Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

House Passes Resolution Honoring US-Israel Relations, Calling for Expanded Abraham Accords. On April 25, the House voted 401 to 19, with 15 not voting, to pass H.Res.311, the recently introduced bipartisan resolution which recognizes 75 years of the US-Israel relationship and calls for deepening bilateral cooperation and the expansion and strengthening of the Abraham Accords. Notably, the text of the resolution does not mention the two-state solution or the Palestinians, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Gregory Meeks (D-NY) led a Democratic statement following the successful vote criticizing Republicans for the language. One Republican, Representative Thomas Massie (R-KY), joined 18 Democrats, largely progressives, in voting against the resolution. The chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Jim Risch (R-ID), are expected to introduce the resolution in the Senate.

House Votes to Reject Representative Gaetz’s Somalia War Powers Resolution. On April 27, the House voted 321 to 102, with 11 not voting, to reject H.Con.Res.30, Representative Matt Gaetz’s (R-FL) War Powers Resolution to remove all US forces from Somalia. Representative Gaetz’s Syria War Powers Resolution was similarly rejected in March.

Abraham Accords Caucuses Introduce MARTIME Act. On April 27, Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV), chair of the Senate Abraham Accords Caucus, introduced S.1334, the Maritime Architecture and Response to International Terrorism in the Middle East (MARTIME) Act. The bill would require the Secretary of Defense to cooperate with US allies and partners in the Middle East to develop an integrated maritime defense system to deter against Iranian aggression, is cosponsored by Abraham Accords Caucus members, and directly cites the “historic opportunities created by the Abraham Accords” to integrate Israel and other US allies in the region into the strategy. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) introduced the House version of the legislation the same day.

HFAC Advances MAHSA Act in Markup. On April 26, the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) held a full committee markup considering H.R. 589, the Mahsa Amini Human Rights and Security Accountability (MAHSA) Act. The bill, which was reintroduced in January, would require the executive branch to sanction Iran’s supreme leader, members of his office and his appointees, Iran’s president, and any economic conglomerates affiliated with the supreme leader. The markup included the consideration of amendments from HFAC Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Ranking Member Gregory Meeks (D-NY), as well Representatives Cory Mills (R-FL) and Brad Schneider (D-IL). The committee concluded by advancing the legislation to the House floor.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

House Minority Leader Jeffries Leads Democratic Delegation to Israel. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) led a delegation of 11 House Democrats, including Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Gregory Meeks (D-NY), to Israel. The Democratic delegation follows Democratic criticism of the far-right government’s judicial overhaul and other policies. The delegation met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yair Lapid, and Speaker of the Knesset Amir Ohana. The delegation also met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who introduced a compromise framework to Netanyahu’s overhaul in March. The Israeli government quickly rejected Herzog’s compromise plan. In a statement, Representative Meeks said that the delegation “expressed concern regarding proposed judicial reforms” and discussed the dangers of a nuclear-capable Iran.

Senators Menendez and Risch Urge Biden to Support Democratic Process in Lebanon. On April 25, the chair and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Jim Risch (R-ID), sent a letter to President Biden urging the administration to support a democratic process in Lebanon considering its ongoing political stalemate. In their letter, the lawmakers called on the Biden administration to support presidential candidates who will be “accountable” to people in Lebanon and impose targeted sanctions on those undermining the rule of law in the country.

3) Hearings and Briefings

Senate Foreign Relations MENA Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Tunisia Policy. On April 26, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia held a hearing on US policy toward Tunisia featuring testimony from Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for North Africa Joshua Harris and USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator Megan Doherty. During the hearing, Subcommittee Chair Chris Murphy (D-CT) pressed both Biden administration officials on the decreased economic aid in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget for Tunisia, arguing that this would harm civil society funding. Senator Murphy pressed USAID Administrator Samantha Power on the same point in a different hearing last week. Doherty responded to Senator Murphy that USAID has plans to announce a $25 million civil society program for Tunisia soon. Ranking Member of the Subcommittee Todd Young (R-IN) pressed the administration officials on the risks of Tunisia defaulting on its debt amid stalled negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.

Senate Holds Hearing Reviewing USAID FY24 Budget. On April 26, the Senate held a hearing reviewing the USAID budget for Fiscal Year 2024. At the hearing, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Jim Risch (R-ID) asked USAID Administrator Samantha Power about an increase in development aid to Palestine, stating that aid to the region has not brought significant change to the conflict and that the areas the program covers are “not the responsibility of the American people.” When asked about the increase, Administrator Power said that although “humanitarian assistance has not brought peace to the region,” it has nonetheless brought Palestinians increased access to education, clean water, and career skills training. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) asked Administrator Power about the reintegration of refugees and internally displaced persons from the al-Hol detention camp in Syria

II. Executive Branch

1) The White House

President Biden Formally Launches 2024 White House Run. On April 25, President Joe Biden officially announced that he will run for president in 2024. President Biden joins Marianne Williamson and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in the Democratic field, and former President Donald Trump, former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, and others in the Republican camp. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who visited Israel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, is also expected to run.

