Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

Representative Introduces Bill Prohibiting the Use of Federal Funds to Rebuild Gaza. Last Monday, Representative Brian Mast (R-FL) introduced H.R.7616, which would prevent the US government from appropriating funds or providing assistance for the eventual reconstruction of Gaza. Mast has introduced other legislation to prevent US aid from reaching Palestinians, including the UNRWA Elimination Act, H.R.7111.

House Republicans Introduce Bill to Facilitate Defense Transfers. On Tuesday, Representatives Michael McCaul (R-TX) and John James (R-MI) introduced H.R.7633, the Enhance Cooperation Against Terrorism Act. The bill would expedite defense transfers to Middle East countries that the Department of State identifies have taken steps toward normalizing relations with Israel and that are engaged in regional security cooperation against Iran and its proxies, among other criteria.

House Sees Resolution Introduced to Support Two-State Solution. On Tuesday, Representative Veronica Escobar (D-TX) introduced H.Res.1074, reaffirming the House’s support for a two-state solution. The resolution had 95 cosponsors upon being introduced.

Concurrent Resolution on Red Sea Security Introduced. Representative Tony Gonzalez (R-TX) introduced H.Con.Res.98 on Wednesday. The resolution affirms the importance of preserving peace, security, and freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

Rep. Ramirez and Sen. Durbin Memorialize Murdered Palestinian-America Boy. Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-IL) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) introduced H.Con.Res.99 and S.Res.589 on Thursday and Friday, respectively. The resolutions honor Wadee Alfayoumi, a six-year-old Palestinian-American boy who was a victim of a deadly hate crime in Illinois.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Senate Democrats Urge Biden to Enforce US Law With Netanyahu. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), along with five other Democratic senators, sent a letter to President Joe Biden last Monday, urging the President to “enforce federal law by requiring” Israel “to stop restricting humanitarian aid access to Gaza or forfeit US military aid.” The senators argued that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s interference in US humanitarian operations in Gaza violates Section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.

Bipartisan Letter Thanks Germany for Support of Israel. Representatives Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Tom Kean (R-NJ) led a Wednesday bipartisan letter thanking German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for announcing his country’s intention to intervene on Israel’s behalf and for supporting Israel’s right to self-defense in the International Court of Justice case brought by South Africa.

SFRC Chair Reiterates Support for Two-State Solution. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), issued a statement on Thursday reiterating his support for a two-state solution and for ensuring critical humanitarian assistance reaches innocent civilians in Gaza. Chairman Cardin called on both Israelis and Palestinians to “thoughtfully determine their respective leadership and self-governing authority to address the new realities and challenges brought forth by the October 7 attack and reaffirm a shared commitment to lasting peace and collective security.” Cardin’s statement added that, “The only productive path forward is one that leads to two states, living side by side in equal measures of security, prosperity, dignity, and mutual recognition.”

Senator Schumer Criticizes Netanyahu on Senate Floor. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he believes that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has “lost his way” and called for Israel to hold new elections. Schumer said, “As a lifelong supporter of Israel, it has become clear to me: The Netanyahu coalition no longer fits the needs of Israel after October 7. The world has changed, radically, since then, and the Israeli people are being stifled right now by a governing vision that is stuck in the past.”

Letter Addresses US-Qatar Efforts to Negotiate Hostage and Ceasefire Deal. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Jim Risch (R-ID) led six senators in a bipartisan statement on Friday on relations between the United States and Qatar and efforts to mediate the release of all hostages held by Hamas. The senators stated, “If Hamas refuses reasonable negotiations, there is no reason for Qatar to continue hosting Hamas’ political office or any of its members in Doha.”

3) Hearings and Briefings

Senate and House Hold Annual Threat Assessment Hearings.  Leaders of several US national security agencies testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Monday on the intelligence community’s annual threat assessment. Addressing the regional expansion of the conflict in Gaza, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines stated that “it is likely that the Gaza conflict will have a generational impact on terrorism.” The hearing was interrupted by protestors who called on the intelligence community to stop providing military and intelligence support to Israel. The House Intelligence Committee held its hearing on Tuesday, which addressed threats posed by Iran, the so-called Islamic State, and the situation in Gaza, among other topics.

Senate Armed Services Committee Holds Hearing on Global Security Challenges. The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on Tuesday on global security challenges and US strategy. The hearing addressed US defense spending and briefly touched on the war in Gaza and Iranian influence in the region.

Senate Committee on the Budget Hears Testimony from Budget Director. The Senate Budget Committee heard testimony from Shalanda Young, Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, following the release of the Biden administration’s FY 2025 budget request. Director Young answered questions about the FY 2025 request while reiterating the urgency of responding to the administration’s October 2023 supplemental request, which is currently held up in the House.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

White House Announces FY 2025 Budget Request. The White House released its Fiscal Year (FY) 2025 budget request last Monday. Of note, the budget includes $7.6 billion to countries in the Middle East and North Africa for joint economic, development, and security partnerships. This amount includes $3.3 billion to Israel, consistent with the US-Israel Memorandum of Understanding, in addition to the administration’s October Supplemental Request, and increased assistance to the West Bank and Gaza. The request also includes $10.3 billion for humanitarian assistance to persons impacted or displaced by conflicts like those in Ukraine, Gaza, and Sudan. The funding requested for humanitarian operations upholds the current pause on money for UNRWA. On US defense spending, the budget includes $850 billion in discretionary budget authority for FY 2025, a $34 billion increase over the 2023 enacted level.

