Jamal Abdi joined the National Iranian American Council as Policy Director in November 2009, directing NIAC’s efforts to monitor policies and legislation, and to educate and advocate on behalf of the Iranian-American community. Abdi joined NIAC’s team following his work in the US Congress as Policy Advisor to Representative Brian Baird (D-WA). Jamal tweets at @jabdi.
Skepticism surrounding the Trump administration’s approach towards Iran has been on full display following recent attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. While Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was quick to publicly draw the conclusion that Iran was responsible, and the US Navy released grainy footage as proof, the reception from the public and even America’s closest allies has been circumspection. A question that many in Washington have been asking in private has increasingly become public: are we witnessing a ham-fisted, Trumpian rerun of America’s past misadventures towards war, this time with Iran? Many are already bracing themselves for Pompeo’s version of Colin Powell’s vial of anthrax at the UN. And even before the tanker attacks, talk of the Gulf of Tonkin and “remember the Maine” were being thrown around by typically sober-minded analysts.
While the truth behind the tanker episode may reveal itself to be exactly what Pompeo has claimed — or exposed as something more nefarious — the machinations behind a separate campaign to shore up the humanitarian case for war with Iran have already begun to unravel. And the fingerprints of key players in the Trump administration and its allies are all over it.
In the lead-up to the Iraq war, the Bush administration propped up an Iraqi exile, Ahmad Chalabi, as the voice of the Iraqi people. Thanks to Chalabi, Americans were led to believe Iraqis wanted their country to be invaded and, in the words of the administration, the US “would be greeted as liberators.” Nearly two decades later, in the age of social media, the proponents of war with Iran have not just propped up a single Iranian validator in support of intervention, but an entire cyber network of Iranian Chalabis. And while in many cases these accounts may indeed belong to organic supporters of regime change, recent revelations have cast a long shadow.
This Memorial Day weekend, the forces working towards war with Iran launched a propaganda attack against NIAC, our allies, Iranian-American analysts, and even Iranian-American political candidates that NIAC Action has endorsed in local elections. With armies of bots, they orchestrated a Tweetstorm aimed at intimidating us and stopping our work for peace and diplomacy.
We know well the crowd behind the attacks — from Mark Dubowitz, the architect of Trump’s “maximum pressure” sanctions who heads the hardline pro-Israel organization “Foundation for Defense of Democracies,” to so-called analysts at John Bolton’s former think tank, to hardline Iranian diaspora social media accounts backed by inauthentic “bot armies” that likely include the MEK’s publicly revealed “troll farm” in Albania.
The goal of these attacks is simple: to divide and weaken our community. To ensure that Iranian Americans do not have a voice, do not hold influential positions in Washington D.C., do not run for office and build political power, and shy away from civic engagement.
Why? Because our community is the biggest threat to plans for war with Iran, and because NIAC continues to organize pro-peace Iranian Americans into a powerful and influential voice.
The game plan of Bolton, Dubowitz, and the pro-war crowd is to create a false narrative that the Iranian people, and Iranian Americans, support Donald Trump’s maximum pressure sanctions and welcome a military intervention.
It’s “we will be greeted as liberators” all over again.
That’s what this astroturf campaign is all about: to make it appear as though support for war is coming from our community and our loved ones in Iran. They borrow tactics from the very regime they claim to oppose: demanding total allegiance to a political ideology, silencing dissent through intimidation, labeling civil society and political opponents as treasonous “agents” of the enemy, and distorting the debate through outrageous lies and propaganda.
But NIAC stands in the way of their plans to silence us or speak for us in their quest to destroy Iran and devastate our loved ones. Our #NoWarWithIran campaign has been viewed nearly 150,000 times and counting, and our community has raised their voices and sent over 50,000 messages to Congress.
The attacks are just further evidence of how important our work is — and how important it is that Iranian American’s unite their voices to be even louder in the face of the pro-war crowd’s shameless desperation. We are working closely with journalists, data scientists, and researchers to expose these disinformation campaigns, the network of inauthentic accounts, trolls, and bots, and the agents behind these coordinated efforts to crush Iranian American civil society.
We will not let these people tear our community apart, scare Iranian Americans from engaging in the civic process, and silence our collective voice. We will not let them speak for us.
