As we have over the past two years, LobeLog is posting excerpts from the Legislative Round-up published weekly when Congress is in session by the inimitable Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now about what Congress is up to and what individual members are saying, particularly about Israel-Palestine and Iran. Lara is about to take on a new challenge as president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, but she plans to continue producing these invaluable reports.
Bills, Resolutions, Letters & Other
As noted in last week’s Round-Up, this past weekend was AIPAC’s annual policy conference, followed by its lobby days which saw thousands of conference attendees on the Hill promoting AIPAC’s legislative agenda. That agenda comprised asks of Congress in 5 areas:
AIPAC ask: “In both chambers of Congress, lawmakers have introduced bipartisan bills to respond to Iran’s malign behavior in the Middle East. The Iran Ballistic Missiles and International Sanctions Enforcement Act (H.R. 1698), authored by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), aims to strengthen sanctions targeting Iran’s ballistic missile activity and illicit arms transfers. Similarly, the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017 (S.722), authored by Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and SFRC Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD), bolsters sanctions across an array of activities in response to Iran’s dangerous activities in the region.”
Comment: The substance of these bills was covered in last week’s Round-Up. As of this writing (at 10am on 3/31/17), HR 1698 has 92 cosponsors (53 GOP, 39 Dems, plus Royce, R-CA, who is the sponsor), and S. 722 has 28 cosponsors (15 GOP, 13 Dems, plus Corker, R-TN, who is the sponsor). Also see analysis from the Arms Control Association: Sanctions Bill Poses Risk for Iran Deal; also see: Al-Monitor 3/29: Congress cautiously takes on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
AIPAC Legislative Agenda Item #2: Support Direct Negotiations, Not Imposed Solutions (H. Res. 11, S. Res. 6)
Comment: It appears that AIPAC has given up on getting the Senate to pass S. Res. 6, which had 78 cosponsors (plus Rubio, R-FL, the sponsor). H. Res. 11, which had 134 cosponsors (plus Royce, R-CA, the sponsor), was passed by the House 1/5/17 by a vote of 342 – 80, with 4 voting “Present.” For background on what happened with S. Res. 6, see the 1/13/17 edition of the Round-Up; for background on what happened with H. Res. 11, see the 1/6/17 edition of the Round-Up.
AIPAC ask: “Please urge your members of Congress to support full funding of annual security assistance to Israel—$3.1 billion—as well as $600 million in missile defense funding. Additionally, please urge your senators to sign a bipartisan letter authored by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Todd Young (R-IN) [to SAC and SAC/ForOps leaders] expressing support for robust funding for the Fiscal Year 2018 International Affairs Budget.”
Comment: The Durbin-Young letter reflects AIPAC’s longtime position that supporting aid for Israel requires supporting robust overall foreign aid. In the past, this position was used to push back against arguments that Israel was getting too big a piece of the foreign aid pie. The response given was that the problem wasn’t that Israel’s piece wasn’t too big but that the pie was too small. This position has been challenged in recent years, and never more so than in the current year, by those who want to inflict huge cuts on foreign aid overall, but promise to preserve aid to Israel. And thus you get an AIPAC-backed letter supporting robust foreign affairs funding (and not mentioning Israel at all).
AIPAC Legislative Agenda Item #4: Oppose the Delegitimization of Israel (S. 720, HR 1697, Rubio-Coons letter)
AIPAC ask: “From the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to the broader Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, Israel is under assault. Currently, Congress is working on several initiatives to stand with Israel. Please urge your members of Congress to cosponsor the Israel Anti-Boycott Act and urge senators to sign the Rubio-Coons letter to the U.N. Secretary General demanding an end to the U.N.’s anti-Israel bias.”
Comment: The substance of these bills was covered in last week’s Round-Up. As of this writing (at 10am on 3/31/17), S. 720 has 15 cosponsors (11 GOP, 4 Dems, plus Cardin, D-MD, the sponsor); HR 1697 has 50 cosponsors (31 GOP, 19 Dems, plus Roskam, R-IL, the sponsor). NOTE: On AIPAC’s website, the page promoting these bills fails to mention anywhere that the real goal/impact of the legislation is not preventing BDS targeting Israel but rather legitimizing/protecting/promoting settlements (consistent with the way AIPAC has presented all of the conflation bills thus far, other than briefly in 2015, when its website referenced “Israel and her territories” – a reference that was quickly removed – happily, there was a screen shot!). The Rubio-Coons letter, for its part, praises UN Ambassador Nikki Haley recent criticism of the UN for anti-Israel bias. The letter goes on to endorse many of the demands AIPAC and other right-wing groups have been making for years, including the demand to shut down Palestinian-focused entities at the UN and threatening UNESCO, UNRWA, and the UNHRC if they do not change their evil pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel ways.
AIPAC ask: “Israel has long been targeted with economic warfare, and Congress has a proud history of defending the Jewish state from such attacks. Please press your lawmakers to fight the boycott of Israel. Specifically, please urge your members of Congress to cosponsor the Combating BDS Act of 2017 and to cosponsor the Israel Anti-Boycott Act.”
