Legislative Round-Up - March 2, 2018

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
  2. Hearings
  3. On the Record

1. Bills & Resolutions

Note: This weekend is the annual AIPAC Policy Conference (with 33 members of Congress scheduled to speak). Next week, tens of thousands of AIPAC conference attendees will take to the Hill to lobby members to support AIPAC-backed legislative initiatives, some of which were introduced this week, as detailed below. In addition to these measures, AIPAC conference-goers are expected to ask Congress to pass the Taylor Force Act (S.1697 and H.R. 1164) into law. There are also rumors about a Senate sign-on letter focused on the JCPOA, calling for US-Europe negotiations to “fix” problems with the JCPOA (including, for example, eliminating sunset clauses, changing sanctions language, etc. – with the argument that such a letter doesn’t violate the JCPOA, even if it endorses actions that would do so).

(NEW IRAN SANCTIONS) HR 5132: Introduced 3/1 by Royce (R-CA) and Engel (D-NY), the “Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Economic Exclusion Act.” THIS BILL WILL BE A KEY “ASK” ON AIPAC LOBBY DAY. Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and in addition to the Committees on Financial Services, Oversight and Government Reform, the Judiciary, and Ways and Means. House Foreign Affairs Committee press release (quoting both Royce and Engel) is here. That press release states that the bill, “Strengthens bans on transactions with the IRGC and its affiliates”; “Expands mandatory sanctions against the IRGC for its role in shoring up the murderous Assad regime in Syria”; “Requires reports on the IRGC’s full influence in the Iranian economy and state-owned enterprises that facilitate terrorism”; and “Opposes Iran’s membership in the World Trade Organization so long as Iran remains a state sponsor of terror.”  Sanctions and economic controls expert Tyler Cullis (formerly with NIAC), offered a different take on the bill in a 3/1 thread on Twitter. On 3/2, NIAC articulated its analysis and concerns here. Among other things, NIAC notes:

  • “If passed in its current form, H.R. 5132 - the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Economic Exclusion Act - threatens to violate the JCPOA, undermine current long-term restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, and splinter the United States from its European allies and other international partners.
  • “Key provisions of the bill appear targeted not at the heavily-sanctioned IRGC, but at deterring companies from doing business with Iran’s private sector in violation of U.S. commitments under the JCPOA. The Iran nuclear deal not only maintains the already extensive sanctions in place on the IRGC, it implicitly opens opportunities for economic competitors to the IRGC in Iran’s private sectors by enabling them to receive the benefit of sanctions relief. Contrary to this approach, H.R. 5132 would accrue to the benefit of the IRGC and undercut ongoing trends that are diminishing their economic influence, including the Iranian Supreme Leader’s direction - under popular pressure - that the IRGC must divest many of its holdings.
  • “This legislation also comes amid Trump’s reckless threats to unilaterally terminate the JCPOA, an outcome which Europe and many in Congress are seeking to prevent. This is the wrong bill at the wrong time; Members of Congress should be restraining this President from killing this key nonproliferation agreement and moving toward war, not coaxing him forward.”

(EVEN MORE SECURITY ASSISTANCE FOR ISRAEL) HR 5141: Introduced 3/1 by Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Deutch (D-FL), the “United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018.THIS BILL WILL BE A KEY “ASK” ON AIPAC LOBBY DAY. As noted in Ros-Lehtinen’s press release, the bill “authorizes foreign military financing for Israel at the levels agreed upon between the United States and Israel in the historic Memorandum of Understanding signed between the two countries in September 2016. The bill also supports Israel’s ability to meet and address both conventional and emerging threats, and enhances U.S.-Israel cooperation in areas of mutual interest such as cyber security.” The press release goes on to note that, “In addition to authorizing security assistance for Israel, H.R. 5141 extends the Loan Guarantee authority for Israel as well as the War Reserves Stockpile Authority for Israel for the corresponding 5-year period, FY2019-23. The bill also reiterates that it is U.S. policy to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME); authorizes the transfer of precision guided munitions and related defense articles and services to the reserve stocks in Israel for self-defense purposes; and seeks to enhance cooperation and coordination between the two countries in a variety of sectors, including through the use of memoranda of understanding between USAID and the Government of Israel.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and in addition to the Committees on Armed Services, and Science, Space, and Technology

(MORE $$ FOR MISSILES FOR ISRAEL) HR 5126: Introduced 2/27 by Murphy (D-FL) and Mast (R-FL), the “Deterring and Defeating Rocket and Missile Threats to Israel Act.” THIS BILL WILL LIKELY BE AN “ASK” ON AIPAC LOBBY DAY. Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Armed Services.  Murphy floor statement introducing the bill is here; Murphy press release on the bill is here.

(US-ISRAEL DRONE COOPERATION) HR 5117: Introduced 2/27 by Crist (R-FL) and Johnson (R-LA), the “United States-Israel Joint Drone Detection Cooperation Act.” THIS BILL WILL LIKELY BE AN “ASK” ON AIPAC LOBBY DAY. Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Crist press release (including bill text) is here.

