APN Legislative Round-Up for the week ending Jan. 17, 2014

1.  Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2.  The Fight Over Iran Sanctions in the Senate (and House)
3.  Plan B: Shifting Focus from Sanctions to Imposing Conditions on an Iran Final Deal
4. Members on the Record

Briefly noted:

1/14: APN Urges Congress and US Jewish Groups to Stop Pushing New Sanctions
1/14: APN to US Jewish Groups: Condemn Yaalon's Anti-Kerry, Anti-Peace Comments
Re-Upping an old-but-newly-relevant article from April 2012 piece: Bridging between the Politically Impossible & the Historically Inevitable, in Israel-Palestine & Iran

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

(OMNIBUS APPROPS - VARIOUS MIDDLE EAST) HR 3547:  On 1/15 the House passed HR 3547, the FY 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act; on 1/16, the Sentate did the same.  The bill now goes to the President, who is expected to sign it into law.  This bill includes extensive provisions related to the Middle East.  Some are perennial Foreign Operations Appropriations provisions, some are new or changed language (for instance, with respect to assistance for Egypt).  A full analysis of HR 3547 will be included in next week’s Round-Up (a special recess edition for this specific purpose).

(PALESTINIAN ASSISTANCE) HR 3868:  Introduced 1/14 by Royce (R-CA) and no cosponsors, the “Palestinian Peace Promotion and Anti-Incitement Act.”  Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

2.  The Fight Over New Iran Legislation in the Senate (and House)

State-of-Play of S. 1881:  As reported in last week’s Round-Up, last week ended with a burst of media reports indicating an imminent surge in support for S. 1881, the new Iran legislation that many (including APN) believe would threaten Iran diplomacy and kill any chances for a negotiated agreement over Iran’s nuclear program.  Fortunately (as hinted at in last week’s Round-Up), those reports have proven to have been without basis in fact.

At the end of last week, S. 1881 had 59 cosponsors (including the primary sponsor, Menendez, D-NJ).  One week later, the number of cosponsors remains fixed at 59 – that is, not a single additional cosponsor has come onto the bill, notwithstanding statements that as many as 77 senators support the bill and notwithstanding continued energetic lobbying by pro-S. 1881 groups, particularly AIPAC.  That lobbying has met with a huge grassroots response opposing the bill, mobilized by a range of organizations, including APN (see last week’s Round-Up for details).  Reports from member offices indicate that calls from constituents have been overwhelmingly opposed to S. 1881.  The depth and breadth of the opposition to S. 1881 was further demonstrated this week when 66 organizations (including APN) sent a joint letter to the Senate opposing S. 1881

Not only did S. 1881 fail to pick up new cosponsors this week, but in the course of the past week a number of Senators who previously were undeclared in their position on the bill came come out against it (at least for the time being) – today, there are more Democratic senators on the record opposing the bill than supporting it.  For a running tally of where members stand, see here.  In addition, one cosponsor of the bill (Blumenthal, D-CT), has come out publicly saying that he doesn’t believe the bill should advance at this time, and a number of other cosponsors (and undeclared Senators) are reportedly saying the same thing privately.   In addition, one prominent Republican supporter of the bill, Corker (R-TN), is now suggesting a deal under which Reid (D-NV) would schedule a vote on S. 1881 for the summer, after the 6-month negotiating period has ended (for more on what this suggestion is really about, see Section 3, below).

Indeed, whereas last Friday there was growing focus around the story of the imminent achievement of a filibuster-proof and veto-proof majority in support of the S. 1881 (and what this would mean in terms of a defeat for Obama), a week later the narrative has shifted to a broad and growing recognition that S. 1881 has stalled – as seen in headlines at the end of this week like this one from the National Journal: Iran Hawks Flounder Against Reid-Obama Coalition and this one from MSNBC: Support for new Iran sanctions wanes.   

These headlines come on the heels of a week during which editorial boards of newspapers across the country weighed in almost universally opposed to S. 1881 (examples: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Sacramento Bee), and self-proclaimed “Iran hawk” Jeffrey Goldberg penned a column entitled, “An Iran Hawk's Case Against New Iran Sanctions” (and then took to twitter to amplify his position).  It also follows a week in which mass media superstars Jon Stewart and Chris Hayes both did on-air segments lambasting the bill and its supporters (highly recommended viewing).   

Clearly, the ground has shifted, dealing a huge defeat to AIPAC and other groups who have been aggressively lobbying for S. 1881 (and who will no doubt now be preparing to shift to another approach; for what to expect, see Section 3, below). 

State-of-Play in the House:  Last week’s Round-Up reported on the possibility of action in the House on Iran legislation, noting the vicious attacks launched against Rep. Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) as part of a campaign to convince Democrats to support GOP efforts in this regard.  As of this week, and in the context of the stalling of S. 1881 in the Senate and the public narrative shifting strongly against new Iran sanctions, those efforts seem to have been a failure, as indicated by headlines like this one in the Hill on January 16: House shelves plans for vote on Iran sanctions

Note: Once again this week, 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:

 Politico 1/14: Give the Iran Deal Time to Work (by Sandy Berger)

Philly.com 1/12:  Senators are wrong on tougher Iran sanctions  (by Greg Thielman, senior fellow at the Arms Control Association, former Foreign Service Officer, and former staff member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence)

Denver Post 1/11: A delicate dance with Iran (Tom Pickering & Jim Walsh)

3.  Plan B: Shifting Focus from Sanctions to Imposing Conditions on an Iran Final Deal

 Corker’s suggestion (discussed above) of putting off a vote on S. 1881 is a positive sign, in terms of mitigating the danger of the bill moving forward now and scuttling negotiations.  However, it puts the spotlight on the other, bigger problem with the S. 1881: the conditions it seeks to impose on a final deal.  As reported in the 11/8/13 edition of the Round-Up, putting conditions on a final deal is something that Corker has indicated previously that he intends to do.  As reported in the 11/15/2013 edition of the Round-Up, a similar intent was articulated in a letter from House GOP members to Secretary of State Kerry, and this intention is reportedly shared by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Royce (R-CA).  And as reported in the 11/22/13 edition of the Round-Up, a preview of how this intention might be actualized in legislation was offered in the form of S. 1765, introduced by Corker, which the Round-Up noted appeared to be, “the opening shot in a new Senate approach which seeks to increase congressional leverage over the negotiating process by setting conditions which must be met before the president may waive/suspend any sanctions (including those imposed via Executive Order).”  As documented in that same Round-Up, similar “end-state” focused language was debuted in the form of amendments to the NDAA.