White House Extends National Emergency Executive Order Regarding Iran. On Tuesday, the White House announced that it was extending the national emergency concerning Iran declared in Executive Order 12957, which allows the executive branch to continue to impose sanctions on Iran. President Biden noted that Iran’s actions “continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”

White House Comments on Appointment of PA Prime Minister. On Thursday, the White House welcomed the appointment of Dr. Mohammed Mustafa as Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority (PA), while calling for the PA’s reform “as soon as possible.” The statement continued, “A reformed Palestinian Authority is essential to delivering results for the Palestinian people and establishing the conditions for stability in both the West Bank and Gaza.”

White House Updates on Status of Looming Rafah Invasion. White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby stated on Thursday that Israel has yet to present the Biden administration with a plan for protecting civilians in a ground invasion of Rafah. “We’ve seen the reports that they have plans to relocate people out of Rafah into what they’re referring to as sort of humanitarian islands inside Gaza.  We can’t confirm.…But again, our position has not changed. We do not want to see large-scale operations in Rafah that don’t — unless there is a credible, legitimate, executable plan to provide for the safety and security of the civilians that are there,” Kirby said.

2) State Department

Secretary Blinken Comments on Humanitarian Relief Efforts in Gaza. In a Wednesday press brief, Secretary of State Antony Blinken provided an update on efforts to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Blinken said that current levels of aid distribution remain insufficient and asserted that “Israel still needs to open as many access points as possible and keep them open to make sure that things are flowing in a sustainable way: increase the scanning capacity, the inspection capacity, particularly at Kerem Shalom, where more can be done to get more aid in more quickly; easing unnecessary restrictions on key products; having greater clarity and predictability on what can get in and what can’t.” Blinken also pressured Hamas to accept the six-week ceasefire/hostage release deal that has been on the table.

Also on Wednesday, the Department of State released a joint statement regarding efforts to advance a maritime corridor to deliver humanitarian assistance to Gaza. Co-signed by the Republic of Cyprus, the European Commission, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, the joint statement reaffirms plans to open a maritime corridor to deliver additional humanitarian assistance to Gaza by sea, though it states that “the ministers agreed that there is no substitute to land routes via Egypt and Jordan and entry points from Israel into Gaza for aid delivery at scale.”

Secretary Blinken Holds Call with President of Mauritania. On Thursday, Blinken spoke with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani. Blinken congratulated President Ghazouani on his election as Chairperson of the African Union (AU) for 2024 and discussed the US-Mauritania relationship “to address global issues including democracy and governance, peace and security, climate, and food security.”

Department of State Releases Statement on Syria. The Department of State released a statement on Friday on the occasion of the 13th anniversary of the Syrian uprising. The statement discussed ongoing human rights violations in Syria, recovery from the devastating 2023 earthquake, and the country’s illicit drug trade, among other topics. The statement ended with a declaration that there will be “no possibility of [US] normalization with the Assad regime, no funding of reconstruction and no lifting of sanctions until there is authentic, meaningful and enduring progress towards a political solution.”

Secretary Blinken Meets with IAEA Director General. On Friday, Blinken met with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi. The Secretary and Director General Grossi discussed nuclear safety, security, and safeguards issues, including in addressing outstanding verification problems with Iran.

Secretary Blinken Meets with Bahraini Crown Prince. On Saturday, Blinken met in Manama with Bahraini Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa. The Secretary and the Crown Prince discussed hostage and ceasefire talks in Gaza, Red Sea security, and the Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement (C-SIPA) between the United States and Bahrain.

3) Department of the Treasury

Treasury Sanctions al-Shabaab Money Laundering Network. On March 11, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated 16 entities and individuals in a transnational network that spans the Horn of Africa, United Arab Emirates, and Cyprus for financing and money laundering for al-Shabab, which “are disbursed to other al-Qa’ida-supported groups worldwide.”

Treasury Sanctions Al-Ashtar Brigades Operatives with Assistance from Bahrain. In partnership with the Kingdom of Bahrain, OFAC sanctioned four individuals on Tuesday who provided material and operational support to the Al-Ashtar Brigades, an Iran-based group. The Department of State designated Al-Ashtar Brigades as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in 2018.

New Sanctions Announced on Extremist Israeli Settlers, Settler Outposts. On Thursday, the OFAC announced the addition of three individuals and two settler outposts (designated due to their ownership or control by the designated individuals) to its Specially Designated Nationals List. The sanctioned individuals have engaged in repeated violence against Palestinians in the West Bank. The sanctions were issued under a February executive order from the Biden administration that gave the State Department new powers to “impose sanctions on those responsible for undermining peace, security, and stability in the West Bank.”

Treasury Sanctions Vessel Supporting Houthis and Qods Force. On Friday, OFAC announced sanctions on a shipping company involved in illicit shipments in support of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) and Houthi financial facilitator Sa’id al-Jamal, who is sanctioned under US counterterrorism authorities.

5) United States Agency for International Development

Administrator Power Meets with UN Officials. On Friday, “USAID Administrator Samantha Power spoke with UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) Martin Griffiths about the worsening humanitarian crises in” Sudan and Gaza.