Iran Sanctions Bill Hits Partisan and Procedural Snags in House

Washington, DC – The House of Representatives narrowly voted to block the President from lifting sanctions on Iran on Wednesday before, minutes later, nullifying it and scheduling a rare “re-vote” for when lawmakers return later this month.

The legislation, The Iran Terror Finance Transparency Act, is the latest attempt by lawmakers to kill – or at least protest – the Iran deal, earning near-unanimous opposition from House Democrats and a White House veto threat. It had been expected to pass the chamber on a party line vote, though likely stall in the Senate. The strategy may not be unlike the effort to repeal Obama Care in which dozens of protest votes have been organized over the years. In this instance, the sanctions bill was likely intended to provide a partisan messaging point against the President and his backers ahead of the nuclear agreement’s implementation this weekend. But in a bizarre twist, a procedural snafu led to the tally closing before many lawmakers had a chance to cast their votes. As a result, the measure will now receive a re-vote only after the expected implementation of the Iran deal and the suspension of nuclear sanctions–making the legislation all but moot.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Representative Steve Russell (R-OK), asserted that the bill was not a knee-jerk reaction to the impending implementation of the nuclear deal, but the result of a months-long process to test the President’s assurances that non-nuclear sanctions could still be imposed even as the U.S. agreed to lift nuclear sanctions. House Democrats, however, saw the bill as a redundant political move to re-litigate aspects of the nuclear deal, which has already been the subject of Congressional review and a contentious vote to approve it. “It would be wildly foolish… to forego our only real opportunity to keep a nuclear weapon out of the regime’s hands just because these ancillary issues remain. This bill would do exactly that,” argued Rep. David Price (D-NC) on the House floor. Even Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA), a typically hardline Iran sanctions supporter, said the bill created “too high a standard” of certification for the President to ease sanctions.

Despite broad rejection of the bill by Democrats, several did express interest in drafting new, bipartisan legislation that would impose additional non-nuclear sanctions on Iran. The question of how new sanctions could impact the nuclear deal – as well as how they could foreclose on other potential efforts underway for the U.S. to advance other priorities via diplomacy with Iran – will be a thorny debate in the coming months. Two new sanctions bills have been introduced by Democrats in the House who had voted to support the deal, but which could threaten it’s the spirit if not the letter of the agreement. For its part, Iranian hardliners have taken their own provocative actions to test the mettle of U.S. commitments.

For his part, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) – who voted to oppose the nuclear agreement but also strongly opposed the sanctions bill – highlighted that Iran remains one of the most economically sanctioned in the world. As he noted, “roughly 700” Iran-based entities are under international sanctions, the JCPOA only looks to provide relief for “about 200” of them. Nonetheless, Engel indicated his interest in drafting new, bipartisan Iran sanctions legislation.

About Author

Jamal AbdiJamal AbdiJamal 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.
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