Originally published at https://iranian.com on May 26, 2019.
In August 2013, a group of 466 Iranian dissidents, including dozens of political prisoners, wrote a letter to President Barack Obama chastising him for his Iran policy. The unprecedented sanctions Obama had mustered against Iran, they argued, were not only debilitating the Iranian economy but suffocating Iranian civil society and prospects for peaceful democratic change within the country.
“The Iranian people see themselves as victims to tensions between the U.S. and Iranian governments,” the letter proclaimed. “[They] have reached the conclusion that the sanctioning countries don’t care about their human rights and, to compel the Islamic Republic to accept their demands, they target the Iranian people.”
This week, Donald Trump reinstated the first set of those sanctions, which were removed as part of the July 2015 nuclear accord. According to the Congressional Research Service, these sanctions were the “most sweeping sanctions on Iran of virtually any country in the world,” cutting Iran out of most international trade and banking, and slashing its oil exports—the lifeblood of the Iranian economy.
The Obama sanctions plunged the Iranian economy into recession and doubled the rate of Iranian families in poverty. In January 2013, the Guardian wrote that “hundreds of thousands of Iranians with serious illnesses have been put at imminent risk by … sanctions, which have led to dire shortages of life-saving medicines such as chemotherapy drugs for cancer and bloodclotting agents for haemophiliacs.”
The human costs of the sanctions were not only overlooked by many in Washington, but outright defended in some quarters. Congressman Brad Sherman declared at the time: “Critics also argued that these measures will hurt the Iranian people. Quite frankly, we need to do just that.”
Trump may have a similar mindset in re-imposing the sanctions, despite complete Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal that triggered their removal. Despite his expressed desire for talks with Iran, the rhetoric and actions coming from the president and his administration do not reflect an endgame focused on diplomatic compromise.
Rather, they betray an objective to weaken and destabilize Iran. To this end, Trump has embraced the aggressively anti-Iran positions of Israeli, Saudi, and Emirati leaders, who for years have pushed U.S. presidents to bomb Iran. For them, a failed state in Iran is a sufficient objective.
Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign has been marked by all-out economic warfare, including a stated aim of forcing Iran out of the oil market. Trump and his hawkish officials National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have also actively tried to sow the flames of unrest in Iran. At a time when economic hardship and political grievances have brought thousands of Iranians to the streets, Pompeo and Bolton have flattered fringe and extremist Iranian opposition groups. According to U.S. officials speaking with Reuters, the Trump administration has “launched an offensive of speeches and online communications meant to foment unrest and help pressure Iran.” The administration has also reportedly teamed up with Israel to form a “joint working group” focused on “internal efforts to encourage protests within Iran.”
The reality is that Trump’s pressure campaign weakens those within Iran who seek more conciliatory foreign relations and a more open political and social domestic landscape. It also empowers Tehran’s most reactionary forces.
The repressive powers in the Islamic Republic are far more threatened by Iran’s integration into the global economy than by a tit-for-tat dispute with the United States. They worry that the lifting of sanctions will undermine the monopolies established by the well connected few who are aligned with the Revolutionary Guards and other government entities. Indeed, after the nuclear deal, the Supreme Leader issued edicts against a broader opening to the United States and hardliners repeatedly warned of “foreign infiltration” in order to obstruct President Hassan Rouhani’s outreach to the West.
The real threats to repressive rule in Iran are a growing middle class, an organized civil society movement, and leaders who have the political capital to push for change against entrenched elements in the system. These trends make a democratic Iran inevitable. But outsiders, often led by the United States, have taken actions to arrest these developments. They have propped up Iran’s repressive rulers with threats of war and invasion, and bailed them out by slapping sanctions and travel bans to isolate Iranians and keep them weak.
Trump’s punishing use of sanctions will wither away Iranian civil society by impoverishing Iran’s middle class. The sanctions will serve to increase control of the Iranian economy by unaccountable and repressive forces. If U.S. policymakers wish to increase room for political dissent and civil society in Iran, they should remove obstacles to improving the standard of living and wellbeing of the Iranian people. Surrounded by advisors who have for years argued for orchestrating a civil war in Iran, Donald Trump unfortunately appears headed in a perilous direction.