 Now, with the growing sense that the threat of new sanctions being passed by the Senate during the 6-month interim period may be easing – as noted above, representing a huge defeat for the forces promoting S. 1881, in particular AIPAC – it seems likely that advocates of S. 1881 are getting ready to shift to some form of “Plan B.”  Plan B, one can guess, will look a lot like Plan A, but instead of focusing on derailing negotiations with new sanctions, will likely focus on imposing conditions on any final agreement – conditions that are impossible to meet and will thus kill any possibility of a deal, regardless of whether they are passed now or in 6 months.

 If this indeed what happens, get ready for another battle in Congress, and what will likely be an even uglier and more complicated battle than the one over sanctions.  This is because many in Congress, in sync with some Jewish organizations and Israeli officials, appear to have adopted the position (pressed emphatically by AIPAC) that zero Iranian enrichment is the only acceptable basis for a deal. 

 Such an outcome is not going to be achieved in any negotiations (as discussed in detail here, and by far more knowledgeable people lots of other places).  Making this demand will put Congress and many Jewish organizations, once again, on a collision course with the Obama Administration – this time not over tactics or timing of legislation, but over the fundamental substance of a deal.    It will also put members of Congress who support diplomacy in a much more difficult position in terms of directly opposing AIPAC and other Jewish groups (and the Netanyahu government), this time not simply over timing, but over actual policy, and a policy question that has huge national security implications.

 That this will be more or less the shape of Plan B is not mere speculation.  In addition to the developments discussed above and documented in previous Round-Ups, AIPAC has made clear (and public) that it wants Congress to legislate red lines for any deal with Iran, most recently in its January 14 Memo (circulate to the Hill), which calls on Congress to three things:  “(1) strictly oversee Iranian compliance; (2) lay out the contours of an acceptable final agreement; and (3) advance legislation that will spell out the consequences for Tehran if it violates the interim deal or rebuffs a verifiable final pact ending Iran’s nuclear weapons pursuit.” [emphasis added].”  The memo goes on to spell out AIPAC’s red lines for any deal – red lines that bear a close resemblance (in parts almost identical) to the conditions laid out in S. 1881, in Sec. 301(b) of the bill. 

 In terms of timing for the next battle over Iran in Congress, it should be noted that AIPAC has announced the dates for its 2014 Washington Policy Conference: March 2-4.  Based on past experience, it seems reasonable to expect that AIPAC-backed initiatives dealing with Iran, possibly of the Plan B variety discussed above, will be the centerpieces of lobbying in the House and Senate around that period. 

 Finally, some analysts and journalists clearly understand where this story is going and are already shifting the focus to this battle over end-state conditions.  For examples, see:

 New York Times 1/16: A Bill Stokes Debate, and Doubt, on Iran Deal

Excerpt:  “…But where the legislation may have an effect, and why it so worries the White House, is that it lays down the contours of an acceptable final nuclear deal. Since administration officials insist that many of those conditions are unrealistic, it basically sets Mr. Obama up for failure.”

Foreign Affairs 1/15 (George Perkovich): Demanding Zero Enrichment From Iran Makes Zero Sense

Washington Monthly (Ali Gharib) 1/14:  The Most Dangerous Part of the New Iran Sanctions

 4.  Members in the Congressional Record

 Gohmert (R-TX) 1/15: Another rant about the Middle East (sigh), applauding the military government in Egypt and lamenting the evils of Iranians and most other Arabs (especially the Palestinians), especially with respect to Israel.

Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 1/15: Cheering the fact that the U.S. ban on funding to UNESCO will continue

Yarmuth (D-KY) 1/15:  Statement on Iran and Congressional interference – “…we are in the midst of a historic opportunity to prevent nuclear proliferation in Iran, but it is fragile. Congressional interference at such a sensitive time is a high-risk, no-reward proposition.”

Feinstein (D-CA) 1/14:  A major, historic floor statement opposing S. 1881 and supporting Iran diplomacy (must-read)

Hanabusa (D-HI) 1/14:  Kvelling over Israel naming a military facility (and Arrow anti-missile defense facility) after deceased Senator Daniel Inouye (first time Israel has ever given such an honor to a non-Israeli)

Doggett (D-TX) 1/13:  Statement on Iran and Congressional interference – “Congress must not impede the diplomatic alternative to war. Ultimately, that diplomacy may not be successful. It may not achieve a final, verifiable agreement; but we should make every reasonable effort toward that end.”

Schakowsky (D-IL) 1/10:  Introducing into the record a statement signed by 120 Rabbis opposing any actions that would undermine ongoing negotiations, emphasizing the importance of peaceful conflict resolution, and welcoming the possibility of negotiations with Iran.

Gohmert (R-TX) 1/10: Another rant dealing with (among other things) his opposition to Iran talks and his support for Netanyahu’s views on Iran and the Palestinians, his fears about another Holocaust, his disgust with the Jewish left, etc…