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House Dems Rebel Against GOP’s Iran Sanctions Push

House Dems Rebel Against GOP’s Iran Sanctions Push

A group of senior House Democrats, including longtime Iran hawks, are refusing to support a last-minute Republican push to pass multiple Iran sanctions bills before the summer recess and dismissing the effort as naked partisan point-scoring.

The resistance effort, led by Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Eliot Engel, Appropriations Committee ranking member Nita Lowey and Rep. Ted Deutch, the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Middle East subcommittee, will likely ensure Democratic unity against the measures being pushed by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

That unity extends to the White House: a senior State Department official said Tuesday that President Barack Obama was sure to veto the Republican-backed legislation.

One of the bills would impose new sanctions on Iran over human rights violations and its sponsorship of terrorism. The other two would prohibit the purchase of Iranian “heavy water” and block Iranian access to the U.S. financial system.

But in a letter to McCarthy obtained by Foreign Policy, the Democratic opponents accused the majority leader of blindsiding them with legislation the party can’t support in its current form.

“Introducing a bill in the dead of night, without consultation with the minority, unfortunately turns what should be a bipartisan effort into an exercise in election-year politics that leaves Iran free to continue its malfeasance,” write the authors. “Doing so prevents us from achieving what should be the real objective: halting Iran’s dangerous actions.”

Lawmakers are set to vote on the legislation this week. Republicans, who dominate both the House and Senate, all opposed the Iran nuclear deal secured last July by the U.S. and five other world powers. At the time, a number of Democratic lawmakers also voted against the deal, including Engel, Lowey, Deutch, three of the signatories of the letter to McCarthy. Hoyer ultimately voted in support of the deal while expressing reservations.

In the missive, the Democrats say they would vote with Republicans to pass a bipartisan bill sanctioning Iran for ballistic missile activities and reauthorize the Iran Sanctions Act, which is set to expire in December. But neither bill should include the “unprecedented elimination of traditional prerogatives for the executive branch with respect to implementation,” they wrote.

In remarks at the Bipartisan Policy Center on Tuesday, the State Department’s pointman on Iran deal implementation, Ambassador Stephen Mull, said the GOP bills would “violate our commitments,” under the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

Specifically, he mentioned measures that would forbid the Treasury Department from issuing a licence for the sale of Boeing aircraft and preventing Iran from using dollars, “something that the deal did not forbid,” he said.

“Iran does not have access to the U.S. financial system, but the deal did not look to block Iran’s use of dollars outside the financial system,” he said. He added that the White House “intended to veto all the pieces of legislation.” Though related to the Iran deal, the Boeing legislation passed the House in a separate legislative push on Thursday and has yet to be taken up by the Senate.

Other former officials said the legislation this week would amount to a blanket ban on many sectors of the Iranian economy in violation of the nuclear deal.

“If this were to be law, the Iranians would be out of the JCPOA so fast our heads would spin” Richard Nephew, the former principal deputy coordinator for sanctions policy at the State Department, told FP.

If the GOP bills pass in the House, they are not expected to advance in the Senate. If they did, they are virtually assured to lack the support necessary to override a White House veto.

This post has been updated. 

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