Freezing funds

House committee advances measure to freeze $6 billion in Iranian funds

Several Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the measure, formally locking down funds released as part of a hostage deal

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) leaves the rotunda of the Cannon House Office Building following news interviews on Capitol Hill on October 10, 2023 in Washington, DC.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee voted on Tuesday to advance a bill that would implement sanctions to permanently freeze the $6 billion in Iranian funds released as part of the administration’s hostage deal with Iran earlier this year.

This tranche of funds, which the administration has said it has informally re-frozen after Oct. 7, has become a top focus for Republicans seeking to retaliate against Iran and push back on the administration’s Iran policy since the Hamas attack on Israel. Five Democrats — Reps. Brad Sherman (D-CA), Kathy Manning (D-NC), Greg Stanton (D-AZ), Jim Costa (D-CA) and Brad Schneider (D-IL) — voted with Republicans to advance the legislation. 

Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-TX) argued that “we cannot trust Iran to use this money for humanitarian purposes” — to which administration officials have said the funds would be restricted — and that it would be “irresponsible to allow another cent to flow to Iran” following the Oct. 7 attack.

Ranking Member Greg Meeks (D-NY) argued that the bill would effectively eliminate the U.S.’ ability to negotiate with Iran going forward, leaving it with only “highly risky options” to prevent Iran’s nuclear program going forward.

“If you blow up this agreement by passing this bill, we, the United States will be the ones breaking yet another sensitive negotiated agreement with Iran,” Meeks said. “Our word and integrity will no longer be good in negotiations.”

Meeks introduced an amendment that would provide a presidential waiver to the sanctions outlined in the bill. Sherman voted with all Republicans to defeat the amendment 25-19. Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO) introduced an amendment to create a carve-out to the freeze for food and medicine. It was rejected by the same 25-19 margin, with Sherman again voting no.

Rep. Jonathan Jackson (D-IL) introduced an amendment to place a five-year sunset on the freeze, which was rejected by a 29-15 vote. Democrats Sherman and Manning as well as Reps. Jared Moskowitz (D-FL) and Susan Wild (D-PA) voted against the amendment.

Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-CA) introduced an amendment that she said would “[preserve] the original intent” of the agreement, and McCaul said would “effectively [gut] the bill” by excluding the $6 billion from the sanctions. It failed by a 31-13 vote, with Democrats Sherman, Wild, Manning, Stanton, Costa and Schneider and Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX) voting no.

Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-FL) introduced an amendment restating U.S. support for humanitarian aid to the Iranian people, which was rejected along party lines.

The committee advanced by a voice vote a bipartisan resolution condemning the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack and calling for the release of hostages. Lawmakers said that McCaul had fast-tracked the resolution to committee consideration, and the legislation’s sponsors, Reps. Haley Stevens (D-MI) and French Hill (R-AR) said at a candlelight vigil last night that they’re working to quickly move it to the House floor. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) broke down in tears while discussing the anguish experienced by the hostages’ families.

The committee voted unanimously in favor of a bill to impose sanctions on producers of the stimulant narcotic Captagon, including members of the Syrian government and Hezbollah. The drug was reportedly found on some Hamas terrorists who participated in the Oct. 7 attack.

Along party lines, the committee approved a bill that would require the State Department to notify Congress when a senior official loses their security clearance or has it suspended. The measure is a response to the suspension of Iran envoy Rob Malley and the State Department’s alleged obfuscation of the situation to Congress.

“We cannot operate effectively if the State Department is constantly trying to hide things,” McCaul said, arguing that because the notifications could be classified, the legislation would not compromise potential investigations or privacy concerns.

Meeks argued that the legislation risked “politicizing what should be an unbiased… process to ensure the security of classified information and who has access to it” and set a “dangerous precedent” at the State Department not seen elsewhere in the federal government.

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