APN Legislative Round-Up: Feb. 28-Mar. 14, 2014

1.  Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2.  AIPAC Policy Conference – 2014 Edition
3. Questioning Obama Support for Israeli Missile Defense – A Right-Wing Tempest in a Teapot
4.  Ginning Up a New (Faux) Controversy over Visas for Israelis?
5. Hearings
6. Members on the Record
7. Odds & Ends

1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters

(U.S.-ISRAEL “BEST-ALLIES-WITH-BENEFITS” BILL) HR 938: As discussed in Section 2, below, this bill was a key “ask” of AIPAC conference-goers when they descended on Capitol Hill on March 4.  As discussed in the last edition of the Round-Up, this was one of the same “asks” that AIPAC conference-goers had a year ago, when they came to the Hill pushing AIPAC’s 2013 legislative agenda.   The difference this year, apparently, was that efforts by some members to insert controversial language into the bill (that would have legislated Israel into the Visa Waiver Program) were either overcome by their colleagues or abandoned, at least for the time being, permitting the bill to be reported out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on 1/29 (discussed in the 2/12/14 edition of the Round-Up).  It thus came as no surprise when on March 4, the same day AIPAC was on the Hill, all other committees of jurisdiction discharged the bill without taking any action, allowing the bill to be brought to the floor under suspension of the rules.   The text of the discharge letters can be found here, along with March 4th  floor statements in support of the bill from Engel (D-NY), Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Deutch (D-FL), Collins (R-GA), Royce (R-CA), Holt (D-NJ), Smith (R-NJ), and Lummis (R-WY).  The bill was subsequently passed on March 5 by a roll call floor vote of 410-1 and referred to the Senate.  The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s press release on passage of HR 938 is here.  A separate press release from House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Upton (R-MI) and Ranking Member Waxman (D-CA) – who authored Title II of the bill, to strengthen U.S.-Israel energy cooperation – is here.  Additional statements in support of the bill were published or submitted for the record by Frankel (D-FL) , Rigell (R-VA), Lankford (R-OK) Cook (R-CA), Roskam (R-IL), Cantor (R-VA)Deutch (D-FL) Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL),  Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) (again),  Schweikert (R-AZ), Van Hollen (D-MD), Kelly (R-PA), and Rokita (R-IN)Franks (R-AZ) distinguished himself as the sole member of Congress, of either party, who exploited the passage of the bill to bash the Obama Administration, accusing Obama of “alienating allies like Israel while catering to our enemies,” and suggesting that Obama is going easy on Iran while not supporting Israel’s missile defense needs, among other things.

(SYRIA CRISIS) S. Res. 384: Introduced 3/13 by Kaine (D-VA) and 18 cosponsors, “A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate concerning the humanitarian crisis in Syria and neighboring countries, resulting humanitarian and development challenges, and the urgent need for a political solution to the crisis.”  Referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.  Kaine’s statement on introduction of S. Res. 384 is here; press release here.  King (I-ME) statement on the resolution is here.

(SHIMON PERES) S. 1456: Introduced 8/1/13 by Ayotte (R-NH), and having 81 cosponsors, “A bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Shimon Peres.”   Passed by the Senate 3/13 with an amendment by Unanimous Consent.

(CONGRESS <HEARTS> GREECE) S. Res. 377: Introduced 3/10 by Senators Menendez (D-MJ), Barrasso (R-WY), and Shaheen (D-NH), “A resolution recognizing the 193rd anniversary of the independence of Greece and celebrating democracy in Greece and the United States.”  On 3/11, the bill was placed on the Senate calendar.  The bill includes two “whereas clauses” related to Israel: “Whereas Greece, located in a region where Christianity meets Islam and Judaism, maintains excellent relations with Muslim countries and Israel” and “Whereas the Government of Greece has taken important steps in recent years to further cross-cultural understanding, rapprochement, and cooperation in various fields with Turkey, and has also improved its relations with other countries in the region, including Israel , thus enhancing the stability of the wider region.”

(NO RETURN OF IRAQI JEWISH ARCHIVE) H. Res. 505:  Introduced 3/6 by Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and having 19 cosponsors, “Strongly recommending that the United States renegotiate the return of the Iraqi Jewish Archive to Iraq.”  Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.  The Senate companion to this resolution, S. Res. 333, was passed by the Senate on 2/6/14.  Ros-Lehtinen’s statement on the resolution is here; statement of support from Nadler (D-FL) is here, and from Deutsch (D-FL) here


(SYRIA CRISIS) Menendez-Corker et al letter On 3/14, a bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to President Obama urging him to “press forward with your Administration’s reexamination of U.S. policy in Syria.”  As the third anniversary of the Syria conflict approaches, the letter notes that “the situation and our options have grown more complicated, but we believe there is strong, bipartisan support in the Senate for developing and implementing a comprehensive Syria strategy, one that will break the stalemate on the ground and enable a political solution that paves the way for Assad’s exit.”  The letter was signed by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair and Ranking member Menendez (D-NJ) and Corker (R-TN); Armed Services Committee Chair and Ranking Member Levin (D-MI) and Inhofe (R-OK); as well as Kaine (D-VA), McCain (R-AZ), Coons (D-DE), Graham (R-SC), and King (I-ME).

