Legislative Round-Up: May 26, 2017

  Produced by the Foundation for Middle East Peace in cooperation with Americans for Peace Now, where the Legislative Round-Up was conceived

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

2. Hearings

3. On the Record


1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

(SANCTIONS ON THE PALESTINIANS) HR 2712: Introduced 5/25 by Mast (D-FL) and 9 cosponsors (Gottheimer, D-NJ; Royce, R-CA; Engel, D-NY; Sherman, D-CA; Poe, R-TX; Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL; Lieu, D-CA; Deutch, D-FL; and Suozzi, D-NY), “To impose sanctions with respect to foreign support for Palestinian terrorism, and for other purposes.”  Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Financial Services. NOTE: Given the all-star line-up of original cosponsors on this bill, the likelihood of it moving forward expeditiously is very high.

(ANNUAL JERUSALEM DAY CHARADE) S. Res. 176: Introduced 5/24 by McConnell (R-KY) and 7 bipartisan cosponsors (5 Democrats, 2 GOP), “A resolution commemorating the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations and immediately put on the agenda for the already scheduled 5/25 SFRC hearing, where it passed. The Majority Leader subsequently asked for unanimous consent that the Senate take up the resolution when it returns to session on June 5, with a vote scheduled for 5:30pm (no amendments). Graham (R-SC) press release is here.

(JORDAN-US COOPERATION) HR 2646: Introduced 5/24 by Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and 4 cosponsors, “To reauthorize the United States-Jordan Defense Cooperation Act of 2015, and for other purposes.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(US-ISRAEL AGRICULTURAL COOPERATION) HR 2659: Introduced 5/25 by Yoho (R-FL) and Soto (D-FL), the “United States-Israel Agriculture Strategic Partnership Act.” The bill authorizes the U.S.-Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development (BARD) program. Press release is here. Referred to the Committee on Agriculture, the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the Appropriations Committee. Soto statement introducing the bill is here. Soto press release is here.

(DISAPPROVING OF KSA ARMS DEAL) S. J. Res. 42: Introduced 5/25 by Paul (R-KY), Murphy (D-CT) and Franken (D-MN), “A joint resolution relating to the disapproval of the proposed export to the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of certain defense articles.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

(ISIL ETC AUMF) S. J. Res. 43: Introduced 5/25 by Flake (R-AZ) and Kaine (D-VA), “A joint resolution to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and associated persons or forces, that are engaged in hostilities against the United States, the Armed Forces, or its other personnel.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

(NO U.S. BANKING FOR IRANIANS DUAL NATIONALS & OTHERS?) HR 10: Introduced 4/26 by Hensarling (R-TX) and having 7 cosponsors (all GOP), the “Financial CHOICE Act of 2017.” Section 511 of the bill would permit the Federal Government to “formally or informally request or order a depository institution to terminate a specific customer account or group of customer accounts or to otherwise restrict or discourage a depository institution from entering into or maintaining a banking relationship with a specific customer or group of customers” if said customer is “(C) is an agency of the government of Iran, North Korea, Syria, or any country listed from time to time on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list” or “(D) is located in, or is subject to the jurisdiction of, any country specified in subparagraph (C)”; or “(E) does business with any entity described in subparagraph (C) or (D), unless the appropriate Federal banking agency determines that the customer or group of customers has used due diligence to avoid doing business with any entity described in subparagraph (C) or (D)…” On 5/25, the House Financial Services Committee issued its report on the bill; on the same day, this bill was discharged from all committees of jurisdiction and placed on the Union Calendar (paving the way for floor consideration).


(IN DEFENSE OF ISSA AMRO) Pocan-McCollum-Blumenauer-Ellison letter: Next week, Reps. Pocan D-WI), McCollum (D-MN), Blumenauer (D-OR) and Ellison (D-MN) will begin circulating a Dear Colleague seeking cosigners on a letter to Secretary of State Tillerson in defense of Palestinian non-violent activist Issa Amro. The extensively foot-noted letter opens: “We write to request that you urgently pursue all diplomatic tools at your disposal to encourage the appropriate Israeli authorities to reconsider the charges against Issa Amro, a community leader, nonviolent activist and previous recipient of the United Nations’ ‘Human Rights Defender of the Year in Palestine’ award. He faces charges described by Amnesty International as “baseless” and “politically motivated” within Israel’s military court system, which could result in years of imprisonment. United Nations human rights experts expressed concern that Mr. Amro is “being unfairly targeted due to his legitimate and peaceful human rights work.” It goes on to note: “Mr. Amro founded and coordinates a Hebron-based advocacy group that counsels Palestinian youth on nonviolent means of opposing Israeli settlement activities, which President Trump himself recognizes as unhelpful to achieving a lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. In 2011, Mr. Amro was a guest of the State Department as part of its International Visitor Leadership Program. In 2016, the State Department highlighted Mr. Amro’s military court case in its Human Rights Report among its main concerns regarding freedom of peaceful assembly in Israel and the Occupied Territories. A representative of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv attended Mr. Amro’s court hearing in November of last year alongside representatives of other concerned governments such as Germany, the United Kingdom, and Spain…”

