Legislative Round-up: January 22, 2021


1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters
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.

Shameless plugs:

  • On 1/21, FMEP hosted a webinar entitled, “Calling the Thing by its Proper Name: “Apartheid” Between the Jordan River & the Mediterranean Sea,” featuring Hagai El-ad (Btselem),  Sawsan Zaher (Adalah), and Nathan Thrall (author and journalist, formerly of the International Crisis Group). Video of the webinar (which was excellent) and resources related to the webinar can all be found here.
  • A new FMEP resource was launched this week – a new data table/compendium of expert views and other resources laying out concerns/objections to the IHRA definition of antisemitism, “Challenging the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism – Expert Views & Resources

*Brought to you in cooperation with Americans for Peace Now, where the Round-Up was born!

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

(DISAPPROVING OF ARMS SALES TO KSA) H. J. Res. 15 & H. J. Res. 16: Introduced 1/15 by Meeks (D-NY) and having (each) 11 Democratic cosponsors, Providing for congressional disapproval of the proposed foreign military sale to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of certain defense articles and services” and “Providing for congressional disapproval of the proposed transfer to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Kingdom of Spain, and the Italian Republic of certain defense articles and services,” respectively. Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Meeks 1/15 press release: Meeks Introduces Measures of Disapproval for Trump Administration Rushed Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia (Tweet here)


(REPEAL/FIX AUMFs) Lee-Meeks-McGovern-Schiff-Brown letter to Biden: On 1/21, Reps. Lee (D-CA), Meeks (D-NY), McGovern (D-MA), Schiff (D-CA), and Brown (D-MD) sent a letter to President Biden stating: “One in particular that we believe deserves your early attention is repealing outdated and overly broad Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMFs). We ask that you commit to working with Congress to address this issue.” The letter goes on to state: “we urge you to call for the immediate repeal of the 2002 AUMF, a policy which was adopted in a bipartisan vote by the House of Representatives in 2019, and which would not disrupt any ongoing operations. Additionally, we urge you to work closely with Congress to consider how the 2001 AUMF should be addressed. Any new authorization for the use of military force must include—1. A sunset clause and timeframe within which Congress should revisit the authority provided in the new authorization for use of military force; 2. A clear and specific expression of defined mission objectives, named opponents (i.e.specified states or organized armed groups), and countries in which the authority applies, as well as provisions to protect against expanding the authority to countries or entities not explicitly named in the authorization; 3. Language making clear that any new legislation to use military force is the sole, superseding statutory source of authority to use force against the state or armed group to which it applies; 4. Regular and specific reporting requirements to increase transparency, promote democratic accountability, ensure compliance with domestic and international law, and allow Congress to fulfill its oversight responsibilities; and5.An explicit statement that its authorities are limited to “necessary and appropriate” actions and may only be exercised in compliance with the U.S. Constitution and America’s other domestic and international legal obligations.” Lee press release is here; Meeks press release is here.

2. Confirmation Hearings

Senate Finance Committee consideration of nomination of Janet Yellen as Treasury Secretary, 1/19

  • Hearing video; Yellen written statement.
  • In addition to her prepared statement, Yellen provided written answers to the Committee to questions for the record (here), including:

“Question: For more than forty years, the Treasury Department has played a key role in fighting international efforts to boycott Israel. If confirmed, are you committed to fighting efforts to boycott, divest or sanction our ally Israel?

“Answer: President Biden has led efforts to oppose the delegitimization of Israel, whether in international organizations or by the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in the United States. I support President Biden’s approach of opposing such efforts and if confirmed, will work as Treasury Secretary to oppose BDS activities directed at Israel.”

