Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

House Resolutions Introduced Following Hamas Attack. Several House resolutions were introduced last week amid the ongoing situation in Gaza and Israel. On October 10, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Ranking Member Gregory Meeks (D-NY), along with more than 400 of their colleagues, introduced H.Res.768, a bipartisan resolution that condemns Hamas’s attack and reaffirms the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security. H.Res.770 and H.Res.771 were also introduced, both of which also condemn Hamas and declare US support for Israel’s security. Additionally, House Republicans introduced H.Res.777, a resolution to urge the Biden administration to demand the release of all hostages in Gaza, while Democrats introduced H.Res.778, which demands Senator Tommy Tuberville lift his hold on US military appointments.

House Introduces Bills to Provide Additional Support to Israel. On October 10, Representatives Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Claudia Tenney (R-NY), Brad Schneider (R-IL), and Max Miller (R-OH) introduced the bipartisan “Operation Swords of Iron” Iron Dome Supplemental Appropriations Act. The bill, if passed and signed into law, would provide an additional $2 billion for the procurement of Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. On October 11, Representative David Schweikert (R-AZ) introduced H.R.5932, which would authorize additional assistance to Israel using assets confiscated from Iran.

Bipartisan Bill on Use of Human Shields Introduced. On October 10, Representatives Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Brad Sherman (D-CA) introduced H.R.5917, the “Strengthening Tools to Counter the Use of Human Shields Act.” If passed and signed into law, the bill would establish policy to “fully implement and enforce sanctions against terrorist organizations and other malign actors that use innocent civilians as human shields,” as well as require that mandatory sanctions be imposed on Hamas and Hezbollah. The newly introduced bill builds on Representative Gallagher’s previous legislation, H.R.3342, which was signed into law in 2018.

House Republicans Introduce Resolution to Censure Representative Tlaib. On October 11, Representative Jack Bergman (R-MI) introduced H.Res.772, a resolution that calls for the censure of Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). Bergman accused Tlaib of employing antisemitic and racist rhetoric toward Israel. The resolution follows Tlaib’s recent statement following Hamas’s October 7 attack, in which she called for an end to Israel’s apartheid system and its occupation of Palestinian territory. Tlaib’s statement has also drawn criticism from her Democratic colleagues.

Representative Huizenga Introduces Bill to Curb Financial Assistance to Iran. On October 11, Representative Bill Huizenga (R-MI) introduced H.R.5921. If passed and signed into law, the bill would prohibit the secretary of the Treasury from authorizing certain transactions by a US financial institution in connection with Iran, prevent the International Monetary Fund from providing financial assistance to Iran, and codify prohibitions on Export-Import Bank financing for the Government of Iran.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Republicans Call for Investigation into Biden’s “Secret Nuclear Negotiations” with Iran. On October 11, House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-KY) and the chair of the Subcommittee on National Security, the Border, and Foreign Affairs, Glenn Grothman (R-WI), sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling for an investigation into the Biden administration’s “secret nuclear negotiations” with Iran. The representatives allege that the administration may have violated the Iranian Nuclear Review Act amid reports that Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley and members of his negotiating team may have had compromising ties to Iran.

Bipartisan Congressional Delegations Meet Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel, Express US Support. On October 10, a bipartisan and bicameral congressional delegation led by Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “demonstrate [their] solidarity and support for the US-Israel relationship.” The lawmakers also met with Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer and opposition leader Yair Lapid. Over the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) also led a bipartisan group of senators to Israel. The senators met with top-ranking Israeli officials to discuss a planned military assistance package. Senator Schumer commented that, “We will work to move this aid through the Senate ASAP.”

Representative McCaul Confirms Reports that Egypt Warned Israel Ahead of Hamas Attack. Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, confirmed reports that the Egyptian intelligence service had warned Israel of a potential attack by Hamas. Reporting has suggested that Israel ignored warnings that Hamas was planning “something big,” as Israeli officials had been singularly focused on security crackdowns in the West Bank, though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denied such reports. However, new reports have claimed that US intelligence also alerted Israel of a coming attack.