(IRAN DIPLOMACY, NUCLEAR DEAL) Cantor-Hoyer letter & Menendez-Graham letter:  See section 2, below, for discussion of these letters, which were the centerpieces of AIPAC lobbying in the context of last week’s policy conference.

(IRAN TERRORISM) GOP Leadership letter: On March 6, House GOP leaders sent a letter to President Obama, following reports that Israel had intercepted an Iranian shipment of weapons to Gaza.  The letter notes, “We increasingly fear that Iran continues to respond to your open hand with a closed fist.”  The letter goes on to suggest that while the authors “hope for a peaceful negotiated solution to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons,” such a solution will not be acceptable unless it is part of “a broader strategy to confront Iranian aggression throughout the region.”  The letter closes with the authors reiterating their “desire to speak with senior representatives” of the Obama Administration about the Administration’s “broader regional strategy.”  Press release on letter is here.

(YOUNG ISRAELIS‘ VISA WOES) Schumer letter:  On 3/6 Senator Schumer (D-NY) sent a letter to Secretary of State Kerry and ICE Acting Director Ragsdale demanding that the State Department stop refusing tourist visas to young Israelis who want to travel during the period following their IDF service.  For more on this, see Section 4, below.

2.  AIPAC Policy Conference – 2014 Edition

AIPAC’s annual Washington policy conference took place March 2-4, with thousands of AIPAC conference-goers heading to the Hill for lobby meetings on 3/4.  To see AIPAC’s own description of its legislative agenda (in an email circulated 3/3 by AIPAC), click here.  What follows is a discussion of the concrete “asks” in that agenda, and the results these “asks” generated.

(a) Co-sponsor Iran sanctions bill

The Ask:  AIPAC conference-goers urged Senators who have not yet cosponsored S. 1881 to do so now.  They reportedly argued that the bill does not need to be voted on at this point, but that broad co-sponsorship sends an important message to Iran.  

The Result:  As of this writing, not a single new co-sponsor has signed on to S. 1881 (the last new cosponsor was on January 9).

(b) Sign letters dealing with Iran negotiations

The Ask:  After failing with its Plan A (new Iran sanctions), and then with its Plan B (mustering sufficient support for resolutions laying out red lines for a deal with Iran), AIPAC went to Plan C – House and Senate letters to President Obama.  Plan C did not go as smoothly as AIPAC no doubt hoped it would.

Cantor-Hoyer letter – In the House, AIPAC had been working with House Majority Leader Cantor (R-VA) and House Minority Whip Hoyer (D-VA) since last fall to try to get a bipartisan, leadership-led Iran resolution.  With the conference looming, it became evident that there would not be agreement on a resolution, so efforts switched to a letter.  Here, too, the road was apparently not easy, and letter text was not agreed on until the day before AIPAC conference-goers came to the Hill.  Once released, the text of that letter surprised many people with its moderation.  Not only does the letter not state explicitly or imply unequivocally a call for zero enrichment, the letter states: “We do not seek to deny Iran a peaceful nuclear energy program.” In general, while the letter lays out serious concerns about Iran’s intentions, it is clearly supportive of diplomacy and a potential agreement.  It does not articulate red lines for a future deal, nor does it state or imply support for new sanctions at this time.  NOTE: APN SUPPORTED THE CANTOR-HOYER LETTER, ENCOURAGING MEMBERS TO SIGN ON.

Graham-Menendez letter – In the Senate, AIPAC elected to make their lobbying “ask” a letter led by Menendez (D-NJ) and Graham (R-SC).  Notably, both of these Senators, along with the other senators who signed the original Dear Colleague urging fellow senators to sign on, are prominently associated with S. 1881, the Iran sanctions bill which has proven extremely divisive in this Senate.  In terms of text, the Menendez-Graham letter, while non-binding, could be read as setting out problematic red lines for a final deal with Iran, including statements whose cumulative message could be interpreted as rejecting any deal unless it leaves Iran with zero enrichment.  The letter also states that Congress and the President “need to work together now” to make sure that new sanctions can be implemented the moment that diplomacy fails. This wording could be seen as a thinly-veiled bid for passage of S. 1881 or another sanctions vehicle.  That said, to the extent that the above-mentioned elements in the letter raise concerns, the letter is sufficiently ambiguous that in the future, senators who signed the letter can still argue that they did not commit themselves firmly to any positions.  At the same time, the Menendez-Graham letter can be read as supportive of diplomacy.  It also gives a nod to a future role of Congress in providing longer term sanctions relief in the event an acceptable agreement is reached, and eschews saber rattling (in the event that talks fail, the letter focuses on the role of further sanctions, as opposed to calling for military action).  NOTE:  APN OPPOSED THE MENENDEZ-GRAHAM LETTER AND ENCOURAGING MEMBERS TO SIGN THE LEVIN (CANTOR-HOYER) LETTER INSTEAD.