  • I tweeted a thread explaining the implications of this statement:  “ICYMI, Janet Yellen’s response to Senate Finance Committee for the record re: BDS (page 40) does not sound like support for First Amendment rights of Americans or of free speech as a value around the world. …Notable here: the question she as asked conflated US rejection of the coercive, govts-driven Arab League Boycott of Israel with boycotts, divestment, or calls for sanctions by *private individuals* as a matter of conscience. Her answer directly validated this conflation This conflation is factually invalid and unconstitutional. Compliance with the Arab League Boycott of Israel is not a matter of free speech. A person boycotting Israel to protest policies they find abhorrent – that IS unequivocally political free speech. If this question had been answered live during the hearing, and Yellen had answered this way, it would have been regrettable but one could maybe have hopes/argued she failed to understand the framing being presented. The fact that this was her answer, in writing, suggests the Biden Admin has made a conscious decision to embrace false conflation between private boycott as a form of protest and coercive state-led boycotts. Which means a free speech exception when it comes to protest of Israel. The implications of this are staggering, starting with the likely re-introduction of the misleadingly named “Israel Anti-Boycott Act” – a bill seeking to legislate this conflation in order to CRIMINALIZE differentiation between Israel & settlements. Based on Yellen’s written answer, it is hard to see how the Biden Admin could oppose that bill.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee consideration of nomination of Anthony Blinken as Secretary of State, 1/19

  • Hearing video; Blinken written statement.
  • Risch (R-ID) opening statement [excerpt: “any discussions with Iran should begin and end with our allies in the region. Israel, and many of our other allies, felt the United States abandoned them and their security concerns during the JCPOA negotiations. With U.S. leadership over the last four years, our relations were rebuilt and paved the way for the Abraham Accords. The Abraham Accords signed last year were a significant step in fundamentally improving the security, economic, and diplomatic environment in the Middle East, but they also underscored the significant threat that Iran poses to our regional partners. I would hope future negotiations with Iran would include extensive consultations with not just Congress, but also with Israel, and our Gulf partners. And given its significant implications, any new deal should also be submitted as a treaty for Senate ratification.”]
  • Menendez (D-NJ) opening statement [excerpt: “As you know, I was not a proponent of the JCPOA, but I also believed the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw without a serious strategy involving our allies would ultimately leave us less safe and Iran emboldened. Unfortunately, Iran’s continuing aggression across the Middle East and its recent nuclear activity that has dramatically advanced its capabilities has vindicated that prediction. I understand the Biden administration is interested in returning to a diplomatic path – which I support – but I fear returning to the JCPOA without concrete efforts to address Iran’s other dangerous and destabilizing activity will be insufficient. I believe there is bipartisan support to find a comprehensive, diplomatic approach with Iran that includes working closely with our European and regional partners if we take those other issues into consideration.”]
  • Murphy (D-CT)  press release – Murphy Discusses Ending U.S. Support To The War In Yemen, Resetting The U.S.-Saudi Alliance, Supporting Ukraine With Secretary Of State Nominee Antony Blinken
  • Coons (D-DE) press release [excerpt: “During the hearing, Senator Coons also raised concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security.”]
  • Barrasso (R-WY) press release [“…you were an integral part in advising both Biden and Obama on these failed foreign policy decisions. Even with years of experience in foreign policy, when it came time to make the right decisions, in your own words, you say you failed. On Syria, the Obama-Biden foreign policy failed. You admitted, ‘We failed in preventing a tragic loss of life as well as millions of people made into refugees or internally displaced, and that’s something that we will have to live with.’ You also went on to say, ‘In Syria, we rightly sought to avoid another Iraq by not doing too much, but we made the opposite error of doing too little.’ “On Libya, the Obama-Biden foreign policy failed. “Again you admitted ‘Libya is a particularly challenging one and I have to acknowledge that we obviously did not succeed in the Obama – Biden administration in getting that right.’ You helped negotiate the terrible Iran nuclear deal. These botched decisions have serious consequences. I believe they embolden terrorist organizations around the globe.”]
  • Portman (R-OH) press release includes exchange between Portman (R-OH) and Blinken re: Abraham Accords & BDS:

Portman: “...Israel, we talked about building on the Abraham Accords, some of the positive things that have happened recently – I’d like to hear your comments on that – but also with regard to global boycotts of Israel, Senator Cardin and I have worked together on this over the years to try and oppose the global BDS movement – Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions against Israel, essentially a double standard for Israel. And then Senator Booker and I have worked on the anti-normalization laws – in other words, adding to the efforts that you make every year to require countries to include their annual human rights record, also adding to that their people-to-people engagement with Israeli citizens and residents to try and normalize relations between the Arab world and Israel to the extent that we can. Can you talk about those two issues and how you feel about them and what your priority would be with regard to Israel?”

