Legislative Round-up: March 12, 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.

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

(NO IRAN SANCTIONS RELIEF WITHOUT CONGRESSIONAL OK) HR 1699: Introduced 3/9 by McCaul (R-TX) and 20 all-Republican cosponsors (and attracting 3 more since then), “To provide for congressional review of actions to terminate or waive sanctions imposed with respect to Iran,” aka, “The Iran Sanctions Review Act of 2021.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, as well as the Committees on Financial Services, the Judiciary, Oversight and Reform, Ways and Means, and Rules. ote: This is the House version of  S. 488, introduced 2/25 by Hagerty (R-TN). Also see:

  • McCaul press release is here.
  • Republicans push bill to block Biden easing Iran sanctions (Middle East Monitor).
  • Tweets in support: Green (R-TN)
  • Also see Hagerty (R-TN) 3/9: Twitter thread starting with – “Support is building for the Iran Sanctions Relief Review Act of 2021, which I introduced last month in the Senate, with today’s introduction of companion legislation in the House of Representatives by @houseforeigngop Ranking Member @RepMcCaul.” and 3/10 tweet (with video) – “The purpose of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 is to ensure congressional review, not to find weasel words or ways to get out of complying with it, and I encourage the Biden Administration to follow the law.

(CONDEMNING IRANIAN NUCLEAR PROGRAM) H. Res. 214: Introduced 3/10 by Luria (D-VA) and 5 cosponsors (one Republican), “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that Iran must cease enriching uranium to 20 percent purity and abandon its pursuit of a nuclear weapon.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Also see: Luira press release; Luria Tweet; Jewish Insider – House members introduce bipartisan resolution condemning Iranian nuclear program

(SYRIA UPRISING) S. Res. 99: Introduced 3/9 by Menendez (D-NJ) and having 10 bipartisan cosponsors, “A resolution observing the 10th anniversary of the uprising in Syria.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. Also see press releases/tweets: Menendez (D-NJ), Murphy (D-CT)

(FIGHTING TERROR IN NORTH & WEST AFRICA) S. 615: Introduced 3/5 by Mendendez (D-NJ) and Risch (R-ID), “A bill to establish an interagency program to assist countries in North Africa and West Africa to improve immediate and long-term capabilities to counter terrorist threats, and for other purposes.” Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.


[LATE ADDITION TO THIS ROUND-UP] [GET VACCINATIONS TO PALESTINIANS] Sanders-Warren et al letter to Blinken: On 3/12, Sens. Sanders (I-VT), Warren (D-MA), Carper (D-DE),  Brown (D-OH) and  Merkley (D-OR) sent a letter to SecState Blinken ” to ask the administration to urge the Israeli government to do more to help the Palestinians in the territories receive adequate supplies of the COVID vaccine.” Sanders Tweet is here.

(BIDEN ADMIN SHOULD SUPPORT RIGHTS & DIGNITY OF PALESTINIANS) Tlaib-Pocan et al letter to Blinken: On 3/12 Reps. Tlaib (D-MI) and Pocan (D-WI) led a letter, cosigned by 10 House Democrats, to SecState Blinken drawing attention to a list of letters sent by members of Congress to the Trump Administration — each letter raising concerns about some aspect of the situation or policies facing Palestinians (house demolition, humanitarian aid & COVID 19, and annexation) — and which the Trump Administration ignored. The letter asks for responses to all of those letters, noting “we look forward to establishing a new, mutually productive relationship with the State Department under your leadership that results in U.S. policy that supports the human rights and dignity of the Palestinian people.” Tlaib Twitter thread about the letter – here; Pocan tweets – here and here.

