on the hill

House Democrats split again over Iran, Houthi bills

The House approved four bills seeking to force the Biden administration’s hand toward a more aggressive Iran policy

Andrew Hart

Capitol Hill

The House Democratic caucus once again split over a series of four votes on Wednesday seeking to force the Biden administration’s hand toward a more aggressive Iran policy, though most Democrats opposed the measures. Hard-line anti-Iran measures have proved divisive for House Democrats on several occasions in recent months, often fracturing the caucus.

In each of the four votes on Wednesday, Democratic support mostly came from moderates and hawks — and in some cases, lawmakers facing competitive reelection races — joined by a handful of more progressive members. The top Democratic leaders voted against each of the bills, as did Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), the only Republican to oppose any of the bills.

The House voted 259-160 to pass a bill by Rep. August Pfluger (R-TX) that would bar the president from lifting sanctions on Iran, and would permanently refreeze the $6 billion in Iranian funds that the administration released to a bank account in Qatar as part of a hostage deal last year. Forty-seven Democrats voted yes and 159 Democrats voted no.

A bill containing similar language, added as an amendment on the House floor, passed last year by a 307-119-1 vote, with 90 Democrats supporting.

Pfluger accused the administration of financing Iranian terrorist activities, and said his bill would “stop the flow of money into Iran’s war machine and help protect Israel.”

In a memo to Democrats, Democratic Whip Katherine Clark (D-MA) noted that the legislation would prevent the administration from issuing waivers that allow for Iraq to purchase oil from Iran. “This would likely lead to outages and instability in Iraq, which does not serve the United States’ interests,” the memo states.

The House voted 285-135 for a bill by Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) seeking to force the president to redesignate the Iranian-backed Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, a label the administration has resisted due to concerns about humanitarian aid to Yemen. Seventy-two Democrats voted for the bill; 134 voted against it.

The House voted 271-147 for a bill by Rep. Young Kim (R-CA) that would limit the administration’s ability to waive any sanctions on Iran unless the Iranian regime ceases support for terrorism. Barring that, any sanctions waivers would be subject to a congressional review period, during which Congress could vote to block the removal of sanctions. Fifty-nine Democrats voted for the bill and 146 voted against it.

“Iran’s aggression underlines the need for greater congressional oversight when the Executive Branch waives U.S. sanctions on Tehran,” Kim said.

House Democrats framed the legislation as requiring affirmative action from Congress to allow sanctions waivers to go forward.

“Mandating that a President receive Congressional approval before a waiver is issued (and again each time the waiver expires) would hamstring the Executive’s ability to use this longstanding authority, significantly slowing our ability to respond to international crises,” the Democratic memo said.

A significant majority of Democrats also voted against a bill led by Rep. Keith Self (R-TX) to require the president to report to Congress before terminating or waiving any sanctions on Iran, providing a review period in which Congress can vote to block the waiver. The bill passed by a 278-141 vote, with 140 Democrats opposed and 66 supporting.

“Congress must stop the Biden Administration’s disastrous foreign policy that is empowering our foreign adversaries,” Self said in a statement.

The Democratic memo said, “Creating a process by which Congress can reverse sanctions actions severely undercuts the Administration’s ability to negotiate effectively and deescalate tensions; the uncertainty surrounding the finality of decisions made by the Administration could even prevent Iran from coming to the table at all.”

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