GOP Lawmakers Slam Kerry Over Visa-Waiver Issue: ‘A Desperate Attempt to Appease the Regime in Tehran’

By Patrick Goodenough | December 23, 2015 | 4:32am EST
Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif stroll in Geneva, Switzerland ahead of nuclear talks, on January 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Keystone, Laurent Gillieron, File)

( – Republican lawmakers hit back Tuesday at the administration’s suggestion that it could bypass newly-enacted legal provisions tightening the Visa Waiver Program, accusing Secretary of State John Kerry of capitulating and pandering to Iran.

“This administration’s continued capitulation to Iran continues to reach new lows,” said House Homeland Security Committee chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas).

“In a desperate attempt to appease the regime in Tehran, the secretary of state says he can bypass requirements in a law the president himself signed only days ago,” McCaul said in a statement. “But our government does not work like the Iranian regime, and the secretary of state cannot throw the Constitution out the window.”

McCaul was responding to a letter from Kerry to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif assuring Tehran that the VWP changes would be implemented in a way “so as not to interfere with legitimate business interests of Iran” or violate the Iran nuclear agreement.

Kerry told Zarif that the administration has “a number of potential tools available” to do so, such as multiple-entry, 10-year business visas, and waiver authority contained in the new legislation.

Incorporated into the omnibus spending bill, the measure means that any citizen of one of the 38 VWP partner countries who has visited Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan (and potentially other countries to be added later) since 2011 may no longer visit the U.S. without having to apply for a visa beforehand – and therefore undergo an additional layer of screening.

The restrictions, motivated by terror-related security concerns, also apply to foreigners from VWP partner countries who hold dual Iranian, Syrian, Sudanese or Iraqi citizenship.

Tehran claims that by making it more difficult for people to business with Iran once sanctions are eased, the legislation violates the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal.

(The JCPOA commits the U.S. and European Union not to take any actions that will “adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran.”)

The legislation originally passed the House by a vote of 407-19, with 242 Republicans and 165 Democrats in favor.

Noting the size and bipartisan nature of that vote, McCaul said the legislation “does not – and never was intended to – give the administration blanket authority to exempt entire countries from new security measures we put in place to keep our country safe.”

“Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of Islamist terrorism, and our message to them is clear: as long as you fuel networks of terror, individuals connected to your country will not be allowed to enter ours without closer scrutiny.”

In a letter to Kerry Tuesday Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) asked him to clarify the assurances he gave to the Iranian regime.

“Do Iran’s business interests rank higher than the safety of the American people in the mind of the administration?” he asked.

Pompeo said waiving the visa requirements in the case of Iran was not in the national security interests of the U.S.

“The administration cannot allow individuals who are not American citizens, and who have connections to, or have traveled to designated state sponsors of terrorism, such as Iran, come to our country without doing something as simple as applying for a visa,” he wrote. 

Citizens of the vast majority of countries around the world have to apply for a visa before visiting the U.S. for tourism or business, including the nationals of such close U.S. partners (and free democracies) as Israel, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.

The 38 VWP countries are mostly European nations, along with Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Brunei.

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