the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet for winning the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize.” On 2/10, placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar.


(FUND THE IAEA!) Foster letter: On 2/8, Rep. Foster (D-IL) and 34 cosigners sent a letter to President Obama urging him to include robust for the accounts that fund the IAEA. Foster's press release is here.


2. Hearings

2/23: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “Review of the FY 2017 State Department Budget Request.” The witness will be Secretary of State Kerry.

[Note: Nothing is on the public schedule yet, but it is a good bet that if Kerry is testifying 2/23 on the Foreign Affairs budget before SFRC, he is also testifying around that same time in HFAC, and also probably in the Senate and House Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittees .]

2/11: The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled, “Iran Nuclear Deal Oversight: Implementation and its Consequences.” Witnessed were: Steve Mull, Lead Coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation, U.S. Department of State (statement); and John Smith, Acting Director, Office of Foreign Assets Control, U.S. Department of the Treasury (statement). Chairman Royce’s (R-CA) opening statement is here – opening with, “This morning the Committee continues its extensive oversight of the Obama Administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran, and its consequences for the national security of the United States and our allies, which many of us believe is dire.” Ranking member Engel’s (D-NY) opening statement is here. Video of the hearing is here. Smith (R-NJ) issued a gleeful press release following the hearing, reflecting on an exchange he had with Mull, entitled “ Administration Admits Not Knowing Where Iranian Nuclear Material Is.”

2/11: The House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing entitled, “The Future of Iranian Terror and Its Threat to the US Homeland.”  Witnesses were:  Ilan Berman, American Foreign Policy Council (statement);  Tzvi Kahn, Foreign Policy Initiative (statement), and Bilal Saab, the Atlantic Council (statement). Video of the hearing is here. Chairman King’s (R-NY) opening statement  - which opens by his saying “At the outset, I want to express my strong opposition to the Iranian nuclear agreement” – is here.

2/11: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia held a markup of H. Res. 148, a resolution calling on the government of Iran to fulfill their promises of assistance in this case of Robert Levinson, the longest held United States civilian in our Nation's history. The committee amended the resolution (text here, offered by Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL and Deutch, D-FL), notably changing the title to refer to Levinson as a “hostage” rather than a “civilian.” Video of the markup is here. Deutch’s statement on the subcommittee passing the resolution is here.

2/11: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia held a hearing entitled, “Jordan: A Key U.S. Partner.”  Witnesses were: Gerald Feierstein, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (statement);  Paige Alexander, Assistant USAID Administrator for the Middle East (statement); and Fatema Sumar, Millennium Challenge Corporation (statement). Video of the hearing is here. Subcommittee Chair Ros-Lehtinen’s statement is here.

2/10: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a business meeting to consider  S. Res.99, a resolution calling on the Government of Iran to fulfill its promises of assistance in the case of Robert Levinson, the longest held United States civilian in our Nation's history, with amendments; S. Res. 361, a resolution urging robust funding for humanitarian relief for Syria, with an amendment; and 3.  S. Res. 330, a resolution congratulating the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet for winning the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize. Video is here. All three measures were adopted/reported out and placed on the Senate calendar.

2/10: The House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing entitled, “National Security and Law Enforcement: Breaking the New Visa Waiver Law to Appease Iran.” Witnesses were: R. Gil Kerlikowske, Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (statement); and Hillary Batjer Johnson, Deputy Coordinator, Homeland Security, Screening, and Designations, Bureau of Counterterrorism, U.S. Department of State (statement). Opening statement from Chairman McCaul (R-TX) (conflating the ISIS threat with Iran) is here. Video of the hearing is here.

2/10: The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s subcommittees on National Security and Government Operations held a hearing entitled, “The President’s Waiver of Restrictions on the Visa Waiver Program.” Witnesses were: R. Gil Kerlikowske, Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (statement); Hillary Batjer Johnson, Deputy Coordinator, Homeland Security, Screening, and Designations, Bureau of Counterterrorism, U.S. Department of State (statement); Jessica Vaughan, Center for Immigration Studies (statement); Emanuele Ottolenghi, Foundation for Defense of Democracies (statement, entitled, tellingly, “The Role of Iranian Dual Nationals in Sanctions Evasion”); and Stephen Heifetz, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development at the Department of Homeland Security, with oversight responsibility for the VWP (statement). Video of the hearing is supposed to be here (but as of this writing isn’t).

