APN Legislative Round-Up: Week Ending Jan. 10, 2014

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2. The Fight Over Iran Sanctions in the Senate - S. 1881
3. Hearings
4. Members on the Record

Briefly noted:

1/9/14 op-ed in the Huffington Post, Thwarting Iran Diplomacy: Not Good for the Jews
1/9/14 blogpost: Be Hopeful! The Anti-Peace Squad is Freaking Out
12/27/13 op-ed in the Jewish Chronicle: Taking 'yes' for an answer on Iran

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

(KILLING IRAN DIPLOMACY) S. 1881: Introduced 12/19/13 by Menendez (D-NJ) and currently having 58 cosponsors, the so-called "Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013." Read the second time 12/20 and placed on Senate Legislative Calendar (note that the bill is bypassing the normal process by which it would be referred to the committee of jurisdiction, in this case, the Banking Committee, for hearings. In this case, an effort is being made to bring the bill directly to the floor, meaning that the Senate would vote on a bill of that has huge national security implications and includes complicated substantive and policy components without any hearings - something that should astonish and appall anyone who cares about responsible policymaking). For more on S. 1881, see section 2, below.

(IRAN) Possible House legislation?: In his 2014 Legislative Agenda, House Majority Leader Cantor (R-VA) highlighted Iran as "the most significant national security threat facing the United States." The release of this agenda has been accompanied by reports of renewed efforts in the House to introduce Iran legislation, possibly as a counterpart or companion to S. 1881. For more, see The Hill 1/3: Cantor to seek new Iran nuclear resolution. Also see the Free Beacon's 1/7 attack (based on anonymous sources) on Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL): Debbie Wasserman Schultz Blocking Bipartisan Iran Sanctions, and the subsequent Emergency Action Committee for Israel (ECI) attack ad against Wasserman-Schultz.

(KILLING ANY IRAN DEAL) S. Res. 328: Introduced 1/6 by Cruz (R-TX) and having 3 cosponsors (all GOP), "A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate on steps the Government of Iran must take before further bilateral negotiations between the Government of Iran and the United States Government occur." The resolution demands that as a condition for any continued negotiations, Iran must first "immediately and without conditions release all United States citizens unjustly detained in Iran" and "publicly affirm the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state." In this way, the resolution makes clear that there are things that these Senators consider far more important than preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

(IRAN & THE BAHA'I) S. Res. 75: Introduced 3/12/13 by Kirk (R-IL) and having 35 cosponsors, "A resolution condemning the Government of Iran for its state-sponsored persecution of its Baha'i minority and its continued violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights." Passed in the Senate 12/20/13 by Unanimous Consent.

(IRAN - ROBERT LEVINSON) S. Res. 312: Introduced 12/9/13 by Nelson (D-FL) and Rubio (R-FL), "A resolution urging the Government of Iran to fulfill their promises of assistance in this case of Robert Levinson, one of the longest held Unites States civilians in our Nation's history." Passed in the Senate 1/9/14.

(AID TO EGYPT) S. 1857: Introduced 12/18/13 by Menendez (D-NJ), the "Egypt Assistance Reform Act of 2013." This bill, if passed into law, would mean a wholesale reform of U.S. assistance to Egypt. It includes an amendment to existing legislation (see Sec. 508) banning U.S. assistance to any government that has come to power via a coup against a democratically elected government - thus permitting continued assistance to Egypt. On 12/18, the bill was placed on Senate Legislative Calendar (bypassing Committee consideration).

2. The Fight Over Iran Sanctions in the Senate - S, 1881

Just before the Senate shut down for its winter recess, Senator Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Menendez (D-NJ) and Kirk (R-IL), along with 25 cosponsors, introduced a major new Iran sanctions bill, S. 1881 (entitled "Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013").