Senator Menendez Charged with Conspiracy to Act as Foreign Agent for Egypt. On October 12, federal prosecutors announced an additional charge against Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and his wife, alleging that the couple conspired to have Senator Menendez act as a foreign agent of the Egyptian government. Menendez is being charged under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires officials to register their actions with foreign governments with the Department of Justice.

Representative Jacobs Expresses Need for Information for Americans Trying to Leave Gaza and the West Bank. On October 12, Representative Sara Jacobs (D-CA) led a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressing concern about a lack of clear information for Americans trying to leave Gaza and the West Bank. The letter asks that the State Department expand its guidance to include additional details pertinent to Palestinian Americans and other American citizens in Gaza and the West Bank.

Representative McCaul Announces HFAC Markup to Consider Measures in Response to Hamas Attack. On October 13, Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), announced that the full committee will hold a markup to consider various measures in response to developments in Israel and Gaza. The committee will consider H.R. 340, H.R. 1809, H.R. 3266, H.R. 3774, H.R. 5826, H.R. 2973, H.Res. 559, and H.Res. 599.

Representative Schakowsky Leads Letter Expressing Concern for Humanitarian Situation in Gaza. On October 13, Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) led a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Joe Biden. The letter outlines the senders’ concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza as Israel responds to Hamas’s October 7 attack. The members of Congress specifically address Israel’s recent order to evacuate over a million civilians out of northern Gaza in 24 hours, as well as recent calls for a “complete siege” of the Gaza Strip from Israel Defense Forces officials. They add that depriving 2.3 million Palestinian civilians, who have nowhere else to go, of food, water, and electricity, would be a violation of international humanitarian law.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

President Biden Reiterates US Support for Israel’s Security. On October 10, President Biden gave his support for Israel’s “right” and “duty” to respond to Hamas’s October 7 attack. President Biden acknowledged that US citizens are among some of the hostages taken by Hamas, and announced US intelligence sharing and expert consultation to assist the Israeli government in hostage rescue efforts. President Biden also briefly discussed the United States’ recently enhanced military force posture in the region, including the decision to move the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as efforts by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to “identify and disrupt any domestic threat that could emerge in connection with these horrific attacks.” On October 11, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reiterating the United States’ ongoing support for Israel. President Biden also held a call with Netanyahu on October 14 to discuss US-led efforts to coordinate access to water, food, and medical care for civilians.

White House Calls for Safe Passage of Gazans While Reaffirming Support for Israel. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby held multiple press briefings last week, providing updates on the situation in Israel and Gaza. On October 10, Kirby announced that the Biden administration has “no intention to put US boots on the ground,” even in the event of Iran or Hezbollah joining the conflict. On October 11, Kirby noted that the US has begun to replenish Israeli munitions and missile defense systems and is “ready to take action should any actor hostile to Israel consider trying to escalate or widen this war.” Kirby also addressed reports of ongoing talks to create a humanitarian corridor, stating that the US is “actively discussing this with our Israeli and our Egyptian counterparts.” He continued to say that, “We support safe passage for civilians. The civilians are not to blame for what Hamas has done. They didn’t do anything wrong, and we continue to support safe passage.” The following day, Kirby asserted that if Gazans do seek and are granted safe passage into Egypt that “they should absolutely be allowed to go back home [to Gaza].”

President Biden Speaks with UAE President. On October 11, President Joe Biden spoke with Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the president of the UAE. The two discussed recent developments in Gaza and Israel, including the importance of ensuring that humanitarian assistance reaches those in need.

