Washington Policy Weekly:

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

Bipartisan Group of Senators Introduce Resolution Condemning Actions of RSF in Sudan. Last Monday, a bipartisan group of senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee introduced S.Res.559, which denounces atrocities committed by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in the Darfur region of Sudan, “including those that amount to genocide.” In an accompanying statement, the senators recognized that the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) also have committed war crimes in the ongoing conflict in Sudan.

Republican Senators Introduce Resolution Regarding American Hostages in Gaza. Last Tuesday, Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) introduced S.Con.Res.28, which states that the President has the authority to use force to liberate hostages in Gaza who are US citizens.

Senate Passes National Security Supplemental. Last Tuesday, the Senate voted 70-29 to pass a national security supplemental bill totaling $95.3 billion. The supplemental includes $60.06 billion to support Ukraine, $14.1 billion in security assistance for Israel, and $9.15 billion in humanitarian assistance for populations in conflict zones including Ukraine, the occupied West Bank, and Gaza. The bill also includes funds for US allies in the Indo-Pacific and US Central Command for ongoing operations in the Red Sea. It remains unclear when, if at all, the House will take up the legislation.

House Passes Resolution Condemning Use of Sexual Violence by Hamas on October 7. On Thursday, the House passed H.Res.966, which condemns the use of sexual violence as a use of weapon in war, and specifically condemns “rape and sexual violence committed by Hamas in its war against Israel.” The resolution passed 418–0, with Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) voting present.

House Passes Anti-Assad Normalization Bill. On Wednesday, the House passed H.R.3202, the Assad Regime Anti-Normalization Act of 2023. The bill prohibits federal officials or employees from recognizing a Syrian government led by Bashar al-Assad, expands existing sanctions, and requires the Department of State in collaboration with other federal departments to develop a strategy to counter foreign government efforts to normalize relations with the Assad regime.

Republican Representatives Introduce Bill to Reprogram UNRWA Funding for Border Wall. Led by Rep. Gregory Steube (R-FL), a group of Republican representatives introduced H.R.7392 on Thursday, which would reprogram funds allocated for UNRWA to finance construction of a  wall along the US border with Mexico. The bill would also prohibit future US funding for UNRWA.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Members of House Intelligence and Armed Services Committees Send Letter to Speaker Mike Johnson Urging Passage of Security Supplemental. Last Tuesday, democratic members of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence sent a letter to Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) urging him to take up the Senate-passed national security supplemental in the House immediately, arguing that “the national security of the United States demands that we act and act now.”

Senators Send Letter Encouraging the Biden Administration to Restore Mutual Ceasefire Agreement in Gaza. On Wednesday, Senators Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and Raphael Warnock (D-GA), joined by 23 other Democratic senators, sent a letter to President Joe Biden expressing “urgent support for your Administration’s ongoing diplomatic efforts to secure the release of hostages in tandem with a restored mutual ceasefire in Gaza.” The senators wrote that “it is in our urgent national interest—and the urgent humanitarian interest of millions of innocent civilians—that these negotiations succeed.”

Representatives Send Letter to Biden Administration Regarding Hostage Negotiations. On Wednesday, 16 bipartisan members of the House of Representatives, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), sent a letter encouraging the Biden administration to leverage its relationship with Qatar to secure the release of all hostages held in Gaza “without delay.”

Senators Send Letter to Secretary Blinken and Secretary Mayorkas Regarding Family Members of American Citizens in Gaza. Last Tuesday, 16 senators, led by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas requesting that they expand the eligibility for those able to receive US government assistance in leaving Gaza and reuniting with family members in the United States. The letter also urges the Department of Homeland Security to expedite the processing of Palestinian humanitarian parole applications.

Members of House Oversight Committee Send Letter to Secretary Blinken Regarding UNRWA. Twenty-six members of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee wrote to Secretary Blinken requesting information about the Biden administration’s decision to restore funding to UNRWA in 2021. The letter claims that “UNRWA is enmeshed with terrorist organizations” and requests documentation regarding the administration’s decision to renew funding in that year.

Senate Republicans Call on DOJ to Investigate UNRWA USA. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and other Republican members of the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting that the Department of Justice (DoJ) open an investigation into UNRWA USA, which raises funds for UNRWA. The letter urges the DoJ to investigate the non-profit for “knowingly providing material support to foreign terrorist organizations.”

