Legislative Round-Up - August 7, 2020

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

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.

ICYMI: Check out the video of FMEP’s 8/6 webinar, “Talking about Israel-Palestine? You need to know more about Jordan.” Featuring Merissa Khurma (Wilson Center) & Ghaith Al-Omari (WINEP), in conversation with FMEP’s Lara Friedman.

And next week, check out FMEP/Jewish Currents webinar: “A Conversation on a Shared Homeland,” featuring Peter Beinart in conversation with Sari Nusseibeh, Meron Rapoport, and Dr. Limor Yehuda (details/rsvp here)


1. Bills, Resolutions

(DEFENDING CAMPUS FREE SPEECH) S. XXX: The bizarre congressional dance on free speech continued this week with the announcement of a new bill (not in the Congressional Record yet) introduced by a who’s who of Senate GOP hardliners – Cotton (R-AR), McConnell (R-KY), Cramer (R-ND), and Loeffler (R-GA), entitled the “Campus Free Speech Restoration Act,” As described by Cotton, this bill “protects the First Amendment rights of students at public universities from unconstitutional speech codes and so-called free speech zones. It also requires private colleges and universities to honestly disclose their policies on free expression, and obligates private institutions to uphold the policies they disclose.” The energetic defense of campus free speech from right-wing members of Congress (see the June 7, 2019 edition of the Round-Up for details of S. Res. 233, including the powerful floor speech by Blackburn (R-TN) defending campus free speech) runs in parallel to — and in direct contradiction of — ongoing efforts, backed/unchallenged by Congress, to quash campus free speech critical of Israel, under the guise of fighting antisemitism. These efforts are being led mainly by GOP members (see table tracking these attacks here), but are grounded in Trump’s Executive Order on antisemitism, which was widely praised by Democrats (despite the fact that the real intent behind it was clearly not about fighting the actual virulent, lethal antisemitism stalking the US today, but rather about attacking critics of Israel). And as a reminder, the overarching conflation of criticism of Israel with antisemitism is grounded in the embrace of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which Rep. Deutch (D-FL) has argued should be adopted as the policy of the United States in all matters.

(WE <HEART> ISRAEL-ARAB NORMALIZATION!) S. 4482: Introduced 8/6 by Booker (D-NJ) and Porter (R-OH), “A bill to require the Secretary of State to submit to Congress an annual report regarding instances of Arab government retribution toward citizens and residents who engage in people-to-people relations with Israelis.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. Smart money is that this bill is related to this Dennis Ross-backed effort (December 2019 New York Times report on the effort is here).

(US PMG’s FOR ISRAEL) S. Res. 669: Introduced 8/6 by Round (R-SD), “A resolution to express the sense of the Senate on United States-Israel cooperation on precision-guided munitions.” Including “to the extent practicable, the Secretary of Defense should take further measures to expedite deliveries of precision-guided munitions to Israel.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. [Text of bill is also here.]

(US-LEBANON RELATIONSHIP) H Res. 1077: Introduced 7/31 by LaHood (R-IL) and 3 bipartisan cosponsors, “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives on the continued importance of the United States-Lebanon relationship.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(LIMITING EXPORT OF UAVs) S. 4474: Introduced 8/6 by Murphy (D-CT), Lee (R-UT), Sanders (I-VT), Coons (D-DE), and Paul (R-KY), “A bill to amend the Arms Export Control Act to prohibit the export of certain unmanned aircraft systems.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. Murphy press release: “Murphy, Lee, Sanders, Paul, Coons Introduce Bipartisan Legislation To Block Future Sales Of Armed Drones To Countries Like Saudi Arabia.” The press release makes clear the concern is use of UAVs in the context of military activities in Yemen, and notes “An exception is provided for NATO members, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan and Israel.” [Pdf of bill text is here.]