Comment: HR 1697 was covered in last week’s Round-Up and, as noted above, currently has 50 cosponsors (31 GOP, 19 Dems, plus Roskam, R-IL, the sponsor). S. 170 was introduced 1/17/17 and has 32 cosponsors (21 GOP, 11 Dems, plus Rubio, R-FL, the sponsor); the substance of S. 170 was covered in detail in the 1/27/17 edition of the Round-Up. NOTE: AIPAC’s page pushing these bills fails to mention anywhere that the real goal/impact of the legislation is not preventing BDS targeting Israel but rather legitimizing/protecting/promoting settlements.
(HONORING SHIMON PERES) H. Res. 137: Introduced 2/16 by Cicilline (D-NH) and currently having 48 cosponsors (39 Democrats, 9 Republicans), “Honoring the life of Shimon Peres.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Passed by HFAC 3/29; Cicilline press release is here.
(15th ANNIVERSARY OF [THE US & ISRAEL DISMISSING] THE ARAB PEACE INITIATIVE) H. Res. 231: Introduced 3/28 by Hastings (D-FL), “Celebrating the importance of the 15th Anniversary of the Arab Peace Initiative as a meaningful effort by Arab countries to the commitment of peace in the Middle East.” Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Hastings’ statement introducing the resolution is here; press release is here.
(BEWARE OF ONE-STATE OUTCOME) Price-Connolly letter: On 2/28 Reps. Price (D-NC) and Connolly (D-VA) began circulating a Dear Colleague seeking cosigners on a letter to President Trump, warning of the dangers of a one-state outcome. As of 3/24, the letter was sent to President Trump with 191 signers, including nearly all House Democrats, plus Jones (R-NC) and Duncan (R-TN). Price press release is here. Connolly press release is here. During AIPAC, Minority Leader Pelosi (D-CA) read the text of the letter from the dais, as part of her address to the conference. As reported widely in the media, J Street was the moving force behind the letter. NOTE: In a really great piece of reporting, Aaron Magid at the Jewish Insider provides insight into some of the Democrats who declined to sign the letter: Gottheimer (D-NJ) said he didn’t sign the letter because it was “partisan”; Vargas (D-CA) – who, it is worth recalling, is the lead House Democrat pushing for legislation to, in effect, make it U.S. policy to support/defend/promote settlements by legislating that settlements are part of Israel – rejected the letter because he said opposes putting pressure on Israel; and Waters (D-CA) didn’t sign because she refuses to write to or meet with Trump.
(TRUMP’S & THE CORRUPT IRAN-LINKED OLIGARCH) Brown-Cardin-Feinstein letter: On 3/30 Senators Brown (D-OH), Cardin (D-MD) and Feinstein (D-CA) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and FBI Director James Comey calling for a federal investigation into whether President Trump’s business dealings in Azerbaijan may have violated anti-corruption and sanctions laws, and may have served as a channel for money-laundering and other illicit activities tied to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Press release is here.
(US MILITARY ENGAGEMENT IN YEMEN) Pocan et al letter: This week Reps. Pocan (D-WI), Amash (R-MI), Lieu (D-CA) and Jones (R-NC) are seeking cosigners on a letter to President Trump expressing “serious concern over reports that your administration is actively considering ‘direct support for the anti-Houthi coalition’ of militaries led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen.” The letter warns [bolding in the original text] that “Engaging our military against Yemen’s Houthis when no direct threat to the United States exists and without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers clearly delineated in the Constitution. For this reason, we write to request that the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) provide, without delay, any legal justification that it would cite if the administration intends to engage in direct hostilities against Yemen’s Houthis without seeking congressional authorization.” The letter goes on to ask for the OLC to provide legal opinions regarding other Trump Administration actions, statements and policies vis-à-vis Yemen. For more on this letter/issue, see: Congress raises alarm over US confrontation with Yemen’s Houthis (Al-Monitor 3/30).
(ONCE AGAIN STATING THAT OneVoice WAS CLEARED OF WRONG-DOING) Senate Report 115-12:On 3/28/17 the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs issued a report reviewing the Committee’s activities during the 114th Congress. The report includes a section on the investigation and July 2016 report by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations into allegations of misuse of U.S. funding by the NGO OneVoice. The report reiterates the findings that: “OneVoice Israel fully complied with the terms of its State Department grants” and “The Subcommittee found no evidence that OneVoice spent grant funds to influence the 2015 Israeli elections.”
4/5: The House Committee on oversight and government Reform’s Subcommittee on National Security will hold a hearing entitled, “Assessing the Iran Deal.” As of this writing no witnesses have yet been announced.
4/5: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats will hold a hearing entitled, “Turkey’s Democracy Under Challenge.” Scheduled witnesses are: David Phillips, Columbia University; Mehmet Yuksel, People’s Democratic Party in Turkey; Ali Cinar, Turkish Heritage Organization; and Naz Durakoglu, Digital Forensic Rese,
4/4: The House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade and Subcommittee on Terrorism and Illicit Finance will hold a joint hearing entitled, “Increasing the Effectiveness of Non-Nuclear Sanctions Against Iran.” Scheduled witnesses are: Behnam Ben Taleblu, FDD; J. Matthew McInnis, AEI; Emanuele Ottolenghi, FDD; and [token non-far-right-winger] Suzanne Maloney, Brookings Institution. NOTE: Based on the title of the hearing, it is probable that it will deal with HR 1698, the new AIPAC-backed Iran sanctions bill introduced last week by Royce (R-CA) and currently having 64 cosponsors (and lobbied heavily by AIPAC this week), and which was referred to a number of House committees, including Financial Services.