(ISRAEL-FOCUSED FREE SPEECH GAG BILLS) S. 720 and S. 170: On 3/1, AIPAC launched a new effort to mobilize grassroots pressure in support of the Orwellian-named “Israel Anti-Boycott Act”  (S. 720) and “Combatting BDS Act” (S. 170). S. 720 WILL BE AN “ASK” ON AIPAC LOBBY DAY; S. 170 WILL LIKELY ALSO BE AN ASK. For background, see: “What would Israel Anti-Boycott Act Do? Read the Law (amended by the Act) for Yourself” and “The Israel Anti-Boycott Act Is an Act of Political Persecution.” A copy of AIPAC’s Action Alert is here. Notably:

  • The action alert continues with the conflation of Israel and settlements/occupation, and continues to in effect argue that differentiating between Israel and settlements in any way is the same as boycotting Israel, and that even seeking to transparency about what companies are working in settlements is anti-Israel.
  • Some sources suggest that S. 720 chief sponsor Cardin (D-MD) is ready to and intends to amend the bill to address free speech concerns, thus enabling more Senate Democrats to support the measure. The AIPAC Action Alert, however, makes no mention of such amendments (and as with all past statements, pretends that there are no free speech concerns about the measure).
  • Regardless of Cardin’s intent, it will be impossible to address free speech problems with the bill without completely gutting it (an “article of construction” or similar cosmetic amendment to say the bill is not intended to censor free speech in no way mitigates the brazen unconstitutionality of the measure). In this context, it appears that AIPAC is setting up a showdown, seeking to force Senate Democrats to sacrifice free speech concerns and stand with AIPAC, or to stand with the ACLU (and other free speech advocates) and risk being called anti-Israel.
  • Finally, while the text of the AIPAC action alert focuses solely on S. 720, the click-through page generates letters to senators in support of S. 170 as well. This is notable because the purpose of S. 170 is to give Federal support and encouragement to U.S. states in passing legislation barring companies that boycott Israel or settlements from state contracts and the like. The fact that AIPAC is lobbying this bill, even after a federal judge in Kansas on Jan. 30 handed down a ruling – one that is detailed, comprehensive, unambiguous, & devastating - granting an injunction against one such law, based on the fact that the law is patently unconstitutional.

(YEMEN WAR – NOT AUTHORIZED) S. J. Res. 54: Introduced 2/28 by Sanders (I-VT), Lee (R-UT) and Murphy (D-CT), “A joint resolution to direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.” [NOTE: THIS IS NOT PART OF THE AIPAC HILL AGENDA, just in case anyone was confused]. Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. A fact sheet on the resolution is here. A Sanders-Lee-Murphy op-ed in the Washington Post is here.


(IRAN SANCTIONS) Menendez letter to Tillerson & Mnuchin: On 2/28, Sen. Menendez (D-NJ) sent a letter to SecState Tillerson and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin raising concerns “related to sanctions implementation, required reports, and Trump Administration policy towards Iran, Russia, and North Korea.” The letter notes that the Administration failed to meet Congressionally mandated deadlines for delivery of a number of Iran reports and a strategy, and “has failed to impose Iran-related sanctions under the mandatory provisions of law.” The letter asks for answers to specific questions about these and other issues, and closes with a warning: “If your Administration continues to ignore the law, Congress will act by using other levers at our disposal, including the appropriations and confirmation process…”

(SYRIA AUMF) Lee et al letter: On 2/27, Rep. Lee (D-CA) led a letter, co-signed by 105 bipartisan House colleagues, sent to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), asking that the House “immediately being a serious debate and vote on the use of military force (AUMF) regarding the ongoing deployment of U.S. forces in Syria” and expressing that “the President must seek approval from Congress before taking any further military action in the region.”

(US-KSA NUCLEAR COOPERATION) Markey letter to Tillerson & Perry: On 2/26, Sen. Markey (D-MA) sent a letter to SecState Tillerson and Energy Secretary Rick Perry regarding press reports that the Trump Administration is pursuing a deal to sell nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia. Markey notes that pass efforts to conclude a civil nuclear cooperation agreement (known as a “123 agreement”) with KSA have failed due to KSA’s “longstanding refusal to commit to forgoing any uranium enrichment or spent-fuel reprocessing on its territory.” In light of this issue, Markey lays out a list of questions for the two Secretaries, and notes that he hopes the answers “will begin to provide some clarity on the administration’s nuclear policy towards Saudi Arabia and pave the way for Congress to be more actively involved in these important deliberations.”

(LET ADELSON BUY THE US AN EMBASSY IN JERUSALEM) Messer et al letter: On 2/26, Rep. Messer (R-IN) issued a press release stated that he was “gathering congressional support to offset the costs through private donations for relocating the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.” The press release notes that “Messer is authoring a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging the State Department to accept private donations to help cover the costs and expedite the process of relocating the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.” That letter, which argues that it is legal for the U.S. government to accept private donations to pay for the embassy, since these would be “unconditional gifts,” got 18 all-GOP co-signers. [An argument that seems to make the case that it would be fine for Wall Street bankers to “unconditionally donate” funding for new offices for the federal banking regulators, and for PHARMA to donate funding for new FDA headquarters]. Press release on announcing the letter is here.