2/9: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a CLOSED hearing (TS/SCI) entitled, “Administration Update on the Way Forward in Syria and Iraq.” The briefer will be Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL.

2/9: The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing entitled “Worldwide Threats.” Witnesses were James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence (testimony) and Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (testimony). Both witnesses’ testimonies covered concerns in the Middle East. Including Iran post-JCPOA. Video of the hearing is here. Chairman McCain’s (R-AZ) opening statement is here.


3. On the Record

Klobuchar (D-MN) 2/11: Making a case for the Iran Policy Oversight Act (S. 2119), which she says does three main things: (1) “allows Congress to more quickly impose economic sanctions against Iran's terrorist activities.” (2) “expands military aid to Israel.” And (3) “ensures that agencies charged with monitoring Iran have the resources they need.”

Smith (R-NJ) 2/11: Administration Admits Not Knowing Where Iranian Nuclear Material Is (during HFAC hearing)

Hatch (R-UT) 2/10: Making the case for the Customs bill, highlighting (inaccurately – but consistent with the conflation that has now become the dominant narrative) that it “will combat politically motivated boycotts, divestments, and sanctions against Israel.”

Zeldin (R-NY), Pompeo (R-KS) and LoBiondo (R-NJ) 2/10: (Not from the Onion) Reps. Zeldin, Pompeo and LoBiondo incensed at Iran missing deadline to respond to their visa applications

Coons (D-DE) 2/10: In the context of the vote on the North Korea sanctions bill, making a strong case for the JCPOA and making a pitch for passage of the Iran Policy Oversight Act (S. 2119), which he says would “clarify ambiguous provisions in the JCPOA, establish in statute our commitment to enforcing the deal, engage in comprehensive efforts to counter Iranian activities in the Middle East, and provide increased support to our allies in the region, especially our vital ally, Israel.”

McCain (R-AZ) 2/10: Statement by SASC Chairman John McCain on Iran’s release of new photos exploiting detained American sailors

Franks (R-AZ) 2/10:Trent’s blog “National Defense Task Force Update,” entitled, “Return of the Axis of Evil”

Poe (R-TX) 2/10: Slamming Iran for stopping US sailors, and implying fault on the Obama Administration’s part for letting them be stopped and letting them surrender.

Roskam (R-IL) 2/10: Railing against Iranian hostility to America, opposing funds being released to Iran under the JCPOA, and arguing, “it is up to Congress to do everything in our power to keep as much of this money as possible out of the hands of Iran's terrorist proxies. The Congress must move swiftly to strengthen terrorism- and human rights-related sanctions against Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Congress must maintain strict oversight over Iran's nuclear program as its infrastructure remains intact.

Smith (R-NE) 2/9: Statement on Agreement with Israel to Import Nebraska Beef

Fischer (R-NE) 2/9: Fischer Praises Nebraska Beef Agreement with Israel

Thune (R-SD) 2/9: In the context of the vote on the North Korea sanctions bill, making a pitch for his bill, S. 2485, the “North Korea and Iran Sanctions Act.”

Nadler (D-NY) 2/9: Statement opposing the current E.U. product labeling proposal [sic] -- but defending the current U.S. labeling policy

Russell (R-OK) 2/8: Profiled in the Times of Israel under headline, “The man who seeks to police the Iran sanctions regime

Crenshaw (R-FL) 2/8: Op-ed in The Hill, “Let’s hold Iran accountable and reassure our allies” (excerpt: “Unless the United States and our European partners impose swift and serious consequences for destructive behavior, Iran will be tempted to use its $100 billion worth of sanctions relief to step up its support for terrorist organizations, stoke still more sectarian strife, and continue to stir up civil wars within its neighboring nations.”)

Burgess (R-TX) 2/5: Weekly address, this week entitled, “Obama's Failed Iran Agreement” (video here)