(NO RETURN TO JCPOA W/O ADDRESSING ALL IRAN ISSUES) Senate anti-JCPOA letter to Blinken: This week, Sens. Menendez (D–NJ) and Graham (R–SC) were circulating a Senate version of the AIPAC-backed letter effectively opposing a return to the JCPOA except as part of a “comprehensive” approach to dealing with all Iran-related concerns (House version detailed below). See: Senate: Top Senate Dem accused of helping hawks sabotage Biden on Iran(Responsible Statecraft)

(GET THE ICC TO LAY OFF OF ISRAEL!) Senate letter to Blinken: As covered in last week’s Round-Up as well as the previous week’s Round-Up, a letter has been circulating in the Senate for some time seeking cosigners on a letter led by Sens. Cardin (D-MD) and Portman (R-OH) urging the Biden Administration to take a strong stand against any ICC investigation of Israel. That letter was finally closed this week with a total of 53 bipartisan signers ((26 Democrats, 27 Republicans, including Cardin and Portman) and sent 3/11 – after more than a week of AIPAC lobbying that included constant barrage of tweets urging activists to contact their senators. Notably, while 53 is a solid number, it is perhaps not as great a number as Cardin/Portman and/or AIPAC might have hoped, as evidenced by the fact that the number is missing from the press release touting the bill [Portman, Cardin Lead Bipartisan Senate Call for Secretary Blinken to Continue to Defend Israel Against Politically Motivated Investigations by the International Criminal Court”], which lists the signers but not the total number or the partisan breakdown (I did the math so you don’t have to!). This is in sharp contrast to the huge media push this week around the AIPAC-backed Brown-Walz letter on Iran (covered below), with the number of signers –  “140” and “70 Democrats and 70 Republicans” – cited at seemingly every opportunity. And with respect to the ICC letter, some interesting names are missing, including Schumer (D-NY), McConnell (R-KY), Durbin (D-IL), and Gillibrand (D-NY).  As a reminder, this letter is a follow-up to the letter Cardin and Portman led in 2020 on the same topic.

(NO RETURN TO JCPOA) McCaul-Gottheimer letter to Blinken: On 3/11, Reps. McCaul (R-TX) and Gottheimer (D-NJ) led a letter, co-signed by 22 House colleagues (bipartisan) to SecState Blinken, urging the Biden Administration to work with our allies and consult with Congress in a bipartisan and bicameral fashion to outline a better, comprehensive deal with Iran that would block its path to a nuclear weapon and blunt its global malign activities.  Also see:

(TRUMP & TURKEY/HALKBANK CASE] Wyden letters to Garland, Yellen, and Ferriera: On 3/11, Sen. Wyden (D-OR) sent letters to Attorney General Gardland, Treasury Secretary Yellen and Archivist Ferriera requesting key information about Trump Administration meetings with Turkish Officials. Per Wyden’s press release, the letters are a continuation of Wyden’s nearly two-year investigation of “interference by former President Donald Trump into the prosecution of Turkish state-owned Halkbank, a financial institution that orchestrated the largest Iranian sanctions evasion scheme in U.S. history. The investigation is also probing the extent to which Trump’s policy toward Turkey was dictated by his personal and political interests, not the national security of the United States.”

(ALLEGING ACTBLUE BDS/TERROR TIES) Burchett letter to Yellen & Garland: On 3/11, Rep. Burchett (R-TN) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Yellen and Attorney General Garland asking them to investigate the fundraising platform ActBlue, based on “concerns” that money raised on ActBlue is “potentially financing terrorist organizations by allowing the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) to raise funds on its platform.

  • These “concerns” are based on the latest iteration of a longstanding effort (here’s an earlier iteration – a letter to DOJ in 2018) by the lawfare organization Zachor Legal to argue, in effect, that all organizations that support BDS violate US anti-terror laws, based on a 6-degrees of terrorist contamination approach (i.e., in effect arguing that some groups that are US-designated FTOs support the BDS movement, therefore all groups that support the BDS movement should be considered supporters of terror).
  • Burchett’s tweet about the letter (like his press release) make clear the real focus of this effort isn’t about terror concerns but about targeting BDS: “President Biden has said he opposes the anti-Semitic BDS movement. I agree. We must stand with our ally Israel. That’s why I’m asking the Biden administration to investigate @actblue for allowing pro-BDS terror organizations to use its platform.”
  • Also see: Lawmaker Demands Investigation Into ActBlue (Free Beacon – of course)