(CATASTROPHIC HUMANITARIAN SITUATION IN SYRIA) Durbin letter to Trump: On 2/23, Sen. Durbin (D-IL) sent a letter to President Trump urging “immediate attention to the catastrophic humanitarian crisis unfolding under the barbaric Syrian government bombing of the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta.”

(QUESTIONS FOR KUSHNER) Lieu et al letter to Jared Kushner: On 2/20, Rep. Lieu (D-CA) and 7 House colleagues sent a letter to Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner. The letter is a follow up to a letter sent 12/6/17 to which no response has been received. Both letters ask Kushner if, since November 8, 2016, he has had “any discussions with any foreign nationals in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, China, Israel, France or any other foreign country (excluding Russia) about 666 Fifth Avenue?” If the answer is yes, the letters ask, “did you discuss anything related to helping finance, purchase, or assist with the debt on 666 Fifth Avenue?”  The letter states, “Your continued refusal to answer simple yes/no questions suggests you have something to hide.”

(GLOBAL ENTRY FOR ISRAEL) Hirono-Inhofe + entire Senate letter: On 2/20, Sens. Hirono (D-HI) and Inhofe (R-OK) led a letter, co-signed by every member of the US Senate, sent to Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, calling for DHS to expedite Israel’s full membership in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry program. Press release on the letter is here.


2. Hearings

 February 27: The House Armed Services Committee held a hearing entitled, “Terrorism and Iran: Defense Challenges in the Middle East.” The sole witness was General Joseph L. Votel, Commander, US Central Command (testimony). Video of the hearing is here. McSally (R-AZ) press release: McSally Questions CENTCOM Commander on Role of A-10s in Fight Against Taliban, Expresses Concern Over Iran’s Military Build-Up on Israel’s Northern Border

February 27: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the nomination Kevin Moley to be Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs. In his written statement, Moley said (among other things): “My guiding principle, if confirmed to lead IO, will be ‘America First, but not alone’.  This means, for example, that at USUN New York, under the extraordinarily able leadership of Ambassador Haley and her team, we will, when necessary to protect our interests, and those of allies, not hesitate to use the veto, as we have done recently, when Israel was most unfairly attacked.”


3. On the Record

Wicker (R-MI) 3/1: Calling for bipartisan action on Iran legislation

Wilson (R-SC) 3/1: Rep. Joe Wilson Co-Sponsors Bill to Sanction Iranian Proxy Terrorist Groups (HR 4328, intr’d by Poe, R-TX, 11/3/17, now having 12 cosponsors, all GOP except for Sherman, D-CA)

Roskam (R-IL) 3/1: Roskam praises ruling on aircraft sales to Iran

Schumer (D-NY) 2/28: U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer Released the Following Statement on His Meeting with the Family Of Taylor Force:

Coons (D-DE) 2/28: Sen. Coons, Walter Russell Mead on Trump’s foreign policy, Sen. Coons’ recent trip to the Middle East and Europe (VIDEO)

Coons (D-DE) 2/27: Sen. Coons, bipartisan Senate delegation travel to UK, Israel, Jordan, & Greece to reaffirm U.S. bipartisan commitment to key allies

Messer (R-IN) 2/26: Rep. Messer Rallies Support for Private Funding for New U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem

Hassan (D-NH) 2/26: Senator Hassan Travels to UK, Israel, Jordan, and Greece as Part of Bipartisan Senate Delegation

McCollum (D-MN) 2/26: McCollum Remarks at Amnesty International Lobby Day (including on HR 4391)

Royce (R-CA) 2/24: Royce Concludes Delegation to Middle East with Stop in United Arab Emirates

Kustoff (R-TN) 2/23: Rep. Kustoff Applauds President Trump’s Plans for U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem

Swalwell (D-CA) 2/23: Swalwell Returns From Official Visits to Vienna, Austria and Tbilisi, Georgia [“trip focused on oversight of the Iran nuclear deal and on Russian aggression toward Georgia, NATO and the West”]

Menendez (D-NJ) 2/23: Menendez on Reports of Russian Oligarch’s Involvement in Attack on U.S. Forces in Syria

Barletta (R-PA) 2/23: Barletta Statement on Opening of American Embassy in Jerusalem

Zeldin (R-NY) 2/23: Rep. Zeldin Statement in Support of U.S. Embassy Move to Jerusalem by May 14th

Menendez (D-NJ) 2/21: Menendez Statement on Assad Regime’s Deadly Bombardment in East Ghouta

Engel (D-NY) 2/21: Engel Statement on Assad Regime's Attack in Eastern Ghouta

Royce (R-CA) 2/21: Royce CODEL Travels to Saudi Arabia

Wilson (R-SC) 2/20: ICYMI: Hamas decries US bill sanctioning 'human shields' practice

Hultgren (R-IL) & McGovern (D-MA) 2/20: Lantos Commission Co-Chairs’ Statement on Denial of Applications from Refugees Fleeing Iranian Persecution