Legislative Round-up: December 21, 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 & Letters
  2. What About That Omnibus & Mideast provisions?
  3. Hearings
  4. On the Record

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

(TAYLOR FORCE ACT, PART II) S. 3801: Introduced 12/20 by Cruz (R-TX), “A bill to impose sanctions with respect to any entity of the Palestinian Authority, the Palestine Liberation Organization, or any successor or affiliated organization that is responsible for providing payments to Palestinian terrorists imprisoned for committing acts of terrorism against citizens of Israel or the United States, the families of such terrorists, or the families of Palestinian terrorists who died committing such acts of terrorism, and for other purposes,” aka, the “End Palestinian Terrorist Salaries Act of 2018.” Referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Cruz press release (with pdf of text) is here. For a review of what the Taylor Force Act – of which this bill is explicitly a follow-on, see this Twitter thread.

(NO NUKE DEAL W/ KSA W/O CONGRESSIONAL OK) HR 7350: Introduced 12/19 by Sherman (D-CA) and 10 bipartisan cosponsors, “To require a joint resolution of approval for the entry into effect of a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia, and for other purposes.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(NO NUKE DEALS W/O CONGRESSIONAL OK) HR 7351: Introduced 12/19 by Sherman (D-CA) and Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), “To amend the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 to require congressional approval of agreements for peaceful nuclear cooperation with foreign countries, and for other purposes.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the Committee on Rules. [Note KSA-specific but clearly about KSA, at least for the moment].

(NO NUKE DEAL W/ KSA W/O CONGRESSIONAL OK) S. 3785: Introduced 12/19 by Markey (D-MA) and Rubio (R-FL), “A bill to require a joint resolution of approval for the entry into effect of a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia, and for other purposes.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

(KEEP US IN SYRIA) S. Res. 738: Introduced 12/19 by Graham (R-SC) and 7 bipartisan cosponsors, “A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that the United States should continue its limited military activities within Syria and that ending such activities at this time would embolden ISIS, Bashar al-Assad, Iran, and Russia and put our Kurdish allies in great jeopardy.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

(NEW IRAN SANCTIONS) HR 7321: Introduced 12/17 by Gallagher (R-WI) and 6 GOP cosponsors, "To impose sanctions with respect to Iranian financial institutions and the development and use of Iranian digital currency, and for other purposes." Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and in addition to the Committees on Financial Services, the Judiciary, Ways and Means, and Oversight and Government Reform. This is the House version of S. 3758, introduced last week by Cruz (R-TX). Press release: "Rep. Gallagher, Sen. Cruz Introduce the Blocking Iranian Illicit Finance Act."

(MAKING THE GOLAN HEIGHTS GREAT AGAIN) S. Res. 732: Introduced 12/17 by Cruz (R-TX) and Cotton (R-IN), “A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that the United States should recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. Cotton 12/17 thread on Twitter touting the resolution is here.

(ISRAEL EXCEPTION FOR SATELLITE IMAGERY) S. 3277: Introduced 7/25 by Cruz (R-TX) and having 2 cosponsors, the “Space Frontier Act of 2018.” Passed by the Senate 12/20 with an amendment, by Unanimous Consent. Note: S. 3277 includes a section entitled “Streamlining oversight of nongovernmental Earth observation activities,” but would also add to existing law a stipulation that “Nothing in this section or the amendments made by this section shall affect the prohibition on the collection and release of detailed satellite imagery relating to Israel under section 1064 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997 (51 U.S.C. 60121 note).” This section of law consists of a “Prohibition on Collection and Release of Detailed Satellite Imagery Relating to Israel,” and Israel-only exception to public access to satellite imagery that has sparked objections from scientists and others.


2. Middle East Elements in the Omnibus?

Last week’s Round-Up discussed Middle East/Israel-Palestine measures that were rumored widely to be part of a year-end Omnibus appropriations bill. Rumors persisted into this week, with mounting public concern/outrage/opposition to the inclusion of at least one provision, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S. 720/HR 1697) – a piece of law that activists, civil rights organizations, and (much belatedly) high-profile journalists, editors and editorial boards, and pundits (Including from the Jewish world) have at long last recognized for what it is: a brazenly unconstitutional threat to free speech (a recognition that was bolstered by a sudden uptick in reporting/focus on similar state laws that are similarly unconstitutional). Inside Congress, members also started to speak out, most notably Senators Feinstein (D-CA) and Sanders (I-VT), who this week sent a letter to colleagues urging them to oppose inclusion of the measure (Rep. McCollum, D-MN, came out swinging against the bill back on 12/12).