(NO PERMANENT IRANIAN PRESENCE IN IRAN) Roskam-Deutch letter: On 5/25, Roskam (R-IL) and Deutch (D-FL) sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis urging them to take all necessary action to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military presence in Syria. Press release is here.

(JERUSALEM-UNDIVIDED-CAPITAL-OF-ISRAEL) Lamborn et al letter: On 5/19, Rep. Lamborn (R-CO) and 41 House GOP colleagues sent a letter to President Trump urging him to recognize Jerusalem as “the undivided capital of Israel.” It also notes that “We have tremendous confidence that you will keep your campaign promise to relocate the American  Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Recognizing Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel is the first step in that process.” Press release is here.

(SOLIDARITY WITH HUNGER-STRIKING PALESTINIAN PRISONERS) Davis letter: On 5/10, Rep. Davis (D-IL) sent a letter of solidarity to a Chicago-based Palestinian organization, on the occasion of a day-Long “Hunger Strike and Encampment in Solidarity with Palestinian” held on 5/11. Davis noted, “I am joining with Chicago area Palestinians and other residents from across the Chicago area who are gathering today in support of the over 1,500 of the 6,000+ Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails who are in their fourth week of an open ended hunger strike. They are only taking water and salt, so there are growing concerns about their health at this moment. I understand that Israel is also threatening to force feed them into ending the hunger strike. The prisoners' demands are basic humanitarian ones: regular family visits, an end to solitary confinement, better medical care, access to education and an end to administrative detention, the policy of indeterminate imprisonment without formal charges. The vast majority of Palestinian political prisoners have been jailed for speaking out and organizing against violations of their human rights. A key piece of the process of finding a way to peace and justice in the region is securing the freedom all Palestinian political prisoners.”


2. Hearings

5/25: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a markup of a number of pending bills and resolutions, including:

  • 722, the “Countering Iran's Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017.” This AIPAC-backed bill is opposed by many who support the JCPOA and are concerned about responsible Iran policy – J Street has compiled a list of quotes/links to expert views here. See also analysis and explanations of concerns from J Street, FCNL, the Arms Control Association, NIAC (also here), Win Without War, and the Iran Project. On 5/24, former SFRC Chairman and former Secretary of State John Kerry weighed in on Twitter with a series of tweets opposing the bill. During the 5/25 markup the Committee adopted an amendment to the bill (by voice vote) that addressed some of the concerns raised about potential harm to the JCPOA, but opponents of the bill pre-markup are still generally opposed to the version adopted in the SFRC (J St press release praising the amendment but stopping short of supporting the bill is here; NIAC’s statement criticizing passage of this “deeply flawed bill” is here). An amendment from Paul (R-KY) related to Saudi Arabia was withdrawn. An amendment from Udall (D-NM) related to the designation of the IRGC was defeated by a vote of 4-17, with Udall, Merkley (D-OR), Murphy (D-CT) and Paul voting in favor. The committee the passed the bill by a vote of 18-3 (with Merkley, Udall, and Paul voting “no”) and reported the bill out of Committee as amended, without a written report. Corker (R-TN) et al press release applauding SFRC passage of the bill is here. Cruz (R-TX) press release is here.
  • Res. 176, “A resolution commemorating the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.” Passed without amendment and reported out of SFRC same day. This is super fast action (given that the resolution was introduced 5/24 - proving that Congress can, in fact, work swiftly and in a bipartisan way when it comes to pander on an issue like this.
  • 905, the “Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2017.” Passed and ordered to be reported out of Committee favorably, with an amendment.
  • Res. 114, “A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate on humanitarian crises in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen.” Passed and ordered to be reported out of Committee favorably, with an amendment.
  • Res. 18, “A resolution reaffirming the United States-Argentina partnership and recognizing Argentina's economic reforms.” The resolved clauses include, “encourages the Government of Argentina to continue to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, as well as the January 2015 death of AMIA special prosecutor Alberto Nisman…” Passed and ordered to be reported out of Committee favorably, with amendments.

