Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

House Votes to Reject Representative Gaetz’s Resolution Ending 2004 National Emergency in Syria. On July 18, the House voted 394 to 24, with 15 abstentions, to reject H.J.Res.79, Representative Matt Gaetz’s resolution to end former President Bush’s May 11, 2004 National Emergency for Syria, which authorizes US sanctions targeting Syrian support of militias in Iraq.

Representatives Hill and Moskowitz Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Combat Syrian Drug Trafficking. On July 17, Representatives French Hill (R-AR) and Jared Moskowitz (D-FL) introduced H.R.4681, the Illicit Captagon Trafficking Suppression Act. The bill, if passed and signed into law, would issue new sanctions against the perpetrators of the illicit production and trafficking of Captagon, an addictive stimulant produced in Syria and smuggled to other Arab states. The legislation would build on one of Representative Hill’s earlier bills addressing the same issue, H.R.6265, the Countering Assad’s Proliferation, Trafficking, and Garnering of Narcotics (CAPTAGON) Act.

Representative Self Introduces Iran Sanctions Relief Review Act of 2023. On July 17, Representative Keith Self (R-TX) introduced H.R.4691, the House companion legislation to S.2210, the Iran Sanctions Relief Review Act. The bill, if passed and signed into law, would require the president to notify the appropriate congressional committees and leadership every time they seek to terminate sanctions against Iranian individuals or companies. The president may subsequently take that action only if a joint resolution of approval is enacted.

SFRC Leaders Join Senate Abraham Accords Caucus in Introducing Bill to Bolster them. On July 20, Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-ID) joined the Senate Abraham Accords Caucus in introducing S.2413, the Regional Integration and Normalization Act. The bill, if passed and signed into law, would expand and strengthen the Abraham Accords and the Negev Forum through the creation of a “Regional Integration Office” and special presidential envoy for the Abraham Accords, along with providing millions of dollars in funding and aid to encourage economic integration.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Israeli President Addresses Congress Amid Criticism of Representative Jayapal. On July 19, Israeli President Isaac Herzog addressed a joint meeting of Congress, discussing the US-Israel relationship, Iranian threats to stability in the Middle East, and recent criticism from some House progressives. In his speech, President Herzog commented on Representative Pramila Jayapal’s (D-WA) recent assertion that Israel is a “racist state” for its treatment of Palestinians, saying that “criticism of Israel must not cross the line into negation of the State of Israel’s right to exist.” Though Representative Jayapal apologized for and clarified her remarks, the House and Senate nevertheless introduced resolutions H.Con.Res.57 and S.Con.Res.14 to express “the sense of Congress supporting the State of Israel.” The resolution in the House passed in a roll call vote with 412 “yeas” and nine “nays” (the latter votes from progressives including Representatives Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Cori Bush (D-MO), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI)). On July 20, Representative Andrew Ogles (R-TN) introduced H.Res.606, a resolution censuring Representative Jayapal for her comments.

II. Executive Branch

1) The White House

President Biden Hosts Israeli President at the White House. On July 18, President Biden hosted Israeli President Isaac Herzog at the White House. The two leaders discussed Iranian efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon, Iran’s defense partnership with Russia, and the need for a “consensus-based approach” to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reform package. President Biden also reiterated his support for a two-state solution, Israel’s regional integration into the Middle East, and US-Israeli efforts “to address the persistent scourge of antisemitism.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken also met with President Herzog, advocating for the same policies and interests as President Biden. Notably, President Biden also invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit the United States after meeting with President Herzog.

2) Department of State

State Department Releases Joint Statement on Lebanon. On July 17, the State Department, accompanied by the governments of Egypt, France, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, released a statement expressing concern about Lebanon’s ongoing political and economic crises, and especially the fact that the Lebanese legislature has not yet chosen a new president. On July 21, President Biden extended the US National Emergency declaration for Lebanon.

Secretary Blinken Meets Bahrain Foreign Minister Al-Zayani. On July 20, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani to discuss the two countries’ strategic partnership and deepening cooperation as part of the third US-Bahrain Strategic Dialogue. Among other regional security issues and opportunities for economic and educational interaction, Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister al-Zayani discussed expanding cooperation under the Abraham Accords, and Iran’s destabilizing activities.

Secretary Blinken Meets Arab League Secretary-General. On July 19, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit for an inaugural strategic dialogue. Before their meeting, Secretary Blinken noted the challenges that the United States and the Arab League both face and said, “We deeply value collaboration with the Arab League.”

State Department Condemns Attack on Swedish Embassy in Iraq. On July 20, State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller strongly condemned an attack on the Swedish Embassy in Iraq after protesters breached the Swedish diplomatic compound in response to an Iraqi man threatening to burn the Quran in Stockholm. Iraqi authorities also declared Sweden’s ambassador “persona non grata,” severing diplomatic ties between the two countries. Miller stated that, “Foreign missions should not be targets of violence,” and called on the government of Iraq to “honor its international obligations to protect all diplomatic missions in Iraq…as required by international law.”

3) Department of Defense

CENTCOM Increases Forces in the Middle East. On July 20, US Central Command (CENTCOM) deployed an Amphibious Readiness Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit (ARG/MEU) to the Middle East in response to recent attempts by Iran to seize commercial ships in the CENTCOM area of operations. The ARG/MEU is the most recent effort in a series of increased deployments to the region, including F-35 and F-16 aircraft and a guided missile destroyer. CENTCOM Commander General Michael “Erik” Kurilla commented that, “US Central Command is committed to defending freedom of navigation within our area of responsibility which includes some of the most important waterways in the world,” and adding that, “these additional forces…deter Iranian destabilizing activities in the region.”

US Navy Deploys Guided-Missile Cruiser to the Gulf. On July 16, guided-missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner arrived in the Gulf as part of US Navy efforts to “help ensure regional maritime security and stability.” The ship is equipped with 96 missiles of various types, including Tomahawk cruise missiles and anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles. The USS Hudner’s deployment follows an incident earlier this month where the Navy stopped Iranian naval troops from seizing two oil tankers.

4) Department of Homeland Security

Israel Begins Month-Long Trial for Palestinian American Travelers. On July 20, Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi announced a month-long trial of unrestricted access to Israel for Palestinian Americans living in the occupied West Bank as part of Israel’s effort to join the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP). On July 19, State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller said that policies would “ensure equal treatment for all US citizen travelers, without regard to national origin, religion or ethnicity.” The US Department of Homeland Security also welcomed the Israeli initiative, saying, “The Department is working closely with the Government of Israel in its efforts to meet [requirements for the VWP].” Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Peter Welch (D-VT) criticized the US-Israel Memorandum of Understanding and Israel’s announcement, arguing that Israel is still not compliant with the United States’ standards for the VWP.