Today is my first day as President of the National Iranian American Council. I could not be more proud to take the helm of this organization that my friend and mentor Trita founded and developed into a powerhouse with influence throughout Washington, a dynamic staff in D.C. and California, and tens of thousands of members and supporters across the country. But at this critical juncture, we have a lot of work ahead of us to fight for the priorities of the Iranian-American community.
I joined NIAC’s team in 2009 as Policy Director, became the founding Executive Director of NIAC Action to ensure our voices were heard at the ballot box, and most recently served as NIAC’s Vice President. Over that time, we have been through it all – from the hopes of the 2009 Iranian elections to human rights crackdowns and crippling sanctions. From a historic diplomatic opening and the promise of building bridges between Americans and Iranians, to a ban that divides us from our families.
Through the highs and the lows, NIAC’s mission has been consistent: to build power for Iranian Americans and our allies so that we shape our own political destiny. That means engaging our community in civic life, providing the tools and information to influence our government and elected officials, and building a platform for our community to find and speak with a powerful, unified voice.
We are in a moment now when our voice is needed more than ever before. Our community’s rights – the rights that are supposed to be a fabric of America and which were fundamental to the very existence of Iranian Americans – are in question. The country of our heritage, meanwhile, is in the crosshairs of newly empowered interests who see the years since the invasion of Iraq as a mere intermission delaying their second act in Iran. But the biggest threat to our community is giving in to those who tell us we do not have power to decide what happens next.
We are not historians, we are activists. We are not bound to a fate decided as part of some opaque and unknown process, we are active participants in a democracy that is being tested. If we are convinced we lack agency over our political destiny, we resort to apathy and conspiracy theories. We accede to the forces of despotism and, instead of building power by working together, we turn on each other to the delight of outside influences who want to keep us disorganized and weak.
At NIAC, we know the rules of the political game and how to win. We know that influence is not only good ideas and access, it is about building power through organizing our community so that, instead of a formless cacophony of disparate voices turned against themselves, we form a powerful, unified voice that resonates in the halls of government.
We have much work to do on our community’s journey to building the political power we are capable of. This transition is a critical moment in that journey – the passage of any organization from its founder to their successor is when a startup becomes an institution. And while building an institution in the midst of what feels like a perilous moment in America’s political history may feel like a tall order, I relish the opportunity. In fact, I think this is precisely the challenge we as a country and we as a community must face head-on in order to meet our potential.
NIAC’s strength and influence comes from the community we serve. My top priority is to build our organization through our members. Over the weeks and months ahead, we will be rolling out new initiatives to deepen our connections with our members – and the level of input you have in shaping our organization – and to expand our membership and build our community.
In Farid Ud-din Attar’s Conference of the Birds, a flock embarks to find the leader who will save them. In the end, it is revealed that the “Simorgh” was not a single exalted leader but rather it was the flock itself, working together, who was the leader they had been seeking. It is a lesson that our community and its forebears have struggled to learn for generations. I am so proud to be a part of an organization that is committed to building this community that is unified, strategic and working together to build real power and leadership. I hope to help guide that process so that we realize our community’s true potential and become the masters of our own political destinies.
Much more to come.
In the lead-up to Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally withdraw from the Iran deal, the President operated with near-impunity from Congress and the media. His nomination of Mike Pompeo, an avowed Iran hawk who worked tirelessly in Congress to undercut Obama’s diplomatic efforts and unravel the nuclear deal, met with some controversy but ultimately passed over the toothless opposition of Senate Democrats. Trump’s appointment of John Bolton to round out his “Iran war cabinet” provoked a handful of headlines but received far less media scrutiny than even Bolton’s 2006 recess appointment to a lower position in the Bush Administration. And in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s decision, it appeared he might also bully his way past Congress, the press, and Europe to begin escalating toward military conflict. But the tide may be turning against Trump and his “war cabinet.”
We were angered and shocked to find out over the weekend that NIAC had been targeted by operatives of Black Cube – a private Israeli Intelligence firm that conducted “dirty ops” against former Obama Administration officials as part of a campaign to discredit and silence supporters of diplomacy with Iran. What makes the matter even worse is that Black Cube was allegedly hired by the Trump Administration.