(DEMANDING ANSWERS RE: OBAMA $$ FOR IRAN) Steil letter to Yellin: On 9/9, Rep. Steil (R-WI) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Yellin regarding the waiving of Iran sanctions. Tweeting the text of the letter, Steil wrote: “It would be a grave mistake for the U.S. to provide sanctions relief to the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, Iran. We must hear directly from the Biden administration on whether the United States plans to facilitate the transfer of these funds.” The Free Beacon (which broke the story, if course) summarized the letter as follows: “A Republican lawmaker on the House Financial Services Committee is pressing the Biden administration to come clean about its suspected role in facilitating a $1 billion ransom payment to Iran as part of an effort to secure the release of a South Korean oil tanker that Tehran has been holding hostage. Rep. Bryan Steil (R., Wis.) petitioned Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Tuesday to immediately provide him and other lawmakers with information about the reported U.S. role in waiving terrorism sanctions on Iran so that South Korea could complete the billion-dollar payment. South Korea has been locked in a dispute with Tehran over its January seizure of an oil tanker and its 20-member crew. Iran is using the tanker as leverage to pressure South Korea into freeing some $7 billion in oil revenues that are tied up in the country as a result of American sanctions.” Steil also tweeted a video of him discussing the letter on Newsmax.

(NO RETURN TO JCPOA) AIPAC-backed Brown-Waltz letter to Blinken: On 3/9, Representatives Brown (D-MD) and Waltz (R-FL) sent a letter, signed by a total of 70 Democrats and 70 Republicans, to SecState Blinken effectively urging against a return to the JCPOA and stating that instead the US  “must seek an agreement or set of agreements with Iran that are comprehensive in nature to address the full range of threats that Iran poses to the region.” The letter, which emphasizes the importance of the Biden Administration adopting a bipartisan approach on Iran, was supported/lobbied by AIPAC (which has been tweeting about the letter incessantly for days) and is being framed as a direct rebuke to a December letter (covered in the 1/8/21 edition of the Round-Up) signed by 150 House Democrats supporting return to the JCPOA (some House Democrats signed both letters – go figure)

2. Hearings & Markups

3/18: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Middle East, North Africa and Global Counterterrorism will hold a hearing entitled, “Assessing the Human Rights Situation in Saudi Arabia.” Witnesses will be: Suzanne Nossel (PEN America), Hala Aldosari (Scholar in Women’s Health and Activist from Saudi Arabia), and Kirsten Fontenrose (Atlantic Council).

3/15: The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations will receive a closed briefing on the Understanding the Policy and Legal Rationale of U.S. Airstrikes in Syria. Briefers will be: Joey Hood, NEA Acting Assistant Secretary of State; Alissa Moghtaderi, Deputy National Intelligence Manager for Iran; Dana Stroul, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense; and Lt. Gen. James Mingus, Director of Operations – Joint Chiefs of Staff.

3/11: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Middle East, North Africa and Global Counterterrorism held a hearing entitled, “The Crisis in Yemen: Part 1.” Witnesses were: Radhya Almutawakel, Mwatana for Human Rights (testimony), Abdulwasea Mohammed, Oxfam (testimony) and Amanda Catanzano, International Rescue Committee (testimony). Video of the hearing is here.

3/10: The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled, “Secretary Blinken: The Biden Administration’s Priorities for U.S. Foreign Policy.” The sole witness was SecState Blinken (written testimony). Video is here. Also see:

3/10: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on International Development, International Organizations and Global Corporate Social Impact held a hearing entitled, A Year into the Pandemic: The State of International Development.” Witnesses were Rajiv J. Shah, Rockefeller Foundation & former USAID Administrator (testimony) and Bonnie Glick, CSIS and former USAID Deputy Administrator and Chief Operating Officer (testimony). Notably, Glick’s testimony focused in part on Israel and the “Abraham Accords” – testimony she previewed in an interview with Jewish Insider. Video of the hearing is here.