Nonetheless, both last week and this week Hill sources and media reported that Democratic leaders were still determined to move the IABA before the end of this Congress. According to some reports, backers of the move are arguing (among other things) that anyone concerned about the substance of the bill should actually welcome and embrace the version that had been negotiated for the omnibus, because (they argue)

  • the bill has so much political juice behind it (from AIPAC, CUFI, etc) that it is a foregone conclusion that it will eventually become law, if not now then next year, and
  • if the bill gets held off until next year, the text will be much worse. This is a version of a common argument heard in Washington - generally made by a person trying to rationalize an action or position that runs counter to his or her declared values/beliefs/commitments – which argues against “making the perfect the enemy of the good.” In the current context, and from the constitutional perspective, it is like telling someone looking to bring a single pet into their family that the cat they are being pushed to adopt is only a little pregnant.


In truth, when Democrats talk about things being “worse” next year with respect to this bill, they mean that in the new House – which in addition to have a small number of openly pro-Palestinian members, also will have more progressive members who are less beholden to traditional party structures and who are more engaged with their grassroots – efforts to move this or any similarly anti-free speech legislation will spark a much bigger fight within the Democratic caucus. And Democratic leaders would not be wrong to worry that such a fight would be used as a weapon against Democrats – by the Israeli government and the GOP – in the 2020- elections.


In short, Democrats – or, indeed, responsible lawmakers from both sides of the aisle – are in a predicament – but it is one of their own making.  And it is one that will be resolved only by reasonable lawmakers (from either/both sides of the aisle) taking control of their own narrative, rather than letting Netanyahu and his U.S. fellow travelers dictate what it means to be “pro-Israel.” Failing that, they are only inviting continuing and escalating bullying, and guaranteeing that they will be constantly on the defensive, perpetually accused of not being sufficiently pro-Israel.

Anyway, with respect to passage of the IABA this year, the point appears to be moot:

  • Congressional battling over what would and would not be included in the Omnibus has – not entirely surprisingly – scuttled the Omnibus bill altogether.
  • On 12/19, the Senate passed (by a voice vote), a “clean” continuing resolution. This CR is in the form of HR 695 (a bill started life as a bill entitled the ““Child Protection Improvements Act of 2017.” It was then hollowed out and re-purposed as the “Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2018” and then hollowed out again this week to become the “Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2019”).
  • This prompted a promise from President Trump that he would veto the bill if it did not including funding for a border wall.
  • On 12/20 at 7:56pm, the House voted 217-185 to amend HR 695 to include funding for the border wall (voting “yes” were 217 Republicans and no Democrats). For details on amendments to the Senate text, see here.
  • As of this writing (at 4:30pm on 12/21) it looks like the US government is headed for a shut down, punting the IABA and other Middle East issues that were rumored to be included in the omnibus, including the ASAA, the Palestinian Partnership Fund, and possible fixes to the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA) – until 2019.
  • It is worth noting that ATCA, in its current and very problematic form, will go into effect on January 31 – meaning that if there are going to be any fixes to allow continued security aid for the Palestinians, or to make sure that humanitarian and people-to-people aid provided through NGOs is not cut off, the next Congress (which convenes on Jan 4) will have to move quickly and decisively.


3. Hearings

Nothing on the Calendar


4. On the Record

Note: Many, many members (from both parties) made statements expressing concern about or opposition to President Trump’s sudden decision to pull the U.S. out of Syria. To check on  individual members, search the Congressional Record and/or check their websites.

Poe (R-TX) 12/20: Floor speech – “STAND FIRM BRAVE IRANIANS”

Poe (R-TX) 12/20: Floor speech – “The Threat Of Terrorism Is Still Very Present” [“…No ally knows the persistent struggle against terrorism more than Israel. Today, terrorists from Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and ISIS in Sinai are seeking Israel's destruction. Just recently Israel discover attack tunnels crossing from Lebanon into its territory which Hezbollah had built for the sole purpose of causing murder and mayhem in the Jewish State. America continues to stand firmly with Israel, providing the needed aid to keep our shared enemies at bay. But as instability continues throughout the region, Iran and other extremists will plot and recruit to wage war on our Israeli friends. Our duty as allies requires us to be vigilant in addressing these emerging threats before they become major obstacles for peace.”]

Doggett (D-XX) 12/20: Floor speech, “millions of American families will be enjoying the bounty of our great Nation at this very special time of the year without realizing that their tax dollars are subsiding Saudi war crimes in Yemen…”

Risch (R-ID) 12/19: Floor speech seeking unanimous consent on HR 1677, the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2018 (Paul, R-KY, objected)

Engel (D-NY) 12/19: Floor speech, “The Persecution of the Baha’i” [in Iran]

Poe (R-TX) 12/19: floor speech – “It Is Going To Take More Than Sanctions To Reverse Iran's Expansionism” [“…if countering Iran's expansionism is truly our objective, we must show commitment to partners on the ground that we are willing to confront Iran alongside them. Until then a storm is gathering that will inevitably pull Americans back into a long and

difficult war.”]