(FY21 DEFENSE APPROPS) HR 7617: On 7/31, by a vote of 217-197 the House passed HR 7617, which started life as the FY21 Defense Appropriations Act, but was re-purposed to become the minibus known as “Defense, Commerce, Justice, Science, Energy and Water Development, Financial Services and General Government, Homeland Security, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations Act, 2021.” Middle East- and Israel-related elements of the base bill were detailed in the 7/17 edition of the Round-Up; AIPAC’s twitter thread helpfully laying out all the funding for Israel in the final bill is here [$500 million for US-Israel missile defense cooperation, $47.5 million for US-Israel anti-tunnel cooperation, $25 million for US-Israel counter-unmanned aerial systems cooperation, $4 million for new US-Israel collaboration on COVID-19 research, $6 million for joint US-Israel cooperative programs in energy & water]. Middle East- and Israel-related amendments submitted to the minibus, and there fate, are as follows:

  • ADOPTED: A amendment submitted by Pappas (D-NH) that “Increases and decreases by $4,000,000 funding for NIH Office of the Director in order to establish a pilot program to support research and development jointly with Israel for effective responses to COVID-19.” Pappas press release is here.
  • ADOPTED: An amendment submitted by Wilson (R-SC) that “prohibits US funding from going to the Badr Organization a militia whose leader participated in the attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad in December 2019.” & ADOPTED: An amendment submitted by Wilson (R-SC) that “prohibits taxpayer funding from going to the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces which are largely made up of Iranian backed militias.” Wilson press release is here.
  • NOT IN ORDER: An amendment submitted by Wilson (R-SC) that strikes language repealing the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs.” 
  • NOT IN ORDER: An amendment submitted by Huizenga (R-MI) to the Financial Services & General Government part of the bill that “Prohibits funds from being used to authorize financial services for the Iranian government and persons sanctioned for international terrorism and Iranian human rights abuses.”
  • NOT IN ORDER: An amendment offered by Hill (R-AR) to the Energy & Water Development part of the bill that “Prohibits funds from being used to support an allocation of Special Drawing Rights to the Islamic Republic of Iran.”


2. Hearings & Markups

8/6: The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing to consider the several nominations to senior positions at the Department of Defense (Abend–Hansell–Polakowski–Bremer). Among other things, members questions nominee Louis W. Bremer regarding repors that the “Tier 1 Group” (where Bremer served on the Board of Directors) may have trained Saudi nationals who were later implicated in the assassination of Washington Post journalist and Virginia resident Jamal Khashoggi. Full video of the hearing is here; video clip of Kaine (D-VA) questioning Bremer on the matter is here; Kaine press release is here, with Kaine noting: “When the President’s nominee to be the chief civilian Pentagon leader over U.S. special forces operations is a director of a company that may have trained those who assassinated journalist Jamal Khashoggi, it is critical that the Senate understand all the facts about the claim and whether Mr. Bremer or his colleagues took any steps in response to such a shocking allegation.”


3. On the Record

Members on the Record (in general)…

Castro (D-TX) 8/5: Tweet – “I stand with a majority of Americans & Democrats in Congress who believe not only in a secure, democratic Jewish homeland in Israel, but also the rights of the Palestinian people. Diplomacy must be at the center of our foreign policy, including support for the Iran nuclear deal.” [with link to J St tweet – “Together with @PeaceNowUS, @Partners4Israel, @AmeinuUSA, @HabonimDrorNA + @Partners4Israel, we are urging the House Dem Caucus to select an HFAC chair whose FP views align with those of the majority of Jewish Americans and other supporters of Israel.