3/30: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing entitled, “The Road Ahead: U.S. Interests, Values, and the American People.” Witnesses were: former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Advisor Steve Hadley, who (unusually) submitted a joint statement.
3/29: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa held a hearing entitled, “Testing the Limits: Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program, Sanctions, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.” Witnesses were: Kenneth Katzman, Congressional Research Service; Michael Eisenstadt, WINEP; and Elizabeth Rosenberg, CNAS. Video of the hearing is here. Ros-Lehtinen’s (R-FL) statement is here. Unusually, as of this writing, no written testimony has been posted for any of the witnesses.
3/29: The House Armed Services Committee held a hearing entitled, “Military Assessment of the Security Challenges in the Greater Middle East.” The sole witness was General Joseph Votel, Commander, US Central Command (statement). Video of the hearing is here.
3/29: The Committee on Homeland Security’s Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee held a hearing entitled, “Terrorism in North Africa: An Examination of the Threat.” Witnesses were: Geoff Porter, North Africa Risk Consulting, Inc. (Testimony); Laith Alkhouri, Flashpoint (Testimony); J. Peter Pham, Atlantic Council (Testimony); and Frederic Wehrey, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Testimony). Chairman King’s (R-NY) opening statement is here. Video of the hearing is here.
3/28: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing entitled, “The View from Congress: U.S. Policy on Iran.” Witnesses were: Michael Singh, WINEP (testimony); and Martin Indyk, Brookings (testimony). Video of the hearing is here. Corker (R-TN) statement is here; Portman (R-OH) statement is here; Cardin (D-MD) statement is here.
3/28: The House Armed Services Committee held a hearing entitled, “Military Assessment of Russian Activities and Security Challenges in Europe.” The sole witness was General Curtis M. Scaparrotti Commander, United States European Command (statement). Video of the hearing is here. General Scaparotti’s statement covers a great number of developments in and related to the Middle East, including a fairly detailed discussion of EUCOM’s mission to assist Israel (page 21).
On the Record
Messer (R-IN) 3/30: General Petraeus Meets with Republican Policy Committee on National Security, discussed national security challenges in the Middle East, including in Syria and Iran, and efforts to combat radical Islamic extremism.
Cotton (R-AR) 3/30: Floor statement on recent trip to Mideast [Slamming Obama’s Iran policy, praising Israel, etc…]
Feinstein (D-CA) 3/30: Feinstein Opposes New West Bank Settlements
Farenthold (R-TX) 3/29: Floor statement, “The Important Relationship Between the United States and Israel” (endorsing/pitching all the AIPAC legislative asks)
Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) 3/29: Floor statement, “Anti-Semitism at the United Nations” – among other things, mischaracterizing the UN Human Rights Council call for people to cease doing business with settlements as “a blacklist to target individuals and entities that do business with Israel” (emphasis added), slamming UNESCO, and citing “efforts to take Israel to the International Criminal Court or to force Israel to agree to a one-sided peace plan” – all of which she describes as “the height of delegitimatization.” She goes on to promise to “introduce a bill soon that addresses these problems at the U.N…”
Buchanan (R-FL) 3/29: Buchanan Meets with Jewish Leaders on Anti-Semitism, Israeli-US Relations (AIPAC)
Peters (D-MI) 3/29: Peters Cosponsors Legislation to Recognize and Encourage U.S-Israel Economic Partnership
Rounds (R-SD) 3/28: SASC Cyber Subcommittee Chairman Mike Rounds Hosts Informal Meeting with Israeli Directorate
Ryan (R-WI) 3/28: Highlight Reel of Speaker Ryan’s Remarks to AIPAC
Gottheimer (D-NJ) 3/27: Gottheimer Addresses Importance of Bipartisan Support for Israel at AIPAC Policy Conference
McSally (R-AZ) 3/27: Rep. McSally Highlights Tucson’s Role in US-Israel Alliance at 2017 AIPAC Policy Conference
Ryan (R-WI) 3/27: FULL TEXT: Speaker Ryan’s Remarks at 2017 AIPAC Policy Conference
Ratcliffe (R-TX) 3/27: Rep. Ratcliffe Speaks at AIPAC’s Annual Policy Conference [“Rep. Ratcliffe (R-Texas) highlighted his ongoing legislative efforts to bolster U.S.-Israel cybersecurity cooperation today at AIPAC’s Annual Policy Conference. He was joined by Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) on a panel moderated by AIPAC’s Assistant Director of Policy & Government Affairs, Taylor Parker…”]
Hastings (D-FL) 3/24: **MEDIA ADVISORY** Hastings to Speak at AIPAC Policy Conference