5/25: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held entitled, “Assessing the United Nations Human Rights Council” [focused mainly, but not entirely, on the UNHRC’s treatment of Israel]. Witnesses were: Kristen Silverberg, Former Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs (testimony); Tom Malinowski, Former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (testimony); Hillel Neuer, UN Watch - Geneva [an organization “established with the generous assistance of Edgar Bronfman, President of the World Jewish Congress” that as of 1/1/2001, operates under the “full control” of the American Jewish Committee; the organization weighs on a wide range of issues, but its primary focus was and remains Israel-related issues at the UN] (testimony); and Ted Piccone, Brookings (testimony). Video of the hearing is here.

5/24: The House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a markup of a number pieces of pending legislation, including H. Res. 201, “Expressing support to the Government of Argentina for its investigation into the terrorist bombing of the Embassy of Israel in Buenos Aires on March 17, 1992.” The subcommittee adopted an amendment to the resolution then agreed by unanimous consent to report the measure to the full committee.

5/24: The House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade held a hearing entitled, “Nuclear Deal Fallout: The Global Threat of Iran.” Witnesses were: Ilan Berman, American Foreign Policy Council (testimony – calling for, among other things, “comprehensive blacklisting” of the IRGC ); Ray Takeyh, Council on Foreign Relations (testimony, key quotes: “As regime as dangerous to U.S. interest as the Islamic Republic requires a comprehensive strategy to counter it. This means exploiting all of Iran’s vulnerabilities; increasing the costs of its foreign adventures, weakening its economy, and supporting its domestic discontents. Pursuing that strategy will take time, but eventually, it will put the United States in a position to impose terms on Iran,” and “A determined policy of pressure would speed the day when the Iranian people replace a regime that has made their lives miserable. And in the interim, it would reduce the threat of a triumphant regime posed to the Middle East and the world beyond.”); and Daniel Byman, Brookings (testimony – “Although I do not favor designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist group for technical reasons (as a state actor, it does not belong in the non-state category we use for terrorism), I favor similar or identical sanctions on it, perhaps using Executive Order 13224.”) Video of the hearing is here.

5/23: The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing entitled, “Worldwide Threats.” Witnesses were: Daniel R. Coats, Director of National Intelligence (testimony); and Lt. Gen. Vincent R. Stewart, USMC, Director, Defense Intelligence Agency (testimony). Video of the hearing is here.


3. On the Record

Engel (D-NY) 5/24: Statement raising calling for HFAC oversight of Saudi arms deal (including: “Three issues are paramount. First, the security of Israel must be assured. Second, we must examine the effect of these sales on the coalition’s involvement in Yemen. And third, the impact of these weapons sales on the Saudi defensive capabilities must be assessed.”)

Deutch (D-FL) 5/24: Rep. Deutch Statement on Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day

Cruz (R-TX) 5/23: Floor speech “celebrating this historic 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem” and calling for the embassy to be moved

Lamborn (R-CO) 5/23: Op-ed in Medium calling for US “to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel”

Zeldin (R-NY) 5/23: “Rep. Zeldin Calls on President Trump to Move U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem” [at press conference hosted by Frank, R-AZ, in front of the U.S. Capitol]

Coons (D-DE) 5/23: VIDEO: Sen Coons on Trump trip: “I'm frankly holding my breath this week” [“I think it's important for President Trump to show that the importance that the American people place on our unshakeable partner with Israel, has moved that forward in a good way. I'm frankly holding my breath this week to see whether or not President Trump can conduct himself in a constructive and positive way on the world stage…”]

Perdue (R-GA) 5/22: “My first foreign trip as a United States Senator was to Israel where I personally met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It is critical to engage our strongest partner and ally in the most volatile part of the world. President Trump is sending a powerful message today by visiting Israel on his first international trip as commander-in-chief. As the first sitting U.S. President to visit the Western Wall, this further demonstrates the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel.”

Hoyer (D-MD) 5/21: Statement raising concerns about Saudi arms deal (including: “as the Israeli government consulted beforehand? Did the Administration provide explicit assurances to Israel, as the Obama Administration did in 2010, regarding the maintenance of its qualitative military edge?”)

Cotton (R-AR) 5/21: Statement applauding Trump’s Speech to the Arab Islamic American Summit

Cotton (R-AR) 5/20: Statement on Saudi arms deal (“This arms deal sends the right message to both friend and foe alike: we will not stand by while an imperialist Iran suffocates the region in an unwanted embrace. And to maintain peace in the region, we will strengthen defense relationships with partners like Saudi Arabia and maintain our friend Israel's capabilities. I commend the president for making this deal.”)

Royce (R-CA) 5/19: “Today the Ayatollah is offering a choice between his handpicked candidates: a hardliner and a hard hardliner.  Regardless of who is elected, Tehran will continue to oppress its people and advance terror and ballistic missile programs that threaten the world.  Iranians deserve better.”