 Senator Levin-Cantor-Hoyer Letter – It was not lost on some Senators that the letter being pushed by AIPAC in the House was far more moderate, and more supportive of the Obama Administration’s efforts, than its Senate counterpart.  As a result, on March 4th, Senator Levin (D-MI), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee and dean of the Jewish members of the Senate (and also set to retire after this term) circulated the Cantor-Hoyer letter to fellow senators and urged them to join him in signing this text.  According to Senate staff, AIPAC’s initial response to this effort was to tell Senate offices that AIPAC did not support the Cantor-Hoyer text in the Senate, since Levin’s effort “wasn’t bipartisan” (a bizarre argument, given that Cantor is the first name on the letter).  As it became clear that many Democratic senators intended to sign it anyway, by late this week Senate staff were reportedly being told that AIPAC didn’t mind if Senators signed both letters.  NOTE: APN SUPPORTED THE CANTOR-HOYER LETTER IN THE SENATE, ENCOURAGING SENATORS TO SIGN ON, INSTEAD OF SIGNING THE MENENDEZ-GRAHAM LETTER.

The Result:  The numbers of signers on these letters (discussed below) are only a small part of the story.  The bigger story is this:  on its key 2014 legislative agenda item – Iran – AIPAC faced serious push-back in both the House and Senate, in favor of more moderate positions supportive of diplomacy and a potential agreement.  It saw the failures of its Plans A and B, and then saw its Plan C go very much awry.  What will happen now – and in fact has already started – is a war of narratives.  AIPAC and hardliners in Congress are working to build a public narrative that both letters unequivocally convey Congressional embrace of AIPAC’s red lines for any Iran deal, including the demands for complete dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear program and zero enrichment.  The fact is, the Cantor-Hoyer letter doesn’t come close to saying this, and the Menendez-Graham letter contains enough ambiguity that signing it does not commit Senators to those positions. 

In terms of numbers:  the Cantor-Hoyer letter (in the House) was reportedly (according to an AIPAC action alert this week) scheduled to close on 3/13; as of this writing, House staff report that it is still open for signatures.  According to AIPAC’s online database, as of this writing 331 House members have signed on, of which 166 are Democrats and 165 are Republicans.  The Menendez-Graham letter also remains open as of this writing, and according to AIPAC’s online database current has 82 signers.  The Cantor-Hoyer letter (in the Senate) also reportedly remains open, and reportedly now more than 20 signers.  Some Senators signed both letters, and at least a couple reportedly signed neither.


(c) Support U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation bill

The Ask: In the House, AIPAC conference-goers urged the House to pass HR 938, the “United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014.  In the Senate, they urged Senators to cosponsor the Senate version of the bill, S. 462.  As discussed in the previous edition of the Round-Up, these two bills were centerpieces of the 2013 AIPAC policy conference, but failed to move through either chamber during the past year.

The Result:  In the House, AIPAC finally got a win on HR 938, almost exactly a year after it was introduced (on March 3, 2013).  On March 4, 2014, the same day AIPAC was on the Hill, HR 938 was brought to the floor under suspension of the rules and passed by a vote of 410-1.   In the Senate, a win for AIPAC on this bill appears to remain elusive.  Only one additional senator has responded to the call to cosponsor the measure (Cantwell, D-WA, cosponsored on March 4).  Staff suggest that objections to the bill’s provision regarding Israeli entry into the Visa Waiver Program remain an obstacle to this bill moving forward, which raises the question – will the bill be amended, or will the Senate perhaps take up and pass the House version?


Media coverage & Members of Congress at the Conference

Menendez (D-NJ) speech: transcript, video; Schumer (D-NJ): video; McCain (R-AZ): video; Cantor (R-VA) & Hoyer (D-MD): video; Engel (D-NY): video; Cummings (D-MD): video; Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL): video; Royce (R-CA): video

LobeLog 3/13: AIPAC, Netanyahu Just Not Getting Usual Traction On Iran

Washington Examiner 3/6: D.C. elite say pro-Israel lobby losing influence, likened to NRA

The Jewish Voice 3/6: GOP Pollster Luntz Praises Schumer At AIPAC For Position On Iran

Times of Israel 3/5: AIPAC, the latest victim of Washington partisanship

JTA 3/5: Carl Levin does not like AIPAC’s Senate Iran letter

Times of Israel 3/4: AIPAC activists push lawmakers on tougher Iran stance

Jewish Press 3/4: Did Congress Intentionally Remove Iran Military Option? [in new letters]

ThinkProgress 3/4: House Iran Letter Leaves Out Demand For ‘Zero Enrichment’