President Biden and Secretary Blinken Recognize Israel’s 75th Birthday. On April 25, President Biden congratulated Israel for celebrating 75 years of statehood, expressing that as a “life-long friend and supporter of the State of Israel,” he hopes to continue to work with Israel on security in the Middle East, climate change, and global health. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also congratulated Israel on its National Day.

President Biden Announces New Sanctions Program Targeting Iran over Hostage Taking. On April 27, President Biden announced a new Treasury Department and State Department sanctions program that targets Iran and Russia for their wrongful detention of US citizens. Under the new program, the State Department has sanctioned Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Intelligence Organization (IRGC-IO) for its involvement in the wrongful detainment of one American abroad, and the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned four senior officials from IRGC-IO. This sanctions announcement follows pressure on President Biden himself from US citizens who are detained in Iran, such as Siamak Namazi, who has been detained in Iran since 2015.

2) Department of State

Secretary Blinken Announces Nationwide Ceasefire in Sudan. On April 24, Secretary of State announced a 72-hour ceasefire agreement between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces in Sudan, urging both parties to uphold the ceasefire. Secretary Blinken reiterated US support for the goal of a return to civilian government in Sudan. The ceasefire was reportedly brokered by the United States and Saudi Arabia, but it is unclear whether it will hold, as fighting quickly resumed in Khartoum after the announcement. On April 26, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that a second US citizen has been killed in the fighting. The US Navy has reportedly deployed at least three US warships to Sudan’s Red Sea Coast to facilitate the evacuation of Americans from the country. On April 27, Secretary Blinken met with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and spoke with partners in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe about the violence and efforts to extend a ceasefire. Despite ongoing international mediation, violence has continued in Sudan.

3) Department of Defense

Air Force Says Russian Jet Fighters Harassing US Forces in Syria. On April 24, Head of US Air Forces Central Command Lieutenant General Alexus Grynkewich said that Russian warplanes are and have been repeatedly violating longstanding agreements with the US military over Syria by flying closely to US fighter jets. Lieutenant General Grynkewich said that Russian forces have violated agreements with the United States more than 60 times since March 1, 2023, and cited Russian planes flying over US forces at the al-Tanf base in southeast Syria two dozen times last month. He warned that “It’s a ripe situation for us to see some sort of miscalculation,” and said that it was a “breakdown in professionalism” in the Russian Air Force. In June of 2022, Russian forces launched airstrikes at al-Tanf, where US troops train local missions.

CENTCOM Commander Kurilla Meets with Israeli Defense Minister, IDF Leadership. On April 27 and 28, US Central Command (CENTCOM) General Michael “Erik” Kurilla visited Israel and met with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and leaders from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). General Kurilla watched Israel’s Navy commando unit perform a maritime operation drill and spoke with Gallant about opportunities to strengthen relations between the IDF and CENTCOM.

4) Department of the Treasury

Treasury Department Announces Sanctions on Iranian Officials Over Protest Crackdown. On April 24, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), in coordination with the United Kingdom, sanctioned four senior officials of Iran’s Law Enforcement Forces and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps over their role in the violent suppression of protesters after the September breakout of the Masha Amini protests. The sanctions also targeted Seyyed Mohammad Amin Aghamiri, the new secretary of Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace, the authority responsible for internet shutdowns and the blockage of websites. According to OFAC’s announcement, the new sanctions are the eleventh round of sanctions targeting the Iranian regime over its violent suppression of the Mahsa Amini protests. This new round comes at the same time Congress is considering new sanctions on Iran’s President and Supreme Leader.

III. Judicial Branch

Extradited Hezbollah Financier Faces Charges in US Court. On April 26, Mohammad Bazzi, a Lebanese-Belgian citizen accused by the United States of financing Hezbollah and evading sanctions, was charged in a Brooklyn federal court after being extradited to the United States from Romania the day before. US prosecutors say that Bazzi provided millions of dollars to Hezbollah, and he was charged with covertly selling real estate in Michigan and transferring the funds abroad in violations of US sanctions. Bazzi was added to a US sanctions list in 2018 over his ties to Hezbollah.