3. On the Record

Members On The Record…

…re: miscellaneous issues

Gosar (R-AZ) 3/11: (extension of remarks) Advancing America’s Diplomatic Relations With The Arab Republic Of Egypt [“...Egypt has been, and will continue to be, a beacon of hope for all nations across the Middle East and North Africa and a leader for prosperity, culture, and education for other nations to follow. Using this foundation to advance interfaith tolerance and freedoms, I have long been inspired by the Egyptian people, their freedoms, and their diligence to make the region and world a better place for their children. I am of the belief that the Egyptian government and the Egyptian people have played a vital role in the success of American foreign policy in the region over the recent decades…”]

Steil (R-WI) 3/10: Tweet – “Enjoyed talking to Consul General @AvivEzra today to discuss our commitment to support the U.S.-Israel alliance and my efforts to strengthen U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Spanberger (D-VA) 3/9: Tweet – I enjoyed speaking today with Israeli Amb @giladerdan1. I reiterated the importance of the US-Israel relationship, and we discussed our shared security interests. I also invited him to visit Central Virginia and to join our vibrant Jewish historical and cultural activities.

Massie (R-KY) 3/8: Tweet – “After a Trump attack in Syria in 2018, now Vice President Kamala Harris described herself as ‘deeply concerned about the legal rationale of last night’s strikes’ and demanded Trump ‘lay out a comprehensive strategy in Syria in consultation with Congress.’”  Linked to op-ed – Biden’s Syria Strike was Neither Defensive Nor Defensible (Newsweek)

Spanberger (D-VA) 3/6: Tweet – “We have to show clear lines in the sand, but we also have to ensure that there’s a path for Turkey to hit reset with us and with the rest of our NATO allies.” Linked to article, Biden Gives Turkey the Silent Treatment (Foreign Policy)

…re: Yemen and/or Saudi Arabia

Markey (D-MA) 3/12: Tweet – “USAID is heeding our call to allow U.S. assistance to reach 200,000+ civilians in north Yemen in need of life-saving aid. As war rages, famine looms, and people suffer, we must remember our role in creating this humanitarian disaster, and our responsibility to help end it.” Linked to ABC News report.

Sanders (I-VT) 3/11: Tweet – “With 400,000 children now at risk of starvation in Yemen, the U.S. must tell the Saudis in no uncertain terms: immediately end the blockade and let humanitarian aid in. #YemenCantWait”. Linked to CNN tweet/video.

Smith (D-WA) 3/10: Tweet – “When it comes to Saudi Arabia, the most important thing to me is to put pressure on them to get a peace agreement in Yemen. That is what we need to be focused on. Thank you to @AymanM for having me on @AymanMSNBC” Linked to video of appearance.

Durbin (D-IL) 3/9: Tweet – “Saudi Arabia should release Raif Badawi immediately. If their chief concern is protecting their reputation, they are doing themselves a disservice by imprisoning peaceful activists and journalists like Raif, Waleed Abu Al-Khair, Samar Badawi, and others.” Linked to article, Saudi Arabia is persecuting a peaceful blogger — again. Silence could be disastrous. (Washington Post)

…re: Iran

Blackburn (R-TN) 3/10: Tweet – “Colin Kahl defended Iran killing an American citizen by claiming that there were ‘provocations on both sides.’ He should not serve in a Senate-confirmed position at the Pentagon after these disparaging, anti-American comments.”

Ernst (R-IA) 3/9: press release – Ernst: U.S. “must maintain sanctions on the Iranian regime…” (seeming announcing her support for S. Res. 72, introduced 2/24 and which she cosponsored on 3/4)

Scott (R-FL) 3/9: Tweet – “Iran continues to enrich uranium and build new centrifuges. They have no intention to follow the rules of any agreement. A return to the Iran deal is bad for Americans and bad for Israel – Linked to article, Iran enriching with new set of advanced machines at Natanz -IAEA (Reuters)

Hastings (D-FL) 3/9: Tweet – “Today, we sadly mark the tragic 14th anniversary of the abduction in Iran of Robert Levinson. Iran must be held to account for his abduction, detention & likely death. I remain firm in my commitment to pursue justice for Mr. Levinson and his family.”