JTA 3/4: After bruising Iran sanctions battle, AIPAC conference is all about comity

JTA 3/4: AIPAC-backed letters urge congressional oversight of Iran deal

Christian Science Monitor 3/3: Pro-Israel lobby presses for new US sanctions on Iran, but gingerly

Tehran Times 3/3: U.S. senators demand greater role in Iran nuclear talks

Algemeiner 3/3: U.S. Reps Cantor, Hoyer United Against Iran Acquiring Nuclear Weapon

Washington Free Beacon 3/3: House Pressures Obama to Dismantle Iran’s Enrichment Program

Politico 3/2: AIPAC divisions more pronounced than ever

JTA 3/2: AIPAC conference opens with appeal for bipartisanship

Times of Israel 3/2: AIPAC offers Senate Democrats a way out on Iran

Politico 3/2: Senate letter maintains Iran pressure

Politico 3/1: GOP eyes AIPAC summit for Iran push

The Forward 3/1: AIPAC's Convention Starts as Iran Sanctions Debacle Still Looms Large

The Cable 2/28: Partisan Infighting Hinders AIPAC's Iran Lobbying

3.  Questioning Obama Support for Israeli Missile Defense – A Right-Wing Tempest in a Teapot

Last week, right-wing U.S. media sources began hyping what appeared to be an explosive story: the Obama Administration, they reported, was slashing funding for Israeli missile defense programs.  The report appeared to originate with the Washington Free Beacon, which ran a story 3/5 headlined “Obama Budget Slashes Israeli Missile Defense Programs; Lamborn slams funding decrease of nearly $200 million.  That report was followed on 3/6 by Rep. Lamborn (R-CO) raising the issue in a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, during which he challenged Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel about the Obama Administration’s support for Israeli missile defense (and issued a press release highlight this questioning).

This was quickly by a press release from the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, entitled, Conference of Presidents Calls on Congress to Restore Funding for US-Israeli Missile Defense System.   It was also followed up be an article on a website called breakingdefense.com that includes the details of what Rep. Lamborn (R-CO) alleges the Israeli Government wants from the Obama Administration (and is allegedly being denied).  That article notes that, according to Lamborn’s documents (which were purportedly received from the Israeli government and are apparently the documents Lamborn entered into the record during the 3/6 hearing), Israel wants Congress to add $348 million to the Obama Administration’s FY15 requested funding for Israel missile programs, more than doubling the $273 million Obama Administration request. 

The Free Beacon amplified the story on 3/6, in a piece headlined “Lawmakers Slam Obama Budget Cuts to Israeli Missile Defense” (the lawmakers in question are Lamborn and Roskam, R-IL) and on 3/7 in a piece headline “Israeli Government Says Missile Defense Needs More Funding; Obama’s budget does not allocate enough to defend Israel”(in an article that in fact doesn’t quote a single Israeli government officials about the alleged slashing of funding).

Notably, no Israeli media outlets picked up the story or reported, on their own, on this alleged outrage/betrayal by the Obama Administration. However, a few days later, starting on 3/10, the Israeli media did pick up another related story – but with a much different narrative.  The far-right wing Arutz Sheva (aligned with the settler movement) reported on 3/10: Israel to Get More US Funding for Iron Dome.  Israel Hayom, the paper owned by GOP mega donor Sheldon Adelson and which is closely associated with Netanyahu, reported that same day: Congress expected to approve $160 million for Iron Dome, and the following day: US announces further Iron Dome funding

Other Israeli media and U.S. Jewish outlets reported the same thing: US, Israel sign deal to continue financing Iron Dome (Jerusalem Post), US allocates $429 million to Iron Dome program (Times of Israel), US transfers $429m for Iron Dome (Globes), and Iron Dome cash infusion includes U.S. manufacture requirement (JTA).  And most recently, Haaretz reported 3/13: U.S. pledges more money for Iron Dome - but IDF lacks trained personnel.

Finally, it should be recalled that funding for Israeli missile defense programs – funding that is included annually in the President’s budget and which Congress routinely increases – is separate from and in addition to the annual $3.1 billion in assistance provided to Israel under Foreign Operations Appropriations language.

4.  Ginning Up a New (Faux) Controversy over Visas for Israelis?

As discussed in Section 1, above, on 3/6 Senator Schumer (D-NY) sent a letter to Secretary of State Kerry and ICE Acting Director Ragsdale demanding that the State Department stop refusing tourist visas to young Israelis who want to travel to the U.S. during the period following their IDF service.  The letter attacks consulates in Israel for having “a policy to presumptively deny all tourist visa applications for young Israeli nationals who wish to visit the United States during the period in between the completion of their military service and the resumption of their university education.  In addition, this presumptive denial policy has apparently been expanded to include all Israeli nationals who are of student age.”  