The measure is opposed by the Obama Administration, which has issued a veto threat. It is also opposed by 10 Senate committee chairs, who took the unusual step of writing a letter (which was made public) expressing their opposition and laying out their reasons. The 10 senators are: Banking Committee Chair Johnson (D-SD, whose committee normally would have jurisdiction over an Iran sanctions bill); Select Intelligence Committee Chair Feinstein (D-CA, Jewish); Armed Services Committee Chair Levin (D-MI, dean of the Jewish members of the Senate); Appropriations Committee Chair Mikulski (D-MD); Commerce Committee Chair Rockefeller (D-WV); Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Boxer (D-CA, Jewish); Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chair Carper (D-DE); Judiciary Committee Chair Leahy (D-VT); Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Wyden (D-OR); and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Harkin (D-IA).

APN strongly opposes S. 1881. Our latest action alert is available here. Our statement on the introduction of the bill is here. Also see Lara Friedman's December 27th op-ed in the Jewish Chronicle, Taking 'yes' for an answer on Iran and her January 9th op-ed in the Huffington Post, Thwarting Iran Diplomacy: Not Good for the Jews. A large number of other groups also oppose the bill, including J Street, NIAC, the Arms Control Association, FCNL, Win Without War, and Peace Action-West.

In the days since it was introduced, the S. 1881 has (as of this writing) attracted at total of 58 cosponsors (plus Menendez). Notably, the bill appears to be increasingly partisan, with all but two of the new cosponsors since December 20 being Republicans. In total, the bill has 16 Democratic cosponsors (out of a total of 55 Democrats in the Senate) and 43 Republican cosponsors (out of 45 Republicans in the Senate). As an article published on 1/9 noted in its headline, "Democratic Support For Senate Iran Sanctions Bill Tapers Off." Also see: Lobbying for Iran War, AIPAC's Napkin Is Half-Empty.

On 1/9 and 1/10 stories began swirling online that the as many as 77 Senators now support the bill. These stories appear to have all originated from a single source, an unnamed senior Senate staffer, believed by a number of insiders be a well-known member of Senator Kirk's staff. The first story showed up in a tweet on 1/9 from William Daroff, a top official at the Jewish Federations of North America. Daroff tweeted: "Just heard from VERY reliable source: Menendez-Kirk #Iran sanctions bill has support of 34 Democratic Senators (62% of Senate Dems)." On 1/10, a similar story was tweeted out by a CNN reporter: "Breaking: sr. senate aide tells @cnn veto-proof 77 Senators now support new #Iran sanctions bill. BIG hurdle for nuke deal." The Free Beacon picked up the story on 1/9, citing the Daroff tweet. Buzzfeed picked up the story 1/10, citing the CNN reporter's tweet. On 1/10, the Free Beacon reported that a "senior Senate aid" had "confirmed to the Free Beacon a CNN report that a veto-proof threshold of 77 senators now support the sanctions measure." CNN also reported more formally on the report of 77 senators supporting the bill, here.

Notably, only 5 new cosponsors - all Republicans - were added to the bill on 1/9 (as documented in the Congressional Record on 1/10). This fact would appear to cast more than a little some doubt on the both the reliability and the intentions of the source or sources leaking news about a surge in Democratic support for the bill.

The bill is being lobbied hard by AIPAC (for example, with visits to Senators from AIPAC-affiliated supporters and with this snazzy video which implies, disingenuously, that the bill is supportive of the President) and a range of other Jewish groups (and some non-Jewish groups). Interestingly, for anyone tracking the progress of the bill over the recess (during which Senators cannot officially add their names as cosponsors), AIPAC helpfully provided its own spreadsheet (as if this writing, the spreadsheet is still available here, though no longer linked through directly from AIPAC's Iran lobbying page) updating the names of Senators who had committed to cosponsoring (only two of which had, during the recess period, made any public statement to this effect). In the House, pressure is also mounting (see Section 1 for the attacks on Wasserman-Schultz).

Underscoring the increasingly partisan nature of S. 1881, on 1/9 the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) issued a statement effectively opposing any further action on the bill at this time. On 1/10, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported, "Rabbi Jack Moline, the NJDC's executive director, accused AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee of 'strong-arm tactics, essentially threatening people that if they don't vote a particular way, that somehow that makes them anti-Israel or means the abandonment of the Jewish community.'"