White House Issues Notice on Continuation of National Emergency in Relation to Syria. On October 12, the White House issued a notice on the continuation of the national emergency with respect to the situation in Syria. The notice states that the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13894 on October 14, 2019, must continue beyond its effective date of October 14, 2023, effectively extending the declaration of national emergency by one year. The announcement makes specific note of Turkey’s ongoing military offensive in northern Syria, which “undermines the campaign to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, endangers civilians, and further threatens to undermine the peace, security, and stability in the region, and continues to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

Biden Administration Pauses Release of Iranian Funds. After Hamas’s recent attack on Israel, and following weeks of pressure from Republicans, the Biden administration moved to deny the delivery of $6 billion in humanitarian funds belonging to Iran. Republicans had argued that the administration’s decision to release the funds invited the recent Hamas attack, and had recently introduced H.R.5945 and H.R.5947 to block Iran from accessing the funds. The Biden administration had pushed back on such claims, with State Department Spokesperson Mathew Miller writing that, “The deal to bring US citizens home from Iran has nothing to do with the horrific attack on Israel. Not a penny has been spent, and when it is, it can only go for humanitarian needs like food and medicine.” However, as was reported on October 12, the administration now appears to have reversed its decision to release the funds, after reaching an agreement with Qatar to deny Iran access to the $6 billion.

White House Discusses Humanitarian Situation with Senior UN Officials. On October 12, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to discuss Hamas’s attack and the developing humanitarian situation in Gaza. On October 13, Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer and USAID Administrator Samantha Power spoke with UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland. The three officials discussed ongoing efforts to facilitate safe movement for civilians seeking protection in Gaza and to provide humanitarian assistance on the ground.

President Biden Speaks with Palestinian Authority President Abbas. On October 14, President Joe Biden spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. During the call, President Biden condemned Hamas’s recent attack and “reiterated that Hamas does not stand for the Palestinian people’s right to dignity and self-determination.” President Biden and President Abbas also discussed the humanitarian situation facing the Palestinian people, with President Biden offering “his full support for these important and ongoing efforts.”

Biden Says Israeli Occupation of Gaza Would Be a “Big Mistake.” In an interview with 60 minutes, President Joe Biden said that it would be a “big mistake” for Israel to occupy Gaza, though he added that eliminating threats posed by Hamas remains a necessity.

2) State Department

Secretary Blinken Meets with UN Special Envoy for Yemen. On October 10, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg to discuss “efforts to bring a durable peace to Yemen.” Secretary Blinken and Special Envoy Grundberg agreed on the need to assess the state of the ongoing peace process in Yemen, including the recent meeting between Saudi officials and a Houthi delegation in Riyadh.

State Department Says Israel Has Right to Conduct “Aggressive Response” but Urges Caution. In an October 10 press briefing, State Department Spokesperson Mathew Miller reaffirmed the United States’ support for Israel’s “right to conduct an aggressive response” following Hamas’s October 7 attack. Miller stated that the United States stands ready to provide “all appropriate means of support” to Israel, and added that Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been actively working to secure the release of all prisoners held in Gaza. Miller also responded to questions about the developing humanitarian situation in Gaza, saying that while the United States expects Israel to follow international law, Hamas officials “ultimately bear the responsibility” for the loss of Palestinian civilian life. Secretary Blinken offered a similar message over the weekend, accusing Hamas of using Gazans as human shields. Blinken stressed that Gazans “should not suffer because of the depravity of Hamas,” and communicated that US officials are in talks with Israel to facilitate humanitarian assistance and ensure that civilians are not harmed.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Visits Turkey. From October 10 to 12, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee traveled to Turkey to meet representatives from the Somalia “Quint” group to discuss counterterrorism efforts against al-Shabab in Somalia. The meetings in Ankara marked the fourth iteration of talks between the Quint group and Somali government counterparts.

Secretary Blinken Visits Israel, Jordan, and other MENA Countries. From October 11 to 15, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with senior officials in Israel, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt to reaffirm US support for the government and people of Israel in light of Hamas’s recent attack. Secretary Blinken also discussed measures to prevent the conflict from spreading, to secure the release of hostages, and to “identify mechanisms for the protection of civilians.” Notably, Secretary Blinken spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas while he was in Jordan. Secretary Blinken conveyed to President Abbas that Hamas “does not stand for the Palestinian people’s legitimate right to dignity, freedom, justice, and self-determination,” and reaffirmed US commitment to cooperation with Palestinian leadership on efforts to “ensure security for all.”