Schumer’s letter was the first shot in what appears to be a new and well-organized offensive on the Hill.  On 3/13, during questioning of Secretary of State Kerry in a hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Reps. Deutsch (D-FL) and Schneider (R-IL) both raised the same issue in almost exactly the same terms as the Schumer letter.  In response to Deutsch, Kerry stated:

“…In the last year, over 100,000 visas of all ages were issued.  20,000 were issued to Israelis aged 21-30.  Each of the last fiscal years issuance rates were about 83%, which is not different from other folks, other places.  So – we’ll be happy to give you greater input on that if you want it but I can guarantee you that visa applications are treated fairly and similarly in all places.” (at around 1:40:00 in the hearing).

Separately, on 3/13 Meng (D-NY) issued a press release announcing that she would bring up the issue when her turn came up to ask Kerry questions (she did not end up asking her question, probably because the hearing ended).  Her press release noted: “Meng will ask the Secretary whether there is a policy in place to pre-emotively deny young Israelis the opportunity to travel to the United States. She will also ask for specific figures such as the denial rate of tourist visas for Israelis between the ages of 21-27. In addition, she’ll request both the number of Israelis who applied for and received visas – not just the percentage of applications that were approved but the actual numbers.  Recent stories reported on the increased denial of tourist visas to young Israelis noting that refusal rate was 9.7% last year, up from 5.4% in 2012. The figures represent a dramatic increase from previous years. In 2007, the denial rate was just 2.5%.”

It is not clear what “recent reports” Meng is referring to; the only references to this issue turned up by online research have the Schumer letter as their source (including the article in the Hill 3/12, entitled: Schumer, State feud on Israel).

Schumer and these other members – who are outraged that young Israeli visa applicants would be presumed ineligible for U.S. tourist visas – appear to be unaware of the fact that under U.S. visa law, such a presumption is MANDATORY, and it is up to each applicant to overcome it.  Specifically, U.S. law states that any applicant for a tourist visa, “shall be presumed to be an immigrant [i.e., ineligible for a tourist visa] until he establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of application for a visa, and the immigration officers, at the time of application for admission, that he is entitled to a nonimmigrant status under section 101(a)(15).”  This requirement indeed makes it difficult for young men and women from all countries to obtain tourist visas, since they often cannot demonstrate sufficiently deep ties to their own country to overcome the legally-mandated presumption that they violate their tourist visa to live, work, or study in the United States.

Alternatively, it is possible that some of these members of Congress believe that in the case of young Israelis, this legal requirement simply shouldn’t apply.  Indeed, Schumer’s letter explicitly suggests this.  As noted previously in the Round-Up, “Israelis coming to the U.S. on tourist visas - and then staying on to live/work in the U.S. illegally - is such a serious problem that last year [2012] the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv produced a video warning Israelis against doing so (read about it here).”  Oddly, in the HFAC hearing on 3/13, Deutsch suggested that efforts like this video were evidence not that the State Department is trying to deal constructively with the problem of young Israelis violating U.S. law, but of the State Department’s bias against young Israeli applicants.  Notably, the refusal rate for Israel in 2013 was 9.7% - a rate that Schumer finds outrageous but that compared to worldwide refusal rates is relatively low (2013 refusal rates for all countries can be viewed here). 

On the question of who is behind this new campaign, the Hill reported: “The jump in the refusal rate for Israel has captured the attention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC), one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington. ‘We are concerned about this issue and we will be working with the administration and Congress to address this concern,’ AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann said.”  Some observers wonder if this campaign is the latest effort to pressure the Obama Administration to support the provision of S. 462 that would make Israel part of the Visa Waiver Program (discussed in Sections 1 and 2, above, with full background in the 5/10/13 edition of the Round-Up).  If that is the case, it defies logic, since more than anything else, it shines a spotlight on the abuse of tourist visas by young Israelis. 

5.  Hearings

3/25: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing entitled “Syria After Geneva: Next Steps for U.S. Policy”.  Scheduled Panel 1 witness is Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson.  Scheduled Panel 2 witnesses are: David Kilcullen, Caerus Associates; and Vali Nasr, SAIS.

3/13:  The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled: “Advancing U.S. Interests Abroad: The FY 2015 Foreign Affairs Budget.” The sole witness was Secretary of State Kerry.  A webcast of the hearing is available here.  Kerry’s written testimony is available here.  The opening statement from Chairman Royce (R-CA) is here; the opening statement of ranking member Engel (D-NY) is here.  The entire hearing is worth watching, covering a great deal of ground on Israel, the Palestinians, Iran, and other Middle East issues.  For good reporting on Middle East elements of the hearing see this report from the JTA.  Notably:

  • Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) pressed Kerry on funding for the Palestinians, suggesting that it was going to terrorism.  She also got into a spirited back-and-forth with Kerry over the question of waivers at the UN, and asked about Abbas’ refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state (starting at 39:50 or so).  Kery made clear that waivers of the U.S. law that force the U.S. to cut off any UN agency or body that admits the Palestinians directly harm U.S. interests.  He also stated that “our position is that Israel has to be recognized ultimately as a Jewish state.  But please remember, they’re negotiating…”  Ros-Lehtinen’s full statement is here.
  • In response to Sherman (D-CA), Kerry talked about issue of recognition of Israel as a Jewish state (he was also asked about this by Engel, D-NY, and Schneider, R-IL).  In response to Sherman, Kerry stated: “Jewish state was resolved in 1947 in Resolution 181, where there are more than 40 – 30 – mentions of “Jewish state.”  In addition, Chairman Arafat in 1988 and again in 2004 confirmed that he agreed that it would be a Jewish state. And there are any number of other mentions but those are sort of the most important acknowledgements thereof.  I think it’s a mistake for some people to be – you know – raising it again and again as the critical decider of their attitude towards the possibility of a state and peace, and we’ve obviously made that clear.  That’s a conversation that we’ll continue…” (at 1:24:55 in hearing).  This language was heard by some as a criticism of Israelis for raising the issue of recognition; it was heard by others as endorsing Israel’s demand for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
  • As noted in Section 5, above, Deutsch (D-FL) and Schneider (R-IL) asked Kerry about visas for young Israelis.

3/13: The Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on State & Foreign Operations held a hearing entitled: “FY 2015 Budget Request for the Department of State.” The sole witness was Secretary of State Kerry, whose written testimony is available here.  Chairman Leahy’s (D-VT) opening statement is available here.  A webcast of the hearing is available here. The entire hearing is worth watching, covering a great deal of ground on Iran, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, and Israeli-Palestinian issues.  Notably, Leahy raised the issue of the U.S. withdrawing from UNESCO over the Palestinians, and noted that “I hope you will work with the Congress. I would like to see us get a waiver so we could get back in there and actually do what is best for America's interests.”  Kirk (R-IL) accused the Obama Administration of subsidizing Iranian terrorism.  In addition, the following exchange between Coats (R-IN) and Kerry on Iran was of particular note (starting at 1:24:54):

Kerry:  “…what’s brought us to the table to begin this negotiation are a combination – sanctions but also, I think fairness requires that we say that with the election of President Rouhani, there was an effort, a conscious declaration by Iran they’re going to reach out and attempt to see if they could get out from under this cloud.  So now we are testing that proposition, and in the first step – it’s not an, it’s not an interim agreement, it’s a first step towards a final comprehensive agreement – we’re ratcheting them back from where they are. The 20 percent uranium that is enriched today has to go down to zero over the course of these next six months, now four months left. And they are reducing it.  The 3.5 percent stockpile that they have cannot grow, so they’re basically frozen there.  On the Arak plutonium reactor, they’re under the requirement not to put in any component that could contribute to the commissioning of that reactor and no fuel…and they have to give us the plans for it, which they’re doing, done. 

“In addition, we have inspectors within Fordow; we didn’t have any before the agreement. We have inspectors at Natanz; we didn’t have them before the agreement. And we have inspectors on a less frequent basis in the Arak production facility.  We also have the right to inspect their storage facilities for centrifuges. We are following and tracking their milling and mining of uranium so that we’re tracking from cradle to grave, and we have begun the process of putting in place very intrusive verification.  And so forth.  Now, at this point in time, the U.N. resolutions are active. And there’s a goal of trying to implement that. I can’t tell you today whether or not that’s achievable. …the goal hasn’t changed but we’re in a negotiation where the real goal is to guarantee that they cannot get a nuclear weapon, and that whatever program they might have peacefully going forward is one where we have absolutely fail-safe guarantees, to the best of our ability, to know it through the negotiating process.  And what we achieve, that we will know what they’re doing, and know it …well ahead of any potential of their breaking out. 

“As we began this negotiation, the breakout time, by most judgments, meaning the time to get sufficient uranium enriched for one nuclear weapon, was about two months. It is longer now because of the first step that we have taken, and I can guarantee you that in order to have a final agreement that will be comprehensive enough to meet our standards, the standards of our Gulf friends, of Israel and others, it’s going to have to grow significantly beyond where it is today.  So, we believe we’re heading in the right direction. I can’t tell you where it’s going to finally land. We don’t know. There’s some very tough decisions the Iranians are going to have to make, very tough, in order to meet the international community’s standard for certainty as to the peacefulness of this program.”

Coats“…Despite the efforts that we’re making, the Iranians have declared publicly a negotiation victory over the fact that cessation of enrichment – which has been in a series of U.N.-supported resolutions, Security Council-supported resolutions; that has been the determination and statements of four presidents, two Democrats and two Republicans – that that goal has been abandoned, and Iran has achieved in moving the ball toward a different kind of goal, which we hope will be successful. But the fact of the matter is, is that that no longer is the goal.  …Keeping Iran from…producing a nuclear weapon is far different than having the capability of doing that. It sounds a lot to me like what we went through with North Korea.”