Mr. Blinken:Senator, yes, we had a brief opportunity to discuss — I support the Abraham Accords. I applaud the work that was done to achieve them, I think they have significantly advanced the security for Israel and for the countries involved, It opens new perspectives and prospects with regard to travel, to business, to trade, all of which is very, very positive, and I would hope that we have an opportunity to build on them going forward. With regard to BDS, the President-Elect — and I strongly share this conviction – is resolutely opposed to BDS for the reasons that you cite. It unfairly and inappropriately singles out Israel. It creates a double standard, and a standard that we do not apply to other countries. And so I think we are very much in the same place on that. Of course we fully respect and will always respect the First Amendment rights of Americans to say what they believe and think, but BDS itself is something that we oppose.

Senate Armed Services Committee consideration of nomination of General (ret.) Lloyd Austin for Secretary of Defense 1/19

Senate Select Intelligence Committee consideration of Avril Haines as DNI, 1/19

  • Hearing video; Haines written statement.
  • Rubio (R-FL) opening statement
  • Wyden (D-OR) press release- DNI Nominee Haines Pledges to Release Unclassified Report on Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
  • Collins (R-ME): Senator Collins Questions Nominee for Director of National Intelligence [“Senator Collins also discussed her opposition to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly referred to as the Iran Nuclear Deal, because it failed to require anytime, anywhere inspections; did not sufficiently constrain the development of ballistic missiles; and would leave Iran in a stronger, wealthier position due to the sunsets that were included. ‘President-elect Biden has indicated his intention to rejoin the JCPOA.  I would like to know whether you have any reservations about your strong support for the agreement, and how the threat of the Iranians developing nuclear weapons fits in with your priorities?’ asked Senator Collins. ‘I think frankly we are a long way from that, and I think there is going to be an opportunity to consult with Congress, and with members like yourself, on these issues as we look at that,’ said Ms. Haines ‘But the President-elect has also indicated, and I agree with this, that in doing so, we have to also look at the ballistic missile issues that you have identified, and there are other obviously destabilizing activities that Iran engages in.’”]

3. On the Record

Members on the Record

…OUTRAGED over (brief) Change in Name on US Embassy Jerusalem Twitter Account

Burchett (R-TN) 1/21: Burchett: Biden administration must reaffirm commitment to Middle East peace [“…this incident is troubling for the future of U.S. relations in the Middle East. Today, in light of this incident, I am calling on President Biden to issue a statement proving his strong commitment to Middle East peace.”]

Scott (R-FL) 1/20: Tweet – “The Biden Admin title change for the @USAmbIsrael shows the Democrats’ hostility to Israel. There is no country of West Bank or Gaza, only territories that Israel has been willing for decades to negotiate sovereignty over but has been met with only hostility and terrorism.”

…Attacking Biden Team/Appointments/Policies

Daines (R-MT) 1/22: Tweet – “.@JoeBiden ‘s Saudi Arabia First Plan is unacceptable.  Killing the Keystone XL pipeline has a direct impact on the pocket books of the American people & will devastate rural communities.  Montana alone will lose nearly $80 million to help impoverished counties make ends meet.”

Cotton (R-AR) 1/21: Tweet – “It’s deeply troubling that President Biden would consider appointing Rob Malley to direct Iran policy. Malley has a long track record of sympathy for the Iranian regime & animus towards Israel. The ayatollahs wouldn’t believe their luck if he is selected.”

Cramer (R-ND) 1/21: Tweet – The threat of foreign terrorism is far from over, especially from states like Iran. @POTUS’s action will almost certainly make American soil more vulnerable to attack. I’d rather be safe than politically correct.”

