Legislative Round-Up - April 10, 2020

Produced by the Foundation for Middle East Peace in cooperation with Americans for Peace Now, where the Legislative Round-Up was conceived. Views and positions expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent APN's views and policy positions.

1. Bills, Resolutions, & Letters
2. Hearings
3. On the Record

Shameless plug: Next week, FMEP will be hosting some fantastic webinars — there’s still time to register!


1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

(TARGETING KSA: IMPOSE OIL TARIFFS, REMOVE US TROOPS) S. XXXX: On 4/9, Sen. Cassidy (R-LA), who is chairman of the Senate Energy Subcommittee, announced his intention to introduce legislation to impose tariffs on oil imports from Saudi Arabia and withdraw American troops from the country. His press release states: “The bill is in response to Saudi Arabia’s manipulation of the oil market that is threatening American energy jobs. Saudi Arabia has slashed oil prices below the cost of production, which has made it impossible for American producers to compete. Saudi Arabia’s actions, coupled with a steep decline in demand due to the coronavirus lockdown, have put at risk the viability of the American oil and gas industry and the tens of thousands of jobs it provides.”


(YOUR ROYAL HIGHNESS, WON’T YOU PLEASE STOP MESSING WITH OIL MARKETS?) Scalise et al letter to MBS: On April 8, House Minority Whip Scalise (R-LA) led a letter, co-signed by 47 GOP colleagues, to Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (cc’d to the KSA Ambassador to the U.S, the U.S. Ambassador to KSA, SecState Pompeo, Energy Secretary Brouillette, National Security Advisor O’Brien, and National Economic Council Director Kudlow), beseeching MBS to change course, lest it harm KSA relations with the U.S. The letter notes that, “As Members of Congress, we have rejected efforts to undermine or undo this partnership.” It concludes with a plea: “Our countries share decades of deep cooperation and leadership combating and defeating existential threats. It is our hope that those characteristics that have defined our strong strategic partnership for years will continue to serve as the bedrock through this current crisis. We hope that as a global energy leader, and Chair of the G20 for 2020,the Kingdom will fulfill its promise and take immediate action to do its part to bring stability -not further volatility -to global crude oil markets.” Press release is here.

(GIVE HUMANITARIAN RELIEF TO IRAN) Trone letter to Pompeo: On April 1, Rep. Trone (D-MD) sent a letter to SecState Pompeo urging the State Department “to provide targeted sanctions relief that will allow critical supplies to be shipped to Iran.” The letter notes that “Both the George W. Bush and Obama Administrations took similar steps when humanitarian assistance was needed following devastating earthquakes. Such action is a sign of American empathy, compassion, and strength, and it is desperately needed now more than ever.” Press release is here.

(ADDRESS SAUDI OIL MARKET MANIPULATION) McCarthy/Thornberry/Walden letter to Pompeo: On 4/2, House GOP leader McCarthy (R-CA), along with Reps. Thornberry (R-TX) and Walden (R-OR) sent a letter to SecState Pompeo, cc’d to the KSA ambassador to the U.S., the Russian ambassador to the U.S. and to Energy Secretary Brouillette. The letter urges the State Department to “take action to discourage the excessive overproduction of crude oil by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Russian Federation.” It notes that “At this critical time, when a pandemic is sweeping the world, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Russian Federation decided to flood the oil market with an unprecedented supply of crude. This manipulation of markets has further roiled the global economy, causing more suffering for everyday citizens” and says it is essential that the Trump Administration “respond with decisive action.”  Press release is here.

(LIFT US SANCTIONS AS IRAN REELS FROM CORONAVIRUS) Sanders/Ocasio-Cortez/Omar letter to Pompeo & Mnuchin: On 3/31, Sen. Sanders (I-VT), Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Omar (D-MN) co-led a bicameral letter to SecState Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin calling for the US  “to substantially suspend sanctions on Iran during this global public health emergency in a humanitarian gesture to the Iranian people to better enable them to fight the virus.” The letter signed by a total of 34 Democrats (House and Senate combined). The letter was endorsed by Just Foreign Policy, J Street, National Iranian American Council, Win Without War, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), Ploughshares Fund, Indivisible, Peace Action, Demand Progress, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), Project Blueprint, Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), and No War Campaign. Press release is here. Background on the letter in HuffPo here.

2. Hearings

4/9: The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a “paper hearing” entitled, “Enlisting Big Data in the Fight Against Coronavirus.” Witnesses were: Ryan Calo, University of Washington (statement); Graham Dufault, The App Association (statement); Leigh Freund, Network Advertising Initiative (statement); Stacey Gray, Future of Privacy Forum (statement); Dave Grimaldi, Interactive Advertising Bureau (statement); Michelle Richardson, Center for Democracy and Technology (statement); and Inder Singh, Kinsa Smart Thermometers (statement). Richardson and DuFault both addressed Israel in their statements (excerpts below).

Michelle Richardson, Director, Privacy and Data ProjectCenter for Democracy and Technology: “In Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered his country’s domestic spy agency, Shin Bet, to tap cell phone location information it had been secretly collecting in bulk since 2002 in Israel and the occupied territories. Using this data, government officials text individuals who they believe may have been exposed to a person who tested positive for COVID-19 and direct them to self-quarantine. Shin Bet states that this program has led to the isolation of more than 500 people who later tested positive for COVID-19. The program has been criticized by privacy advocates and is also facing scrutiny by the Israeli Parliament.”