3) Hearings and Briefings

House Foreign Affairs Committee Holds Hearing on the Houthis. On Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia held a hearing titled “Iran’s Proxy in Yemen: The Houthi Threat to Middle East Stability, Global Shipping, and U.S. Servicemembers,” which focused on Houthi attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

White House Comments on Israeli Operations in Rafah. Last Tuesday, White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby stated that the administration does not “believe that it’s advisable [for Israel] to move forward with a major operation in Rafah unless or until there has been proper accounting for all the civilians that are there…the President too had some pretty strong words about civilian deaths and how there’s been too many.” Department of State Spokesperson Matthew Miller reiterated the administration’s concern about civilian protection in Gaza, stating that there “needs to be a credible plan” to “account for the 1.1 million people, by some estimates, who are in Rafah today.”

President Biden Speaks with Netanyahu. On Thursday, President Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the Gaza war. According to the White House readout, the two leaders discussed the situation in Rafah, with Biden “reiterat[ing] his view that a military operation should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the civilians in Rafah.”

White House Hosts King Abdullah of Jordan. Last Monday, President Biden met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the White House to discuss the situation in Gaza and Israeli operations in Rafah. The leaders discussed the ongoing efforts to reach a temporary ceasefire-hostage exchange deal. Biden stressed that the United States is committed to preventing the forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza. Last Tuesday, Secretary Blinken met with the King and reiterated US support for an independent Palestinian state.

White House Announces Deferred Enforced Departure for Certain Palestinians. The White House, the Department of State, and the Department of Homeland Security released a memorandum on Wednesday announcing that certain Palestinians who are currently residing in the United States will be able to remain for an additional 18 months without fear of removal, due to the humanitarian situation and ongoing conflict  in the Palestinian territories.

Vice President Harris Meets with Prime Minister of Iraq. Vice President Kamala Harris met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia` al-Sudani on Friday at the Munich Security Conference. They discussed their shared commitment to the US-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement, and Vice President Harris stressed the importance of the safety of US personnel in Iraq. The pair also expressed a commitment to bilateral economic and security cooperation.

2) Department of State

Department of State Seeks Alternatives to UNRWA. The Department reiterated last Tuesday that it is working to find alternatives to UNRWA to ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in Gaza.

Secretary Blinken Holds Call with Algerian Foreign Minister. Secretary Blinken spoke with Algerian Foreign Minister Ahmed Attaf on Wednesday regarding ongoing diplomatic efforts to achieve a ceasefire and hostage release in Gaza. They also discussed their shared commitment to the protection of Palestinian civilians in Gaza and to the establishment of a Palestinian state. On February 20, the United States vetoed an Algeria-sponsored resolution at the United Nations Security Council that called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Secretary Blinken Meets with Israeli President Isaac Herzog. On Saturday, Blinken met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog at the Munich Security Conference where they discussed ongoing efforts to secure the release of hostages. The Secretary reiterated that the United States does not support a ground operation in Gaza “without a credible and implementable plan for ensuring the safety of the more than one million people sheltering there.” Vice President Harris also met with Herzog at the Conference, reaffirming the administration’s position that civilian protection in Rafah must be a priority.

3) Department of Defense

CENTCOM Conducts Additional Strikes on Houthi Targets in Yemen. On Saturday, US Central Command announced additional strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen, including one against what was “the first observed Houthi employment of an unmanned underwater vessel (UUV) since attacks began in Oct. 23.” Several days earlier, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh indicated that the United States will “continue to respond” to Houthi-initiated attacks.

Secretary Austin Holds Call with Israeli Defense Minister. On Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III spoke with Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant. The officials discussed the recent Israeli operation in Rafah that rescued two Israeli hostages, and Secretary Austin reiterated the importance of protecting civilians and humanitarian access in Gaza.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Participates in US-Tunisia Military Commission Working Group. The Department of Defense announced last Monday that Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Jennifer Zakriski traveled to Tunisia February 8-9 to meet with Tunisian Minister of Defense Imed Memmich and to co-chair the Military Commission Working Groups (MCWG) with Tunisian Air Force Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Mohammed Hajem. The readout mentioned “the Department’s support for expanding Tunisia Armed Forces’ role as a regional security leader.”

US Carries Out Cyberattack on Iranian Ship in the Red Sea. US officials confirmed to multiple news outlets that the United States conducted a cyberattack targeting an Iranian military ship in the Red Sea, reportedly to prevent the vessel from sharing intelligence with the Houthis in Yemen. This intelligence was believed to be used in Houthi attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea.

4) Department of the Treasury

Treasury Sanctions Network Smuggling US Technology to Central Bank of Iran. Last Wednesday, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced sanctions targeting several individuals and entities believed to be connected to the procurement and export of “sophisticated U.S. technology” to the Central Bank of Iran, which is currently facing sanctions due to its role in providing financial support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force and Hezbollah.