Cruz (R-TX) 8/3: Tweet – “Deeply concerning must-read by @Doranimated .#China uses debt coercion to expand economically & militarily. It’s sealing alliance w/ Iran enabled by catastrophic Obama Iran nuclear deal. Unless countered it will soon ‘have its thumb on world’s windpipe.’” [linked to this article]

Menendez (D-NJ), Engel (D-NY), Maloney (D-NY) 8/3: Menendez, Engel, Maloney Announce Subpoenas for Additional Witnesses in Investigation of IG Linick’s Firing and Release Details of Recent Witness Testimony [related to “the Administration’s decision to sell arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE under a spurious ‘emergency declaration’ in 2019] [House press release]

Van Hollen (D-MD) 8/3: Floor statement re: Senate not voting on his amendment to prevent NDAA funding going to support annexation [“I regret that the Senate was not given an opportunity to vote on my amendment, cosponsored by 13 other Senators, prohibiting the use of  U.S. security assistance to support the unilateral annexation of all or parts of the West Bank. The security assistance which the United States provides to Israel is an important element of the relationship between our two countries and one that I strongly support. As I explained in my floor statement at the time of its introduction, the amendment would not have reduced U.S. security assistance to Israel by a single penny. It would simply have ensured that no U.S. security assistance could be used for the purpose of unilaterally annexing territory in the West Bank. Furthermore, nothing in this amendment would have prohibited Israel from using U.S.-financed missile defense systems such as Iron Dome to defend against attacks in any territories that could be unilaterally annexed by the Israeli Government.”]

Collins (R-GA) 7/31: Tweet – “Twitter censors @realDonaldTrump for promoting law and order, but allows the leader of Iran to promote the destruction of Israel.   How is this not a double standard, @jack?” [linked to NY Post article – Twitter execs refused Israel’s request to remove Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei tweets

Schneider (D-IL) 7/31: Rep. Schneider Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Require National Intelligence Estimate on Iranian Proxy Forces [covered in last week’s Round-Up]

Lamborn (R-CO) 7/31: Floor statement arguing that “the appropriate next step” after the Taylor Force Act “is to personally sanction the Palestinian officials involved in this incentivizing of terror. The Palestinian Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs and its Director, Qadri Abu Bakr, must be designated as sponsors of terror, as the administration committed itself to in Executive Order 13224.

Members on the Record (on Lebanon catastrophe)…

Crawford (R-AR) 8/6: Tweet – “As we send prayers to those who have been affected by the deadly blast in Beirut, let us be mindful about the need to protect our supply chain. Food security is national security, and the U.S. must be ready to feed ourselves & the world. #Beirut

Engel (D-NY) 8/4: Tweet – “Chairman @RepEliotEngel: My thoughts are with the people of Lebanon tonight as they mourn loss of life and build back their city. Monitoring the situation and awaiting answers. Beirut is resilient, and I know it will come back stronger.

Hoyer (D-MD) 8/5: Tweet – “My thoughts and prayers are with the victims of yesterday’s explosion in Beirut, their loved ones, and all those on the ground responding. We will continue to monitor developments, and Congress stands with the people of Lebanon as they respond to this tragedy and rebuild.”

Johnson (R-LA) 8/5: Tweet – “Even in the darkest of times, people have an amazing ability to put aside differences & come together. As @SecPompeo announced today, the U.S. stands ready to join Israel & other nations to assist the people of Lebanon as they recover from this tragedy.” [linked to article about Israel offering to help Lebanon]

Kaine (D-VA) 8/5: Tweet – “I’m thinking of those in Beirut after yesterday’s horrific explosions that left more than 100 dead and thousands more injured. The international community—including the US—should provide assistance to the people of Lebanon in their time of need.

Khanna (D-CA) 8/6: Tweet – “This explosion has caused unimaginable damage to Lebanon. It will take all of us to help Lebanon recover. The US must be a leader in providing immediate humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people.”

Kinzinger (R-IL) 8/4: Tweet – “As we continue to follow the breaking news out of Beirut, the source of the explosion remains unclear yet the damage is already extensive. Our prayers are with the victims and the people of Lebanon.”