Scalise (R-LA) 1/21: “...At a time of increasing tensions with China and historic success in the Middle East, we must continue to project strength and independence abroad. A return to Obama’s foreign policy threatens to send us back down the path of decline. Rejoin the Iran Nuclear Deal – President Biden has repeatedly signaled his intention to rejoin the Iran Nuclear Deal. The Iran Nuclear Deal failed to end Iran’s nuclear program altogether and emboldened Iran to destabilize the Middle East. The deal was predicated upon trusting a notoriously dishonest regime while supplying them with the funds to finance terrorism across the world. By pulling out of the Iran Deal and asserting ourselves militarily, President Trump reestablished credible deterrence with Iran. Reentering the deal would permanently destroy this credible deterrence.”

Graham (R-SC) 1/21: Twitter thread – “The Biden Administration is following the Obama playbook to the letter — Blame Your Predecessor claim everything is in shambles and we will be lucky to move forward at all!” and “The truth is the vaccine was produced in a historic timeframe, and while the distribution system can be improved, the vaccine itself remains key. The Biden Administration is inheriting a weakened Iran and historic alliances between Israel and Arab nations.”

Barr (R-KY) 1/21: Twitter thread – “President Biden’s blitz of divisive unilateral executive actions yesterday directly conflict with his rhetoric about the need to unify the country. These executive orders and proposals — bypassing Congress to rejoin the flawed Paris Climate Accord…and pledging to restart the disastrous Iran nuclear deal — do not represent an agenda to unify the country….

Daines (R-MT) 1/21: Twitter thread – “I guess @JoeBiden cares more about workers in Saudi Arabia than in the United States. In less than 36 hours, our new president has declared war on the American energy industry. He killed the Keystone XL pipeline, re-entered the disastrous Paris Climate Agreement, and now, he’s trying to freeze oil, coal and gas leases on federal land. This is an outright attack on American energy and union jobs.

Scott (R-FL) 1/20: Tweet – “The Biden Admin title change for the @USAmbIsrael shows the Democrats’ hostility to Israel. There is no country of West Bank or Gaza, only territories that Israel has been willing for decades to negotiate sovereignty over but has been met with only hostility and terrorism.” 

Cramer (R-ND) 1/20: Sen. Cramer Statement on President Biden Easing Travel for Foreign Terrorists [“The threat of foreign terrorism is far from over, especially from state sponsors of terrorism like Iran. President Biden’s action brings no intrinsic benefit to our constituents, but it will almost certainly make American soil more vulnerable to attack. I would rather be safe than politically correct.”]

Salazar (R-FL) 1/20: Tweet – “This has been corrected — & I hope it was an honest mistake. For the record, Judea & Samaria is a fundamental part of the democratic Jewish State of #Israel — our most loyal ally. We must always combat anti-semitism & strengthen our efforts for peace in the #MiddleEast” [Note: Here we have freshman GOP rep embracing Greater Israel biblical language and one-state framing, somehow suggesting that Israeli democracy extends to the West Bank (to be fair, it does for Israeli settlers, just not for Palestinians… There’s a term for that, starts with an A….)].

Johnson (R-OH) 1/20: Tweet – “President Biden’s Executive Orders will not benefit working-class Americans.   They benefit China, Russia, Iran, illegal immigrants, and the liberal elite.

Cornyn (R-TX) 1/16: Twitter thread – “As President-elect Biden contemplates re-entering the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear activities, the first question we should ask is: Would it prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons? The answer is ‘no.’ Bottom line: we can never allow Iran to get nukes. Many of the JCPOA’s restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program have expiration dates. For example, after ten years (from January 2016), centrifuge restrictions will be lifted, and after fifteen years, so too will limits on the amount of low-enriched uranium Iran can possess. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, is also set to lose access to Iran’s undeclared nuclear sites in 2030.”

