House votes to block funds to Iran, splitting Democratic caucus in half

The bill would freeze the $6 billion in Iranian funds, as well as eliminate presidential authorities to waive any sanctions to Iran and permanently freeze any sanctioned Iranian funds

Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON D.C., UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 24: United States Capitol building is seen under construction in Washington D.C., United States on September 24, 2023.

The House voted Thursday evening to cut off the administration’s ability to allow any funding to Iran, splitting the House Democratic caucus nearly in half, with 90 Democrats voting with almost all Republicans in favor of the bill.

The legislation, as initially drafted, focused on freezing the $6 billion in Iranian funds released as part of the administration’s hostage deal with Iran, which the administration has said it informally refroze following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. But amendments introduced and approved on the floor with some Democratic support significantly expanded the scope of the bill.

The final House vote on the bill was 307-119-1; Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) was the only Republican opposed and Rep. George Santos (R-NY), expecting to be expelled from Congress on Friday morning, voted present on every vote on Thursday.

The House also voted 412-11-1 to add language to the bill condemning Hamas’ and other Iranian-backed terror groups’ use of human shields, and stating that unconditional surrender and disarmament by Hamas is the only way to ensure the safety of both Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Al Green (D-TX), Delia Ramirez (D-IL), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Summer Lee (D-PA), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Chuy Garcia (D-IL), Greg Casar (D-TX), Cori Bush (D-MO) and Massie were the only lawmakers to vote against the amendment.

In a sweeping step that would significantly constrain the administration, the House voted for an amendment to cut off any further sanctions relief to the Iranian regime — permanently freezing all sanctioned Iranian assets, including a recently released $10 billion from Iraq to purchase electricity from Iran, and preventing the lifting of any sanctions on Iran in any form going forward.

The amendment by Rep. August Pfluger (R-TX) was approved 231-198-1, with a dozen Democrats in favor and Massie in opposition. Reps. Don Davis (D-NC), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Jeff Jackson (D-NC), Greg Landsman (D-OH), Susie Lee (D-NV), Jared Moskowitz (D-FL), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Mary Peltola (D-AK), Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-WA), David Scott (D-GA), Haley Stevens (D-MI) and Shri Thanedar (D-MI) voted yes.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Greg Meeks (D-NY) argued that killing the presidential waiver authority would prevent any administration from responding to pressing humanitarian needs in Iran, and that cutting off Iraq’s access to Iranian electricity, as the amendment likely would, would lead to widespread outages and instability in Iraq, potentially destabilizing the U.S. ally. Both the Biden and Trump administrations had approved the Iraq electricity waivers in the past.

The House also voted 241-181-1 for an amendment that would prohibit the U.S. from directly providing any funds to Iran, which Meeks warned could block bipartisan efforts to facilitate internet access for anti-regime protesters and cut off U.S. funds to Iranian civil society groups.

Twenty-five Democrats — Davis,  Gottheimer, Landsman, Lee, Moskowitz, Pallone, Peltola, Perez, Scott, Stevens and Thanedar along with Reps. Yadira Caraveo (D-CO), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Henry Cuellar (D-TX), Jared Golden (D-ME), Josh Harder (D-CA), Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Kathy Manning (D-NC), Kweisi Mfume (D-MD), Joe Morelle (D-NY), Chris Pappas (D-NH), Scott Peters (D-CA), Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), Marc Veasey (D-TX) and Susan Wild (D-PA) — voted for the amendment.

Despite pushback during floor debate from both Democrats and Republicans, the House approved by a voice vote an amendment calling on Qatar to cut off its support for Hamas; turning over Hamas leaders to the U.S. and Israel; closing the Hamas office in Qatar; and cutting off funding to Hamas.

Lawmakers opposed to the amendment argued that the move was ill-timed and ill-considered, and would jeopardize Qatari efforts, supported by the administration and Israel, to mediate hostage release talks. Rep. Andy Ogles (R-TN), the amendment’s sponsor, claimed that the hostage talks would proceed in another fashion even without Qatar’s help.

But the administration is reportedly considering pressing Qatar to shut down Hamas’ activity in the country after the current hostage crisis is resolved.

The House voted 226-199-1 to approve an amendment alleging that the Biden administration had failed to “unequivocally condemn” the Houthis, to the Houthis’ benefit. Eight Democrats, Caraveo, Davis, Golden, Moskowitz, Pappas, Pelota, Perez and Scott, voted in favor of the amendment, which Massie opposed.

By a 399-28-1 vote, with an unusual assortment of 26 ideologically varied Republicans and two Democrats voting against, the House approved a bipartisan amendment requesting that the administration provide a strategy to Congress on addressing Iran’s human rights abuses, nuclear program, ballistic missile program and regional terrorism.

The House voted 236-194-1 to defeat an amendment adding a five-year sunset to the funding freeze outlined in the bill. Six Republicans, mostly arch-conservatives, voted in favor and 23 Democrats, mostly more moderate Iran hawks, with some exceptions, voted against.

Massie alone voted against an amendment calling on the U.S.’ allies in the Middle East, some of which have offered support for the Hamas attack, to condemn the antisemitism displayed by Hamas and other Iranian-backed terror groups.

The House approved by a voice vote an amendment that would add a 45-day waiting period between a certification that Iran has ceased support for terrorism and its weapons of mass destruction programs — the condition under which the $6 billion can be unfrozen — and the actual release of the funds.

It also passed by voice votes amendments affirming the importance of humanitarian assistance for the Iranian people while opposing funding for the Iranian government, requesting a report on Iranian internet censorship and potential U.S. tools to combat it and correcting the number of hostages taken by Hamas listed in the original bill text.

Some Senate Democrats have supported freezing the $6 billion (although some of them have said that the administration’s moves to informally freeze the funds are sufficient) so the base bill could potentially make headway should Senate leadership decide to take it up.

But it’s unlikely that other amendments expanding the funding freezes would have enough support to make headway among Senate Democrats, particularly the one eliminating any presidential waiver powers. Senate Republicans could, however, try to force a vote on the House-passed bill, as they have with other Middle East policy legislation in recent weeks.

Senate Republicans are also expressing frustration about the $10 billion in funds from Iraq, and could seek action on that issue in the coming weeks.

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