Risch (R-ID) 3/9: Tweet – “Today is the 14th anniversary of American #BobLevinson’s abduction in #Iran. I pray for his family who misses their husband, father, and grandfather. Hostage-taking is abhorrent and all families deserve justice. Iran should release all unjustly detained Americans.”

Rubio (R-FL) 3/9: Tweet – “14yrs since the abduction of retired FBI agent & Floridian Bob Levinson, who is presumed to no longer be alive. Sen. Rubio honors his memory by prioritizing the release of all American hostages. The Biden Administration should remember Levinson’s name as they craft Iran policy.”

Barr (R-KY) 3/9: Tweets – Congressional oversight in the international treaty process must be restored. If the Biden Administration wants to undermine the Israeli-American alliance by re-entering the Iranian Nuclear Deal, they need to consult Congress.” & “If not, Congress should block federal funding from being used to rejoin the failed agreement.”

Menendez (D-NJ) 3/9: Chairman Menendez Statement on Anniversary of Robert Levinson’s Wrongful Captivity in Iran

Capito (R-WV) 3/9: Tweet – “The world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism does not deserve to be coddled, and the disastrous Iran nuclear deal should be left in the past. We need a strong, not soft, stance when it comes to Iran. Colin Kahl is the wrong choice for such an integral role at the Pentagon.” Linked to article, Bad Judgment and Biden’s Pentagon Colin Kahl is the wrong choice to be chief Defense strategist (Wall Street Journal)

Tenney (R-NY) 3/8: Tweet – “The Houthis continue to behave like a terrorist organization. They proliferate deadly weapons, collude with Iran, and target civilians. All the hallmarks of a terrorist group. I urge @SecBlinken to reconsider his decision to delist them from terror list.” – linked to article, U.S. ‘alarmed’ by frequency of attacks on Saudi after Houthis target oil heartland (Reuters)

Cotton (R-AR) 3/8: Tweet – “Iran’s missiles are raining down on Saudi Arabia. President Biden’s policy? Lifting the terror designation on their proxy in Yemen and downgrading arm sales to the Saudis.” Linked to article – Yemen’s Houthis claim missile attack on Saudi oil facility (Washington Post)

Bonamici (D-OR) 3/8: Tweet – “Last year on #InternationalWomensDay, I advocated for the release of Saudi activists imprisoned because of their advocacy for women’s rights. I’m relieved Loujain Al-Hathloul has finally been released, but we still have much work to do. Let’s raise our voices.

Hagerty (R-TN) 3/7: Tweet – “Yet another missile strike against Saudi Arabia today with all the hallmarks of an Iranian-backed attack. It seems @POTUS Biden’s desire to give Tehran sanctions relief is emboldening the mullahs to escalate their aggression against us and our allies.” Linked to Tweet from ELINT news.

Articles and Reports Related to the Hill

Jewish Insider 3/12: Ro Khanna keeps the dialogue going [“The three-term congressman vows to continue to speak out on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict despite criticism from both progressives and pro-Israel advocates”]

JTA 3/11: No AIPAC conference? No problem. We’re meeting for coffee on Zoom.

Middle East Eye 3/11: US congresswoman denounces ‘disturbing’ arrests of Palestinian children

JTA 3/11: Rep. Ted Deutch’s daughter Gabby is now a Jewish Insider reporter

Jewish Insider 3/10: Grace Meng vows to protect her constituents from rising hate [strong Israel-related focus in article]

The Guardian 3/9: US senator urges UK to follow Biden in curbing arms sales to Saudi Arabia

Jerusalem Post 3/9: Bill to demand new Iran deal be submitted to Congress as a treaty

New York Times 3/9: For Chuck Schumer, a Dream Job Comes With Tall Orders