These reports have been met by public outrage and the Trump Administration now faces intense scrutiny as it decides whether to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran deal this weekend. Donald Trump’s utilization of foreign agents to target former U.S. government officials and organizations like ours warrants a full investigation by the Justice Department as well as Congress. NIAC is now actively reviewing our own legal options to hold the perpetrators of this Nixonian campaign accountable.
These revelations confirm the lengths to which this Administration will go to unravel the Iran deal and set the stage for a war.
It also shows how those who want war with Iran have sought to target NIAC and prevent Iranian Americans from having a powerful, politically effective voice for peace. This latest campaign against us is just the most recent example of the coordinated effort to divide and weaken our community.
While they are targeting pro-peace voices within the Iranian-American community, there is also an effort to elevate the voices for war. The revelation about Black Cube came on the same day as the MEK terrorist organization hosted its first conference in Washington, DC in 12 years, featuring Trump lawyer and confidante Rudy Giuliani as its keynote speaker.
The aim of the event, which received significant media coverage around Giuliani’s call for U.S.-sponsored regime change and tearing up the Iran deal, was to establish the MEK as the voice of Iranian Americans.
As Iranian Americans, we cannot succumb and allow Trump, Netanyahu, or the MEK to target us and claim to speak for our community.
The overwhelming majority of Iranian Americans do not want war with Iran and do not want the U.S. to turn Iran into another Iraq. With the clouds of war gathering, it is incumbent that our community unite now behind an organized effort to stop military action and raise our voices rather than allow a former terrorist group to speak for us.
Trump and Black Cube’s targeting of us has only doubled our determination not to be silenced or intimidated from carrying out our mission of ensuring that the Iranian-American community has the power to shape the issues that most affect us. We will do everything we can, along with our allies, to empower our community and prevent this Administration from taking the US into an unjustified and unnecessary war with Iran.
Stand with us. Stand for peace.
Help us fight back against these heinous attacks against us, our colleagues, and our community by making a donation to NIAC today.
Thank you for your support.
Washington, DC – NIAC Action Executive Director Jamal Abdi issued the following statement after a majority of the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee announced their opposition to Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo:
“This is a blow to Pompeo’s standing that will haunt him even if he is confirmed. The Senate is sending a warning that Pompeo’s hawkish impulses will be resisted if he makes it into the administration. Nobody voted to return Iraq war architect John Bolton to the White House. Adding Pompeo, who supports war and regime change for Iran, is a combustible mix.
“President Trump will make his decision on whether to kill the Iran deal in just weeks. He could set off a chain reaction of events that John Bolton, Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump could dangerously mishandle. Members of the Senate are realizing that it will fall on them to prevent Trump from starting a new war of choice.
“Trump should dump Pompeo now, but Mitch McConnell may force a vote and break with decades of precedent. Pompeo could become the first Secretary of State nominee in modern history not to receive the endorsement of the committee.
“NIAC Action and its members continue to strongly and actively oppose Pompeo’s nomination and have worked alongside a broad coalition of organizations opposing Pompeo’s views on a wide range of issues from foreign policy to Islamophobia, reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights and climate change.”
Donald Trump has seized on the terror attack in New York this past week to advance a political agenda that directly threatens the Iranian-American community.
Immediately following the attack in Manhattan on Tuesday, the President took to Twitter – not to offer leadership or any pragmatic policies to address such acts – but to exploit the event for political gain. He attacked his political opponents and doubled-down on his calls to close off the United States to the outside world.
Iranian Americans have witnessed firsthand how this administration has utilized supposed national security policies to marginalize immigrant communities – starting with the Muslim ban and attempts to circumvent courts to ban grandmothers. Now, President Trump is exploiting New York’s tragedy to call for an increase in his “extreme vetting” policy and a shutdown of our nation’s diversity visa program.
Sadly, even as the courts have suspended President Trump’s attempts at a Muslim ban, he has managed to at least partially enact a de facto ban via this “extreme vetting” policy. As a result, we have seen a dramatic decrease in visas issued to individuals from Muslim-majority countries, particularly countries on Trump’s initial Muslim ban list.