Kerry“…Remember, the U.N. resolution wasn’t that they couldn’t have any enrichment at some point in time. It was what they had to suspend. And the reason for the suspension, the requirement was because…we didn’t know what was happening at Fordow. We didn’t know.  There weren’t any restraints. There was no inspection. There was no certainty as to where they were going.  So, it’s an open question, but nothing has been decided. …The initial agreement, the JPOA, as it’s referred to, specifically states nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. And I can guarantee you: there’s been no give-away on that final issue at this point in time. But we’re talking about how do you…get sufficient verification, intrusive inspection capacity, to know what’s happening?  So that, no matter what is going on, we’re protected and our friends in the region are protected.”

Leahy“I think the most important thing is we continue the negotiations. And I do not think that Congress, whether responding to various lobbies or not, is the place to conduct the negotiations. Let’s let the negotiators try to work it out.”

3/12:  The House Appropriations Committee held a hearing entitled: “Budget Hearing - Department of State”.  The sole witness was Secretary of State Kerry, whose prepared statement can be found here. A webcast of the hearing is available here.  Opening statement from ForOps Chairwoman Granger (R-TX) is here.  The entire hearing is worth watching, covering a great deal of ground on Israel, the Palestinians, and other Middle East issues.  Notably:

  • Granger (R-TX) pressed Kerry to explain why the U.S. has not resumed assistance to Egypt, given that the new Israeli government is keeping the peace treaty with Israel, dealing with Gaza tunnels, its military continues to cooperate with the U.S., etc…
  • Ranking Member Lowey (D-NY) pressed Kerry for details of efforts to make progress on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, for what he thinks will happen next, and about whether the Obama Administration is seeking a waiver of the law that bars U.S. funding for UN entities that admit the Palestinians.  Kerry handled the first two questions diplomatically, noting that the actual negotiations are being kept quiet and that progress is being made.  He did make clear that the Administration will likely be seeking waiver of the law in question, noting that the law effectively harms U.S. interests. 
  • Lowey also harshly criticized “one of our grantees,” Oxfam, for its position regarding boycotting SodaStream (which she described as “outrageous” and as part of the BDS campaign against Israel).
  • Chairman Rogers (R-KY) raised the issue of incitement by the Palestinians (whom he repeatedly referred to as “the PLA”).  He stated that the Palestinian Authority is engaging in pervasive incitement “with relish.”  Noting that the last ForOps legislation included a requirement for the Secretary to certify that the PA is fighting incitement in order to provide assistance, and he pressed Kerry repeatedly on how he is pressuring the Palestinians on this issue and when Kerry will stop assistance to the Palestinians over the issue.
  • Schiff (D-CA) raised concerns about anti-democratic trends in Egypt.


3/6: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing entitled, “Syria Spillover: The Growing Threat of Terrorism and Sectarianism in the Middle East and Ukraine Update”.  Video available here. Panel 1 witnesses: Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns (Testimony); Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet (Testimony); and National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen (Testimony).  Panel 2 witnesses: Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, FDD (Testimony) and Matthew Levitt, WINEP (Testimony).

3/6: The House Armed Services Committee held a hearing on The Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Budget Request from the Department of Defense.  Witnesses were General Martin Dempsey, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Department of Defense, and Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense.  Video of the hearing is available here.  Lamborn (R-CA) issued a press release following the hearing noting that he had “questioned Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on America's missile defense partnership with Israel, on companies trying to do business with both the Pentagon and Iran, and on the general priorities of the DoD's 2015 Budget proposal. Additionally, Congressman Lamborn has sent a letter to Secretary Hagel highlighting just one of the companies that has participated in trade delegations to Iran and yet has over $2 billion in DOD contracts. Some news reports have indicated that companies currently exploring business with Iran have over $100 billion in Defense Department contracts.”

3/5: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade held a hearing entitled: Threats to Israel: Terrorist Funding and Trade Boycotts.  Video here.  Witnesses: Edwin Black, Author (statement), David Pollock, WINEP (statement), Steven Perles, Lawyer (statement).  Notably, in his statement, Pollack conflates boycotts of Israel with boycotts of settlements, and suggests that (apparently in both cases, since they are not different in his eyes) “legislative or legal remedies may be available as well. As a possible analogy, I believe U.S. law penalizes attempts to comply with the nominal Arab boycott against Israel – which is by now largely ineffective as a result. And U.S. law and policy impose costs on third parties who may attempt to evade sanctions against Iran, or to violate other international commercial codes or agreements.”  Chairman Poe (R-TX) in press release prior to the hearing, “As one of our staunchest allies, threats to Israel are also threats to the United States. From a Palestinian Authority program that pays salaries to convicted terrorists based on how many Israelis they kill to European countries boycotting Israeli businesses, Israel faces attacks from every angle. This hearing will examine these risks as well as what is being done to seek redress for Americans harmed by Palestinian terrorist attacks in Israel.”