…In General

Gottheimer (D-NJ) 1/19: On Twitter, taking at shot a Rep. Tlaib for calling Israel a racist state (for its decision to not take any responsibility for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation having access to COVID-19 vaccinations), he re-tweeted a tweet from a journalist covering the Blinken confirmation hearing (“Graham: ‘Do you consider Israel a racist nation?’ Blinken: ‘No, I do not.’”), adding his own comment, I agree with @ABlinken.” and linking to an article from a far right-wing Jewish media outlet, “Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib Calls Israel a ‘Racist State,’ Spreads False Claims on Vaccinating Palestinians

Gottheimer (D-NJ) 1/17: Tweet – It was a pleasure to meet with Israel’s incoming Ambassador to the U.S. @giladerdan1and @IsraelNitzan this week. Israel is our most important ally in the Middle East, and our strong alliance is critical to America’s national security.

Salazar (R-FL) 1/18: Tweet – “Praying for our friends in the Jewish State of #Israel, which have once again been attacked by senseless acts of terror” [Linked to tweet from IDF – “Earlier tonight, 2 rockets were fired from the north of the Gaza Strip towards the coast near the city of Ashdod. In response, IDF fighter jets struck military targets belonging to Hamas in Gaza. Hamas will bear the consequences for terror activity against Israeli civilians.”

Smith (D-WA) 1/16: Smith Denounces Trump Administration’s Reckless Yemen Policy

CPC 1/15: Congressional Progressive Caucus Statement Denouncing Harmful, Counterproductive Designation of Houthis as a Terrorist Organization


Articles and Reports Related to the Hill

In General

Washington Post 1/21: Georgia’s new senators will write the next chapter in Black-Jewish relations [“the provisional Black-Jewish alliance of 2020-2021 did not come without a price: among other things, the strategic alignment meant that Warnock felt pressure to pivot from his previous commitments to Palestinian rights. One major centrist Jewish Democratic PAC withheld its endorsement of Warnock until he created distance from earlier statements he had made aboutIsrael/Palestinian territories, particularly one issued by faith leaders comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa. A number of other mainstream Jewish civic and political organizations made it clear that a demonstrated and uncomplicated fealty to Israel was a litmus test for inclusion in this current iteration of Black-Jewish relations. An insistence by some American Jews that there can be no Black-Jewish alliance without these ritualized declarations of loyalty to Israel on the part of leading African Americans dates back at least to the 1970s, as historian Cheryl Greenbergand others have documented.”]

Jewish News Syndicate 1/21: Military veteran Andrew Clyde of Georgia looks forward to first trip to Israel

Jewish Insider 1/21: Cruz: Blinken’s comments to Foreign Relations Committee on Iran are ‘concerning’ [This administration seems hell-bent on flooding the ayatollah’s regime with billions of dollars, even knowing full well those funds will be used to support terrorism and to murder Americans and our allies…His answers at the hearing did not seem to reflect any understanding of the enormous national security risk posed.”]

Jewish News Syndicate 1/20: Washington State’s Marilyn Strickland supports Mideast ally Israel, warns of Iran threat

Jewish Insider 1/19: Blinken says progress on Iran, peace process likely a long way away [“‘I fear returning to the JCPOA without concrete efforts to address Iran’s other dangerous and destabilizing activity would be insufficient,’ Menendez said. ‘I believe there’s bipartisan support to find a comprehensive diplomatic approach with Iran that includes working closely with our European and regional partners if we take those other issues into consideration.’”]

Jewish News Syndicate 1/15: Ophthalmologist elected to Congress clearly sees import of US-Israel relationship [“We have unique parallels on Israel as a place of entrepreneurship, of economic growth, of democratic principles such as the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, respect for private property rights and also a similar belief in universal human rights, and that these universal right lead to economic prosperity which then allows us to be able to help our citizens. From that standpoint, I would say very supportive of our ally Israel.”]

On Rep. Tlaib calling Israel a Racist State for Failing to Help Vaccinate Palestinians

Democracy NOW 1/19: U.S. Rep. Tlaib: “Israel Is a Racist State That Would Deny Palestinians Like My Grandmother a Vaccine” (interview that launched lots of breathless news stories)

FoxNews 1/20: ‘Squad’ member Rashida Tlaib says ‘Israel is a racist state’

The Algemeiner 1/19: Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib Calls Israel a ‘Racist State,’ Spreads False Claims on Vaccinating Palestinians

Also see: Jewish Journal, Jewish News Syndicate, Jerusalem Post, i24 News