Meanwhile, Trump’s allies in Congress have seized on the attacks to call for the dismantling of the diversity visa program – and even signaling out the large number of Iranian beneficiaries of the program as a reason for termination. Senator David Perdue (R-GA) tweeted:
Did you know IRAN – the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism – was the 3rd highest recipient of Diversity Lottery visas in 2016?
— David Perdue (@sendavidperdue) November 2, 2017
Many Iranian Americans would not be here were it not for the programs that Trump is working to shut down. If Trump’s policies had been in place over the past four decades, there would be no Iranian-American community.
Instead of serving Americans, the President and his allies’ agenda has fostered insecurity in the lives of millions across the country – offering the promise of trading our liberties for security, and placing the brunt of those sacrifices on immigrant communities. Supposed security policies like the Muslim Ban and “extreme vetting” are not rooted in any serious thinking about national security but instead based on bigotry and campaign rally rhetoric. Bans do not work. None of the attacks in the United States – from September 11th to what just happened in New York – would have been prevented by President Trump’s Muslim Ban.
In fact, the President has actually exacerbated the threat of terrorism for this country. No matter how “extreme” Trump’s vetting policy becomes, a significant body of scholarship suggests that radicalization often occurs within the country where the attack takes place. And President Trump’s own targeting and vilification of Muslims has only contributed to radicalization efforts by terrorist groups.
Meanwhile, whether it be from his reluctance to take a firm stand against the White supremacist violence in Charlottesville, a refusal to even debate the causes of the horrific massacre in Las Vegas, or his reaction to the ISIS-inspired attack in New York City, the President has failed to address terrorism in any serious manner when it actually happens.
Our leaders should indeed be resolute in defending our country. That means not just protecting territory but also protecting the fundamental rights and values that make America great. These two goals are not mutually exclusive. The courts have done their due diligence in assessing whether President Trump’s various actions are constitutional, but it is not their responsibility to determine what most benefits the country. This latter question must be answered by our elected representatives.
Unfortunately, the refusal by many in Congress to allow a vote to rescind the deeply flawed Muslim Ban or even question how “extreme vetting” is really being implemented lends these policies the aura of a Congressional imprimatur and detracts from real solutions to threats. This inaction by Congress permits President Trump to continue to politicize tragedy and exposes our nation to greater risks than any terrorist can inflict. Congress must no longer serve as enablers for this behavior. It is time for lawmakers to rescind the Muslim ban and investigate Trump’s “extreme vetting” efforts that have already done so much damage to our country – and for their voters to hold them accountable if they refuse.
The think tanks, advocacy groups, and major funders who spent tens of millions of dollars to stop Obama from securing the nuclear agreement between Iran and UN powers in 2015 are back at it again. Reinvigorated by the Donald Trump administration, there is now a full-scale campaign underway in Washington to kill the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and convince the public that it is Iran – not the U.S. – who is violating the accord.
Some are campaigning for Trump to tear up the deal immediately, regardless of the consequences for the U.S. But the more sophisticated opponents of the deal offer an approach that is far more insidious – they want Trump to unravel the deal by demanding the agreement be re-opened and renegotiated to deliver a “better deal.”
If the Trump administration is serious about negotiating a “better deal”, it would first have to honor the deal that is before it and restore badly tarnished U.S. credibility. Instead, they are doing the exact opposite.
It’s easy to forget that, less than five years ago, the top foreign policy concern for the United States was Iran’s imminent attainment of “nuclear-weapons capability.” Iran’s nuclear program was advancing at a rate that made it all but inevitable that the nation would soon have the ability to “break out” and begin enriching weapons-grade fuel faster than International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors could detect such a move.
Meanwhile, the reach of U.S.-led international sanctions was approaching its limits, and policymakers were reconciling themselves to the fact that — absent a change in course — the U.S. would face either a nuclear weapons-capable Iran or an immensely costly military confrontation that would dwarf the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Fast forward to 2017 and the Iran nuclear deal has taken those fears off the table. With the deal, we will not need to worry about Iran having an undetectable breakout capability, given the now permanent presence of IAEA inspectors in Iran. And yet the Trump administration appears dead set on unraveling the nuclear deal and potentially setting the stage for war with Iran.