On 1/9, the Obama Administration came out even more strongly against the bill, in effect calling out members to state publicly if they indeed prefer war to diplomacy. The full statement, from National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan, reads:

"This bill is in direct contradiction to the Administration's work to peacefully resolve the international community's concerns with Iran's nuclear program. We know that this proposed legislation would divide the international community, drive the Iranians to take a harder line, and possibly end negotiations. This bill would have a negative bearing on the sanctions regime too. Let us not forget: sanctions work because we convinced our partners to take the steps that we seek. If our partners no longer believe that we are serious about finding a negotiated solution, then our sanctions regime would suffer.

"If Congress passes this bill, it will be proactively taking an action that will make diplomacy less likely to succeed. The American people have been clear that they prefer a peaceful resolution to this issue. If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so. Otherwise, it's not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran's nuclear program to proceed.

"The President has been clear that he has a responsibility to fully test whether we can achieve a comprehensive solution through diplomatic means, before he pursues alternatives. Passing new sanctions legislation right now will undermine our efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution."

Note: There is simply too much media coverage of this issue for the Round-Up to even try to include all the relevant articles. Recommended analysis includes:

1/9: Matt Duss in ThinkProgress: There Are No Good Arguments For New Iran Sanctions
1/9: Jim Lobe at LobeLog: Neocons Who Brought You The Iraq War Endorse AIPAC's Iran Bill
1/8 - Arms Control Association Issue Brief: Congress Should Not Sabotage Iran Nuclear Deal with Additional Sanctions
12/31 - Dr. Colin Kahl, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, in the National Interest: The Danger of New Iran Sanctions

3. Hearings

1/15: The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a CLOSED hearing on the situation in Syria and Iraq. Witnesses will be Derek Chollet, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs; Vice Admiral Frank C. Pandolfe, USN, Director for Strategic Plans and Policy, Joint Staff; Gerald Feierstein, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs; and Alan R. Pino , National Intelligence Officer for Near East, Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

4. Members in the Congressional Record

McCain (R-AZ) and Graham (R-SC) 1/9: On the situation in Fallujah, and blaming Obama's Mideast policy for resurgence of al Qaeda
Blumenauer (D-OR) 1/9: Congress should give interim Iran deal a chance: "The Congress can do this most importantly by leaving it alone. Congress shouldn't meddle, Congress shouldn't muddle, Congress shouldn't give the Iranian hard-liners who don't want any agreement at all an excuse to scuttle it."
Bachmann (R-MN) 1/9: Report on trip to the Middle East
Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 1/9: (Again) Opposing any restoration of funding to UNESCO (as part of omnibus budget deal), characterizing the organization as "a corrupt entity that is an extension of an anti-America, anti-Israel U.N. agenda."
Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 1/9: (Again) Opposing any funding to UNESCO (for admitting Palestinians)
Quigley (D-IL) 1/9: Expressing some nebulous concerns about Iran
Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 1/8: Opposing any funding to UNESCO (for admitting Palestinians)
Kinzinger (R-IL) 1/8: Slamming the failure of US foreign policy post-9/11
Gohmert (R-TX) 1/7: Yes, another long floor rant including ranting about the Egypt and railing against Obama for mistreating Israel (and making clear that he believes Israel should not give up an inch of land to the Palestinians), because God gave that land to the Jews...
McCain (R-AZ) and Graham (R-SC) 12/19/13: Pushing for additional Iran sanctions
McConnell (R-KY) 12/18/13: Slamming Reid for not allowing a vote on new Iran sanctions
Nelson (D-FL) 12/17/13: Bob Levinson disappearance & Iran
Smith (D-NJ) 12/16/13: Iran's Persecution of Pastor Abedini Worsens
Smith (D-NJ) 12/16/13: On persecution of Christians in Egypt