3/4: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa held a hearing: Iran’s Support for Terrorism Worldwide.  Video here.  Ros-Lehtinen opening statement here (arguing that the U.S. got “suckered” in P5+1 deal with Iran, and that suggesting that “the most dangerous part of these negotiations is that the Administration is willing to ignore these facts [about Iran’s support for terrorism] and other aspects of the regime so that it can say it reached a deal with Iran”).  Witnesses: Pete Hoekstra, The Investigative Project on Terrorism (statement), Matthew Levitt, WINEP, (full text of statement), J. Matthew McInnis AEI (full text of statement)

Old Transcripts recently posted online:

HFAC hearing, 12/10/13: The Iran Nuclear Deal: Does It Further U.S. National Security?

HFAC hearing, 11/13/13: Examining Nuclear Negotiations: Iran After Rouhani’s First 100 Days

6.  Members on the Record

Roskam (R-IL) 3/13: Roskam Condemns Rocket Fire From Gaza Into Southern Israel

Casey (D-PA) 3/12: Long floor speech on the situation in Syria and referencing a resolution to be introduced on Syria by Kaine (D-VA) and Rubio (R-FL)

Farr (D-CA) 3/12: Marking the third anniversary of the humanitarian crisis in Syria

Gohmert (R-TX) 3/12: A rambling speech praising Sarah Palin for her “prescience” in seeing that Russia would go rogue, suggesting that this behavior has been encouraged by the Obama Administration ignoring domestic Islamic extremism, and drawing parallels to Chamberlin and Hitler.

King (R-IA) 3/11: Speech on the Ukraine, replete with references to Hitler, Chamberlin, appeasement, and gratuitous bashing of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts for good measure (“Neville Chamberlain tried to trade off the Sudetenland for peace. What did it get us? That gave up the rest of Czechoslovakia and the invasion of Poland.  I recall the Gaza Strip being traded off, land for peace, and what does that get? That gets tunnels, and it gets rockets shot out of the Gaza Strip into the balance of Israel. Land for peace, Mr. Speaker: if someone can show me a successful trade of land for peace, I do not know what it is throughout the course of history.”)

Holding (R-NC) 3/11: Statement on interception of Iranian arms shipment, suggesting that “While the face of the regime and some of their rhetoric has changed, Madam Speaker, it is clear that the Iranian regime's true intentions and end game has not.”

Casey (D-PA) 3/10: Statement on New Report Detailing Impact of War in Syria on Children

Barrasso (R-WY) 3/10: Oped in Roll Call - Allow a Vote on Iran Sanctions

Cruz (R-TX) 3/6: In interview, calls Obama “the president most hostile to the nation of Israel in modern times”

Menendez (D-NJ) 3/6: Speech to support the nomination of Rose Gottemoeller for Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.  Included discussion of Syria crisis and reiteration of his views on Iran diplomacy

Lance (R-NJ) 3/6: Statement of support for Israel entitled, “American-Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference”

Barrasso (R-WY) 3/5: Calling for increased U.S. oil exports, including in order to “undermine the influence of oil-rich countries that do not like us very much…American crude oil exports could help cut off a vital supply of funding to the Iranian regime. If my colleagues are serious about ensuring that countries abide by U.S. sanctions on Iran, they should support American crude oil exports, not oppose them.”

Byrne (R-AL) 3/5: On restrictions on religious freedoms of Christians around the world, including Syria and Egypt

Sires (D-NJ) 3/5: On the importance of women participating in a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Syria

Wolf (R-VA) 3/5: On the persecution and reports of forced conversion of Syrian Christians

Reid (D-NV) 3/3: Floor statement on the activities of the Koch brothers.  Noting, among other things, that according to a Bloomberg investigation, “These are the same brothers who…used foreign subsidiaries to sell millions of dollars of equipment to Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism…”

Nelson (D-FL) 2/6: Calling for the freeing of Bob Levinson, on the 7th anniversary of his disappearance

Ted “And-That’s-Just-The-Way-It-Is” Poe (R-TX) 3/4: Blasting Iran for support for terrorism worldwide

Engel (D-NY) and Hoyer (D-MD) 2/28: Colloquy on Iran (no nuclear weapon, support diplomacy but deeply skeptical)

Portman (R-OH) 2/28: Objecting to Democrats blocking a vote on new Iran sanctions


7.  Odds & Ends

JTA 3/12: Will Ukraine Crisis Have Fallout for Iran Nuclear Talks?

Al-Monitor 3/12: Senate bill seeks to preserve Russian help on Iran, Syria

Al-Monitor 3/11: Senate GOP split on adding Iran sanctions to Ukraine bill

The Blaze 3/6: Congress Trying to Prevent U.S. Tax Money from Funding Palestinian Terrorist Salaries

Roll Call 3/6: Ukraine Bill Could Attract Amendments on Iran Sanctions, Natural Gas Exports