Foreign Policy reports that Donald Trump has set up a separate unit within his administration aimed at building the case for tearing up the nuclear deal — and perhaps even worse. The effort smacks of the Bush administration’s machinations to lay the groundwork for the Iraq war, when they established The Office of Special Plans led by Douglas Feith aimed at cherry picking intelligence for the case against Saddam.
Trump’s deja vu-inspiring move comes on the heels of reports that Trump fought against certifying Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement. If the president doesn’t certify that Iran is complying with the agreement every 90 days, under a law passed by Congress, it would trigger an expedited Congressional process to reimpose sanctions that were suspended under the nuclear deal and thereby kill the agreement.
In spite of this, Democrats in Congress — many of whom risked significant political capital by joining the nearly unanimous support for the Iran deal — seem to have taken their eye off the ball. When the Iran deal came before Congress in 2014, it took nearly every Democratic vote in the Senate to save Republicans from themselves and prevent them from blocking the agreement. Had the deal been rejected by Congress, it would have left years of negotiations and the Obama administration’s signature foreign policy achievement in tatters — not to mention the United States’ diplomatic credibility.
Now, that credibility is more in doubt than ever. The Trump administration reneged on U.S. commitments to the Paris Climate Treaty. It backed the U.S. out of the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement. It has reversed course on Obama’s easing of the embargo against Cuba. And now, the U.S. under Trump is at risk of violating the most important arms agreement in decades.
So what are Democrats who fought like hell to get this agreement doing? Last month, Democrats joined Republicans in voting 98-2 for new Iran sanctions. The only 2 who voted against it were the Senate’s iconoclasts, Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul.
The sanctions bill was not without controversy. A group of former Obama administration officials warned that it would likely cause the U.S. to violate the Iran deal. The Senate made only the most modest changes in response to some of these concerns, yet the text still relies on restraint from the Trump administration in order to not upend the Iran nuclear agreement.
The bill also gives Donald Trump new tools to engage in unprecedented and highly dangerous escalatory measures. It seeks to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization — the first time that a state’s military would be designated under a mechanism devised to confront non-state actors. The possibility of the U.S. designating a military with whom American troops often find themselves working in parallel and in close quarters in Iraq and elsewhere should raise major red flags — especially at the Pentagon. In fact, this designation is one that has been called for by American Israel Public Affairs Committeesince 2007 but even Bush decided against it due to protests from the joint chiefs of staff.
Why would Democrats in Congress put their faith in Donald Trump to uphold the Iran deal while their own legislation goads him to take more provocative actions? In part because of the usual political pressure, in part because of the sense that they must do something on Iran, but mostly because a bargain was struck to include sanctions against Russia as part of the package.
These sanctions have played as a political wedge between congressional Republicans and the president and would actually revoke some of the Trump’s authorities to lift Russia sanctions. Democrats are trumpeting the Russia sanctions as a major victory. The Iran sanctions, and all their inherent dangers, have become an afterthought.
Now, after weeks of negotiations, the sanctions package will move forward this week. By Friday, the new sanctions could be on the president’s desk. While Democrats may score a victory on Russia, they may be setting the stage for turning Trump into a wartime president. And if that happens, few will remember the Democrats as the party that sanctioned Russia. Instead they will remember when Democrats acquiesced to, and even encouraged, Trump’s push towards war with Iran.
Tuesday morning, the House of Representatives did the unthinkable: lawmakers actually held a vote on Donald Trump’s Muslim ban.
Representative Mark Pocan had the nerve in the Appropriations committee to call for a vote on whether taxpayer dollars should be used to enforce Trump’s Muslim ban against the grandparents and other family members of Americans ― this, after the Supreme Court and lower courts forced Trump to let family members into the country (and social media protests against the grandma ban).
Not shockingly, the amendment failed, because every Republican save one ― Charlie Dent ― voted to protect the president and uphold even the most indefensible elements of the ban. It was the first and only vote Congress has ever held on Trump’s Muslim ban, and the Republican-led Congress ran interference for Trump.