LaHood (R-IL) 8/5: Tweet – “America stands with our friends in Lebanon. In central Illinois, we have an incredible Lebanese American community, and I will continue to urge Congress and the Administration to support Lebanon in response to this tragedy.” [With article: Peoria area has over 8,000 Lebanese-Americans; Beirut explosion sends shock waves to Central Illinois]

Lankford (R-OK) 8/5: Lankford Statement on Lebanon Explosion [[Twitter thread]

Lee (D-CA) 8/5: Tweet – “My heart goes out to the people of Beirut and all of Lebanon as they grieve yesterday’s devastating explosion. We must all come together to help Lebanon overcome this tragedy.

McCaul (R-TX) 8/4: Tweet – “Monitoring the horrific situation in #Beirut. I am heartbroken for the people of Lebanon as they cope with the devastation of today’s explosion & its aftermath. Please join me in mourning the loss of the dead and praying for the recovery of those wounded & impacted.”

McConnell (R-KY) 8/5: Floor remarks – McConnell Extends Senate’s Condolences to the People of Lebanon (also see Tweet)

McGovern (D-MA) 8/5: Tweet – “My heart goes out to everyone impacted by yesterday’s terrible explosion in #Beirut & to all first responders helping save lives. I hope the days ahead bring healing & peace to #Lebanon. The people of America stand with you during this difficult time.”

Menendez (D-NJ) 8/5: Twitter thread – “My thoughts are with the Lebanese people as they mourn this tragedy. We need to continue to stand with them, as they suffer under the weight of political instability and economic mismanagement for far too long—this could not have come at a worse time, in light of #COVID19.” & “I hope we can support like-minded officials in Beirut in an effort to pursue a thorough investigation. This is an opportunity for Beirut’s relatively new government to show that it will put its people first & take serious reform and recovery efforts.”

Meng (D-NY) 8/5: Tweet – “The scenes out of #Beirut are utterly heartbreaking. My thoughts and prayers are with Lebanon, the wounded, and for those who have lost loved ones.”

Porter (D-CA) 8/4: Tweet – “The news from Beirut is terrifying and incredibly heartbreaking. As we learn more about this tragic explosion, let’s keep the victims, their loved ones, and the people of Lebanon in our thoughts.

Shaheen (D-NH) and Murphy (D-CT) 8/5: Shaheen, Murphy Statement on Crisis in Lebanon [“The blasts in Beirut exacerbate an already dangerous and fragile situation in Lebanon, and our hearts go out to the innocent civilians who were killed and injured. At a time when food and fuel shortages in the country are already becoming dire, we are very concerned that this explosion may have destroyed the capacity of the Beirut port to import essential commodities. The United States and international community should immediately mobilize aid to assist those affected by this tragedy. The Lebanese economy is collapsing, and the government has largely ignored the people’s demands for major reforms. Instead, while the Lebanese people suffer, Lebanon’s political elites are perpetuating decades of economic mismanagement, corruption and overspending which in turn prevents international aid from rescuing the country from economic collapse. It’s in the United States’ interest that Lebanon remains stable and we stop the country from spiraling into chaos, and we need reform-minded leaders to prevent that from happening. The Trump Administration needs to get off the sidelines and play a central role, with other partners, in providing emergency humanitarian assistance and helping to guide the governance and economic crisis to a conclusion, before the entire nation falls apart.”] Shaheen Tweet here.

Shalala (D-FL) 8/4: Shalala Offers Condolences in the Wake of Explosion in Beirut [“...I plan on working with my colleagues in Congress and at the State Department to make sure the United States helps provide the necessary humanitarian assistance.”]

Stevens (D-MI) 8/6: Stevens Calls for Humanitarian Aid for Beirut

Timmons (R-SC) 8/5: Tweet – “Our hearts go out to all the victims of the explosion yesterday in Beirut. As the President said, the U.S. stands ready to assist Lebanon however we can. We are praying for all of those who lost their lives and for a quick recovery for the many who were injured.

