Washington, DC – Congress marked the one year anniversary of the nuclear deal with Iran with continued partisan attacks against the agreement, including House passage of three bills that would undermine or invalidate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
One of the agreement’s top supporters in the House, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), spoke at a NIAC briefing on the Hill just as the votes were called. “This is what the Republicans have decided to do in the last minutes before we break for seven weeks when we are leaving so much important work on the table,” she said. But she said the campaign to “reverse the JCPOA” would not succeed. “This is simply not going to happen, it’s not going to go anywhere at all.”
All three of the bills were opposed by most Democrats, including Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi who warned her colleagues the bills are “nothing more than political ploys,” and urged her colleagues to “sustain the President’s veto and resist all initiatives that seek to undermine the JCPOA.” The White House warned that it would veto the measures if necessary, saying that they would “undermine the ability of the United States to meet our JCPOA commitments by reimposing certain secondary economic and financial sanctions lifted” under the JCPOA. Rep. David Price (D-NC) objected strongly, warning that the bills seek to undo the deal and would “deny Iran even the limited access to foreign investment and other meaningful incentives that encourage compliance with the JCPOA.” Price equated Republicans’ treatment of the accord to the partisan attacks on the Affordable Care Act, for which House Republicans have held over fifty votes to repeal.
Ultimately, the measures passed the House largely on party lines, with just a handful of Democrats who were nearly all opposed to the JCPOA crossing over to vote in support of the measures.
The legislation is not expected to be considered by the Senate but could be offered as amendments to must-pass legislation when Congress returns in September. The bills would undermine or outright violate the agreement in a number of ways. H.R. 5119, which received a vote Wednesday, would block future purchases of heavy water from Iran. In April, the U.S. purchased excess stocks of heavy water from Iran, which is required to keep the proliferation-sensitive material below a certain threshold as part of the agreement. H.R. 4992 would block Iran’s access to the dollar outside of the U.S. financial system – while Iran is still barred from the U.S. financial system, it’s access to dollars held by banks outside of the U.S. is not restricted, which this bill would reverse. Lastly, H.R. 5631 would sanction any sector of Iran’s economy that directly or indirectly has applications for Iran’s ballistic missile program – which would likely even result in sanctions on Iran’s academic sector. Both of the latter bills would directly violate the accord by re-imposing sanctions lifted under the JCPOA.
While few expect the proposals to become law, the effort is more than a symbolic gesture against the Iran deal. Opponents of the agreement are reportedly playing a “long game” to unravel the deal by forcing so many votes that supporters of the agreement begin to fatigue and the Democratic firewall against violating the deal begins to soften. The hope among Republicans, according to one report, is that by the time Obama leaves office the center of the debate will have shifted and, without the Obama Administration to rally Democrats to vote against the measures, a new Congress will pass deal-killing sanctions under a new Administration.
The efforts have another aim – in lieu of passing sanctions, the votes may be warning shots aimed at giving pause to any companies or banks that may be considering entering Iran. By creating political uncertainty as to whether the agreement and sanctions relief will survive Congress beyond Obama’s tenure, much of the sanctions relief for Iran that was promised under the agreement has been stymied in the interim.
In the clearest demonstration of the strategy, opponents of the agreement in the House have rallied around efforts to impede the sale of Boeing passenger jets to Iran – sales which are permitted under the JCPOA. Last week, the House added amendments to a spending bill that would bar the Boeing sale. In somewhat redundant action this week, the House Financial Services Committee advanced two nearly identical versions of the Boeing deal amendments as standalone legislation–strongly indicating that the effort is aimed more at creating negative attention to dissuade other companies from entering Iran, rather than crafting legislation. While the amendments last week passed by a voice vote, providing little indication of whether they enjoyed bipartisan support, the bills that passed the committee were voted down by every Democrat – save outspoken Iran hawk Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA).
In the meantime, the Senate held hearings on the JCPOA in the Foreign Relations Committee. Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) highlighted a new Iran sanctions bill he was introducing along with Robert Menendez (D-NJ). However, Sen. Cardin – who is on the record in support of extending the Iran Sanctions Act – declined to support the legislation and argued that Congress needs to be more strategic about how it approaches new Iran sanctions legislation. Cardin is viewed as a key barometer for whether any Senate initiatives will gain sufficient Democratic support to become law. While Cardin voted against the JCPOA, he has stated that now that it is in force it would be extremely damaging for the U.S. to violate its commitments.Back to top