Graham Dufault, Senior Director for Public Policy, ACT: “Israel is tracking citizens’ movements using smartphone location data and even sending text messages to people who were recently near a person known to have been infected with COVID-19, with an order to self-quarantine.While Israeli courts blocked the use of this data to enforce quarantines, even the use of it to send unsolicited text messages and swiftly apply impromptu quarantines raises some questions.”

In addition, Committee members submitted written lists of questions for each witness, to be answered in writing within 96 hours. These included two Israel-related questions (which were included on all of the lists):

Thune (R-SD): “The country of Israel, through its internal security service, has reportedly used smart-phone location based contact tracing to notify citizens via text that they have been in close proximity to someone infected with COVID-19, and ordering them to self-isolate for 14 days. A recent opinion piece in the Scientific American urged democratic governments to quickly follow Israel’s lead (see “As COVID-19 Accelerates, Governments Must Harness Mobile Data to Stop Spread”). Please provide your thoughts on smart-phone location based contact tracing in light of the extraordinary privacy and other civil liberties concerns such an approach raises for U.S. citizens. According to the Wall Street Journal, MIT is developing a contact tracing app for COVID-19 patients and others who have not been infected by COVID 19 that can be voluntarily downloaded to a person’s smart-phone. Please provide your views on this approach to contact tracing.”

Blackburn (R-TN): “Foreign countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Israel swiftly mobilized collection of cell phone location data to track the spread of the virus and map out infection hot zones. Israel just released an app that allows the public to track whether they have may visited a location that put them into contact with an infected individual. Is it even possible to adopt similar measures while still balancing protections for privacy and civil liberties?”

3. On the Record

Hoeven (R-ND) 4/9: Hoeven Statement After Reports OPEC+ Nations Agree to Cut Production by 10 Million BPD

Cassidy (R-LA) 4/9: In Response to Saudi Aggression, Cassidy to Introduce Bill to Withdraw American Troops, Impose Oil Tariffs

Murphy (D-CT) & Romney (R-UT) 4/9: Statement on Yemen Ceasefire

Joint House Dems statement 4/8: Members of Congress Reaffirm Opposition to Unilateral West Bank Annexation Amid Coalition Talks [Price (D-NC), Lowenthal (D-CA), Schakowsky (D-IL), Connolly (D-VA),  Welch (D-VT), Yarmuth (D-KY), Lee (D-CA), Levin (D-M), Blumenauer (D-OR), Haaland (D-NM), and Doggett (D-TX)

Murphy (D-CT) 4/8: We Must Ease Sanctions On Iran During Covid-19 Pandemic

Young (R-IN) 4/8: Senator Young Statement on Yemen Ceasefire

McCarthy (R-CA) 4/3: McCarthy Applauds Administration’s Work to Stop Saudi Arabia and Russia’s Unfair Oil Production Practices

Engel (D-NY) & Menendez (D-NJ) 4/3: Engel & Menendez Propose Policies for Addressing COVID-19 in Iran

Sullivan (R-AK) and Cramer (R-ND) 4/2: Sullivan and Cramer On Saudi Arabia Cutting Oil Production

Hoeven (R-ND) 4/2: Hoeven Statement After Speaking with Saudi Ambassador on Ending Global Oil Price War

Inhofe (R-OK) 4/2: Inhofe Statement on Saudi Arabia and Russia Agreeing to Reduce Oil Production

Rubio (R-FL) 3/31: Rubio on Extension of Iran Sanctions Waivers

Cruz (R-TX) 3/31: Sen. Cruz on CNBC Calls on Saudi Arabia to Stop Flooding Oil Market, Driving Down Prices

Cramer (R-ND) 3/31: Sen. Cramer Speaks with President Trump about the Oil Dispute between Saudi Arabia and Russia 

Dingell (D-MI) & Tlaib (D-MI) 3/30: Marking Fifth Anniversary of Yemen Conflict, Dingell and Tlaib Reiterate Calls to Address Humanitarian Situation, Ongoing Military Conflict in the War in Yemen

Congress-related news with an Israel/Mideast Angle

Middle East Eye 4/9: Bernie Sanders transformed debate around Palestine. What comes next?

Al-Monitor 4/8: COVID-19 pandemic intensifies Iran sanctions debate

Jewish Insider 4/2:  Darrell Issa’s second political act  [“…in late February, Issa was on the receiving end of an attack ad from American Unity PAC, which resurfaced some of the former congressman’s past comments on Israel — including one in which he appeared to liken the country to an ‘apartheid’ state. Issa told JI the quotes were taken out of context. ‘I have a 100% pro-Israel voting record,’ he said. ‘It’s not just me saying it. You can call my AIPAC reps.’ AIPAC declined to comment on Issa’s record.”]

Jerusalem Post 4/1: CPAC 2020: An unprecedented show of conservative support for Israel

JTA 3/31: Republican Jewish Coalition in rare move targets a GOP congressman in primary [“The RJC had already said in January that it would not back Massie and three other Republicans who voted against the Holocaust education act. Massie at the time said he opposed funding for the Department of Education, which at one point was to have administered the money for Holocaust education. In its final version, however, the bill funds the education through the U.S. Holocaust and Memorial Museum. In its release, the RJC cited that vote and others, including Massie’s vote last year against a resolution condemning Israel boycotters.”]