This may sound like a dereliction of duty, but it’s true. In the seven months since Donald Trump took office, Congress has done literally nothing as Trump has engaged in multiple attempts to make good on his campaign promise of banning Muslims from the U.S. The first Muslim ban wreaked havoc at our airports and prevented green card holders from returning home. After the courts blocked it, his second Muslim ban blocked grandmothers from visiting their American grandchildren and separated families across continents.
Meanwhile, even as successive courts have issued orders to pause or limit the Muslim ban, the Trump administration has still managed to reduce visas to Muslim-majority countries by 20 percent and “banned” countries by more than 50 percent. As an Iranian American, I can tell you that there is not a single member of my community that I am aware of who hasn’t been impacted by this ban and the extreme vetting policies that have accompanied it over these past seven months.
Yet in that time, Congress has literally taken zero actions on the Muslim ban. They have not held a single hearing, they have not launched any investigations into what is actually going on, and Republican leadership has blocked any attempt to vote on legislation to repeal the ban.
In all the chaos of the Trump administration, an important fact has been obscured: Congress actually has the power to pass legislation (!) and has the authority to rescind and defund any of Trump’s executive orders ― including the Muslim ban.
Were Congress to summon the political will to act, the Muslim ban would be over with for good. Instead, millions of families wait in limbo to find out what the Supreme Court will ultimately decide when it takes up this issue in the fall. Affected communities get whiplash keeping track of what elements of the ban have been suspended, what countries Trump may ban permanently, which members of our family are banned and which can get in, and what other back and forth will take place between the courts and the White House. Congress has the power to put an end to all of this and give Americans with families in Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen some peace of mind.
It shouldn’t be so hard for Congress to act. It seems like just yesterday that Paul Ryan and Mike Pence spoke out so courageously against Donald Trump’s calls to ban Muslims from the United States. Of course, that was before Donald Trump became president. The fact that Ryan, Pence, and so many others in the GOP have flip flopped on this issue (especially when, behind closed doors, many will tell you that they oppose the ban) makes the obvious painfully clear: as with all things in Washington, this comes down to politics. That is why so many members of Trump’s party have avoided talking about or taking any position on Trump’s unpopular ban.
That’s why it is so important to not allow lawmakers to avoid taking tough votes on the Muslim ban and to hold them accountable. Thanks to Rep. Pocan’s amendment yesterday, we now have a list of 29 lawmakers who are all now on the record as supporters of banning grandmas from America. That includes lawmakers like Rep. John Culberson (R-Houston) who represents over 6,000 Iranian Americans and whose voters gave him a pass in 2016 but voted against Donald Trump in the presidential.
2018 is going to be a very tough election for Trump’s party. Unlike 2016, when many Republican lawmakers campaigned on the premise that Donald Trump was an outlier and not reflective of themselves, in the 2018 elections they will have to run on their record under Trump. Lawmakers who vote in lockstep with Trump to protect his most heinous policies, like the Muslim ban, will no longer get a pass. That’s why we must pose a simple choice: our elected representatives can either break with the president and stand up with against the ban, or we will be held accountable at the ballot box. If that happens, it is very likely that at least the House will flip. And if that happens, you can all but guarantee there will be hearings, investigations, and, yes, votes on Trump’s Muslim ban.
Members who voted to protect Trump’s grandma ban:
Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, New Jersey
Harold Rogers, Kentucky
Robert B. Aderholt, Alabama
Kay Granger, Texas
Michael K. Simpson, Idaho
John Abney Culberson, Texas
John R. Carter, Texas
Ken Calvert, California
Tom Cole, Oklahoma
Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida
Tom Graves, Georgia
Kevin Yoder, Kansas
Steve Womack, Arkansas
Jeff Fortenberry, Nebraska
Thomas J. Rooney, Florida
Charles J. Fleischmann, Tennessee
Jaime Herrera Beutler, Washington
David P. Joyce, Ohio
David G. Valadao, California
Andy Harris, MD, Maryland
Martha Roby, Alabama
Mark E. Amodei, Nevada
Chris Stewart, Utah
David Young, Iowa
Evan H. Jenkins, West Virginia
Steven Palazzo, Mississippi
Dan Newhouse, Washington
John R. Moolenaar, Michigan
Scott Taylor, Virginia