In Clear Signal to Iran, ‘Lame Duck’ House Passes Sanctions Legislation With Overwhelming Support

By Patrick Goodenough | November 15, 2016 | 7:12pm EST
House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and ranking member Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

( – The House of Representatives on Tuesday voted 419-1 to reauthorize for another ten years Iran sanctions legislation due to expire at the end of the year – a move the Obama administration has sought to discourage.

“Now is not the time to ease up on the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism,” said Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) during consideration of legislation to extend the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA). Congress reconvened this week for a brief “lame duck” session.

The lone “no” vote came from the libertarian Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky.

Members argued that without the ISA, there will be no structure in place for sanctions to “snap back” in the event of Iranian violations of the controversial nuclear deal that came into effect last January.

“What if – and I would assert, when – Iran is found to be moving towards a bomb,” House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), “how will we respond to that?”

“The Obama administration has said that sanctions on Iran would ‘snap back’ were this to happen,” he said. But if the ISA is allowed to expire, “there’s nothing to ‘snap back’ to.”

The bottom line, said Royce, “if we let the clock run out on the Iran Sanctions Act, Congress will take away an important tool to keep Tehran in check, and that in turn will only further jeopardize America’s national security.”

Also voicing support for the legislation were Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and other members of both parties, including minority whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Engel said the reauthorization will “remind Iran’s leaders that we still have a lot of contentious issues to deal with, and signal to the world that after a hard-fought election here at home, American leadership on the global stage won’t falter.”

Enacted in 1996 (as the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act), the legislation imposed sanctions in response to Iran’s terror-sponsorship, ballistic missile development and its nuclear activities. It was reauthorized in 2006 and 2011, and is set to expire at the end of 2016.

When it implemented the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the administration waived nuclear-related sanctions. Those waivers would remain in place under a reauthorized ISA, but other sanctions relating to non-nuclear activities – ballistic missile launches, terror-sponsorship and rights abuses – would continue to be enforced.

At the same time, proponents say, the ISA would also keep intact the architecture to reimpose nuclear sanctions – the administration’s touted “snap back” provision – should Iran not comply with the nuclear deal.

Opposition, veto threats

Administration officials have argued that a reauthorized ISA is not necessary as there are adequate authorities in place to re-impose sanctions if Iran reneges on the agreement.

“Having the ISA in place or not is not necessary for snapping back,” Stephen Mull, the ambassador responsible for JCPOA implementation, told a Senate committee last May. “We have sufficient authority through various executive orders.”

Evidently leery of facing Iranian accusations of bad faith, Secretary of State John Kerry also pushed back against early reauthorization.

When a senator asked Kerry last February if he would welcome ISA reauthorization, he replied that there was no "need to rush,” since the legislation could be passed “in about ten minutes.”

Still, the outgoing administration has not indicated an intention to veto ISA reauthorization.

The White House has, on the other hand, threatened to veto other Iran-related measures, including a bill, also due to be voted on by the House this week, aimed at blocking a multi-billion dollar deal to sell Boeing aircraft to Iran.

The administration supports the Boeing deal, saying it is line with the JCPOA, which includes a U.S. commitment to “allow for the sale of commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services to Iran.”

“The United States has a long tradition of remaining faithful to our commitments and our international partners, and a reversal of this principle undercuts our credibility, diminishes our ability to lead globally, and threatens the very alliances we rely upon in implementing the JCPOA,” the White House said in a statement Monday indicating President Obama’s intention to veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.

The White House has also threatened to veto a bill, passed by the House in July in a 246–179 vote, imposing new sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missiles program and its human rights abuses. It argues that the legislation would prevent the successful implementation of the JCPOA.

Royce said that with the new administration and Congress in place next year, “we will certainly consider additional steps to check the radical Iranian regime.”

The bill that passed on Tuesday is a clean ISA reauthorization – it does not amend or add terms to the legislation.

In the U.S. Senate, there are several alternative pieces of legislation under consideration.

One, seeking to extend the ISA until 2026, was introduced last June by outgoing Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and supported by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) – one of four Senate Democrats who voted against the JCPOA last year – as well as Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Ted Cruz (Texas), and outgoing Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.).

Another, introduced in July by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), would reauthorize the ISA for ten years but also add new sanctions including measures targeting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Seven co-sponsors include Menendez and another anti-JCPOA Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin (W.V.), and Republican Sens. Rubio, Tom Cotton (Ark.), Dan Sullivan (Alaska), David Perdue (Ga.) and John Boozman (Ark.)

A third bill, introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) includes a 15-year extension of the ISA as well as additional military funding for Israel to help it address security threats from Iran. Six co-sponsors, all Republicans, are Sens. Rubio, Cruz, Ayotte, Kirk, John McCain (Ariz.) and Roy Blunt (Mo.).

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