State Department Hosts Sixth US-Algeria Strategic Dialogue. On October 11, the State Department hosted the sixth US-Algeria Strategic Dialogue, chaired by Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf and Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Secretary General Lounes Magramane. The leaders discussed ways to deepen the US-Algerian relationship, ongoing efforts to promote regional stability, and advancing shared global priorities.

State Department Maintains Importance of Israeli-Saudi Normalization. On October 11, State Department Spokesperson Mathew Miller reiterated the United States’ commitment to deepening Israel’s integration in the region. In the wake of Hamas’s attack, Miller stated, “We do believe that normalization of relations not just between Israel and Saudi Arabia but between Israel and other countries in the region would help bring stability, would help bring peace, would help bring prosperity to the region. So it is a path that we will continue to pursue.”

State Department Denies Reports that Iran Directed Hamas Attacks. State Department Spokesperson Mathew Miller denied reports that Iran directed or orchestrated Hamas’ attack on Israel. Miller noted that while Iran likely knew Hamas was planning operations, the State Department believes that it did not know their precise timing or scope. Miller added that Iran is “at least complicit in these attacks” for its role in providing material and financial support to Hamas over the years.

State Department Arranges Charter Flights for US Citizens in Israel. On October 13, the State Department began arranging charter flights for US citizens and their immediate family members who have been unable to depart Israel on commercial transit. The State Department expects that the expanded travel options will help thousands of US citizens per week to safely leave Israel.

State Department Appoints Special Envoy for Middle East Humanitarian Issues. On October 15, former Ambassador David Satterfield was appointed to the position of Special Envoy for Middle East Humanitarian Issues. According to the announcement, Satterfield will lead US diplomacy to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, as well as “lead a whole-of-government campaign to mitigate the humanitarian fallout of Hamas’s terrorist attack against Israel.”

3) Department of Defense

DOD Updates on Posture Change in Mediterranean. On October 8, United States Central Command (CENTCOM) announced that the United States has begun moving a carrier strike group to the Eastern Mediterranean. Addressing the movements, CENTCOM Commander General Erik Kurilla stated that “USCENTCOM stands firmly with our Israeli and regional partners to address the risks of any party seeking to expand the conflict.” In an October 11 press conference, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III added that the United States is ready to deploy additional military assets as needed, a message he also conveyed personally to Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Asked about the United States’ ability to support war efforts in Israel and Ukraine, Secretary Austin asserted that the United States “will remain able to project power and to direct resources to tackle crises in multiple theaters,” and will “continue to ensure that Israel has what it needs to keep itself and its citizens safe.”

US Maritime Forces Complete Exercise with Kuwait and Iraq. US Naval Forces Central Command announced the completion of a trilateral exercise with Kuwait and Iraq focusing on counter-piracy and maritime security. According to Major General Laith Abdul Sattar Abdul Jabbar, the Iraq Um Qasr Naval Base commander, the exercise aimed to advance interoperability at sea and “strengthen international relations within the framework of cooperation and coordination for joint action.”

4) Department of the Treasury

Secretary Yellen Travels to the IMF and World Bank Annual Meetings in Morocco. Last week, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen traveled to Morocco to participate in the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank Group. During the meetings, Secretary Yellen emphasized the need to mitigate rising food insecurity around the world and discussed topics relating to debt structuring, poverty reduction, and inclusive economic growth. Yellen also addressed developments in Israel and Gaza, expressing her concern about the war’s impact on the global economy. She suggested that the United States will continue to review its sanctions policies on Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah. At the meetings, Yellen also met with Saudi Arabian Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan. The two discussed Saudi Arabia’s progress on its Vision 2030 agenda, women’s labor force participation, the kingdom’s support of Somalia’s debt relief efforts, and other topics.