Trahan (D-MA) 8/4: Tweet – “As we continue monitoring the heartbreaking news out of Beirut, I’m praying for the victims, those who are missing & their families. We are fortunate to have a vibrant Lebanese community here in Massachusetts. My condolences go out to them & all those affected by this disaster.”

Wilson (R-SC) 8/5: Press release – Congressman Wilson Statement on Tragic Explosion in Beirut [tweet]

Articles and Reports Related to the Hill


City & State NY 8/5: Jamaal Bowman’s big agenda for 2021 [final question in interview is on Israel, including: “One stark contrast between myself and Congressman Engel is I’ve been critical of occupation, annexation and detaining Palestinian children – where Congressman Engel has not. And it doesn’t mean that, you know, I’m not pro-Israel. I am in full support of Israel. I’m also in full support of the human rights of the Palestinian people.”]

The Forward 8/5: Early results show Rep. Rashida Tlaib, staunch supporter of BDS, crushing primary opponent

JTA 8/5: Cori Bush, candidate who expressed support for BDS, defeats longtime congressman in Missouri Democratic primary [“Cori Bush, a civil rights activist who has expressed support for the boycott Israel movement, defeated a longtime pro-Israel incumbent in a Democratic congressional primary in St. Louis. Bush defeated Lacy Gray by 3 percentage points, 48.6% to 45.5% in the primary Tuesday. In a now-deleted page on her campaign website, first uncovered by Jewish Insider, Bush expressed support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, or BDS.”]

Jewish Insider 8/5: This New York Democrat hopes to win again in Trump country [“The New York Democrat supported Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Brindisi was also one of 12 House Democrats who broke party ranks last year to vote in favor of a Republican motion to recommit on anti-BDS legislation that would allow state and local governments to adopt laws to divest public funds from entities that boycott Israel.”]

Jewish Insider 8/5: Former Rep. Claudia Tenney vies for her old seat in rematch with Anthony Brindisi [“Tenney also touted her work on Middle East issues during her time in Congress. She introduced a bill requiring the president to consult with Israeli officials before selling or exporting defense equipment to other Middle Eastern countries. She also cosponsored a series of bills, including the 2018 United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act, a bill opposing the BDS movement and a bill supporting moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.”]

Detroit News 8/4: Tlaib wins rematch with Jones in Michigan’s 13th District [“The first-term incumbent had 66% of the vote to Jones’ 33% with about 87% of precincts reporting, according to the Wayne County Clerk’s office.”]

Jewish Insider 8/4: Rep. Lacy Clay hits his primary opponent over her BDS support

Jewish News Syndicate 8/4: IfNotNow endorses Omar for re-election to Minnesota seat

Middle East Eye 8/3: Democratic congressman faces accusations of Islamophobia over anti-BDS flyer

Jewish Insider 8/3: Obama endorsed this candidate after reading his response to a rabbi

Twitter 7/31/20: Lacy Clay (D-MO)  is reportedly using micro-targeted ads in his primary campaign against his opponent, progressive activist Cori Bush. Among them: ads attacking Bush as anti-Israel for supporting BDS, implying she is antisemitic (pix here and here)

Washington Free Beacon 7/21: Pelosi Funnels $14,000 to Ilhan Omar Campaign Amid Expensive Primary Fight


Other News

Palestinian Media Watch 8/5: Palestinian leaders are worried following PMW’s report and Cong. Lamborn’s letter to Trump

Times of Israel 8/5: Liberal Jewish groups warn against Brad Sherman for House Foreign Affairs post

Free Beacon 8/4: Democrats Gutted Anti-Hezbollah Legislation Days Before Attack on Israel

Middle East Monitor 8/4: US Congress moves against Egypt over Russian aircraft

Washington Times/FDD 8/3: Why Congress must follow Germany and brand BDS anti-Semitic

Israel Hayom 8/2: Congressman [Lamborn, R-CO) urges Trump to impose personal sanctions on Abbas

Jerusalem Post 8/2: Palestinians slam congressman over call to impose sanctions on PA leaders