iran angle

Bipartisan momentum grows for re-freezing $6 billion in Iranian funds 

Democrats in competitive Senate races are joining Republicans in calling for tougher measures against Iran, in response to the country’s backing of Hamas

A picture taken on November 10, 2019, shows an Iranian flag in Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, during an official ceremony to kick-start works on a second reactor at the facility.

ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images

A picture taken on November 10, 2019, shows an Iranian flag in Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, during an official ceremony to kick-start works on a second reactor at the facility.

A growing bipartisan consensus in Congress is uniting behind an effort to freeze the $6 billion in Iranian funds released to Qatar under the administration’s recent hostage deal, in response to Iran’s longtime backing of Hamas and recent reports indicating that it had a direct hand in last weekend’s massive terrorist attack.

Several Democratic senators and 2024 Senate candidates in competitive races announced their support for freezing the aid on Wednesday, expanding the bipartisan coalition supporting the move. Republicans are broadly in favor of the freeze; Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) announced their support on Tuesday. 

Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), in a statement to Jewish Insider, blasted Republicans for “intentionally misleading the American people about this matter,” highlighting that the funds have not been transferred and arguing that the rhetoric “only bolsters our enemies.” But, he said, “these funds should remain frozen until we can determine whether Iran played a role in the attack and what the appropriate U.S. response should be.”

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) told JI she would “work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get this done and cut off funding to terrorist organizations including Hamas and their supporters.”

Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX), who is mounting a Senate campaign in Texas, told JI, “the United States must explore all options available to hold Hamas and their Iranian backers accountable. While Hamas deserves the lion’s share of the blame, Iran cannot go unpunished for its role.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, pressed the White House to freeze the funds and said he plans to examine the role that cryptocurrency reportedly played in financing Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Sen Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) said the funds should remain frozen “until I have full confidence that Iran did not play a role in these barbaric terrorist attacks on the Israeli people.”

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Reps. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) also joined the push on Wednesday. 

Gallego said, “As we learn more about Iran’s role in these horrific terrorist attacks against Israel, one thing is clear: we should immediately freeze the $6 billion in assets and use available tools to discourage Iran’s illicit conduct. Our ally Israel is at war, and while the conflict continues, we must stand united.”

Slotkin, a former CIA analyst, specifically referenced the information conveyed during Tuesday’s classified briefing to lawmakers in her call to freeze the funds. Following the briefing, lawmakers indicated that administration officials had not formally linked Iran to the attack.

Opponents of re-freezing the funds argue that violating the hostage deal could make it harder for the U.S. to secure the release of U.S. citizens being held hostage by Hamas.

Republicans are moving ahead with legislation relating to freezing the $6 billion. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) are seeking to fast-track legislation freezing the funds, while Banking Committee Ranking Member Tim Scott (R-SC) is working on his own bill and called for a committee hearing.

In the House, Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) introduced a bill to redirect the money, and other seized Iranian assets, to fund Israel’s defense.

Republicans are also ramping up oversight efforts related to suspended Iran envoy Rob Malley and the alleged Iranian influence efforts that enmeshed senior administration advisors. 

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-ID), Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN) and Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) wrote to the administration requesting further information on the details of Malley’s suspension and investigative efforts into the influence network.

House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-KY) and Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI) requested documents and information from the administration relating to Malley, the hostage deal, a senior official implicated in the influence operation and potential evasion of regulations providing for congressional review of nuclear agreements with Iran.

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