Washington Policy Weekly

I. Legislative Branch

1) Legislation

Representative Bush Pushes for De-Escalation and Ceasefire in Israel and Palestine. On October 16, Representative Cori Bush (D-MO) introduced H.Res.786, a resolution calling for an immediate de-escalation and ceasefire in Israel and Palestine. The resolution also calls on the Biden administration to send and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance into Gaza. Representative Bush’s resolution is the first official effort from Congress to call for a ceasefire, and was cosponsored by Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Andre Carson (D-IN), Summer Lee (D-PA), Delia C. Ramirez (D-IL), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Jesus Garcia (D-IL), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Nydia Velazquez (D-NY).

Bipartisan Senate Resolution in Support of Israel Introduced. On October 16, Senate leadership introduced S.Res.417. The bipartisan resolution affirms the Senate’s support for Israel’s security, demands that Hamas release hostages and end its attacks, and condemns Iran’s support for Hamas, among other things. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, applauded the bipartisan support for the resolution, writing that, “The fact that nearly every Senator has signed on to this urgent legislation is a testament to the strength of the US-Israel alliance, and sends a clear and unequivocal message that we stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel in its hour of need.” The resolution was cosponsored by 99 senators, Rand Paul (R-KY) being the lone exception.

Republicans Introduce Legislation to Block Entry of Palestinians into the United States. Last week, House and Senate Republicans introduced H.R.5959 and S.3052. The bills would prevent the Biden administration from issuing new visas to holders of Palestinian Authority passports or granting those individuals entry to the United States through the Department of Homeland Security’s parole program.

Republicans Target Iran for its Role in Hamas Attack. Republican lawmakers introduced several bills targeting Iran for its alleged role in supporting Hamas’s attack on Israel. In the House, H.R.5961 and H.R.6000 were introduced, both of which call on the Biden administration to freeze $6 billion in Iranian assets. In the House, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) introduced H.R.5961, the No Funds for Iranian Terrorism Act, which calls on the Biden administration to permanently freeze $6 billion in Iranian assets until the president can certify that Iran no longer sponsors terrorism or is pursuing nuclear and chemical weapons. In the Senate, Senators Roger Marshall (R-KS), Tim Scott (R-SC), and Tom Cotton (R-AR) introduced S.3061, S.3049, and S.3041, respectively, each of which seeks to freeze the same assets and reinstate certain sanctions. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) also introduced S.3064, a bill to limit US funding to the United Nations until Iran has been expelled as a member state and investigated under the Genocide Convention. Finally, Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) introduced S.3057, the No Dollars for Dictators Act, which would prohibit any representative of the United States from voting at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) executive board to allocate special drawing rights—a foreign currency reserve asset used by the IMF—to states that sponsor terrorism.

Bipartisan Resolutions Condemn Hamas, Call for the Release of Hostages. Last week, Representative Haley Stevens (D-MI) introduced H.Res.793 condemning Hamas’s attack on Israel and calling for the immediate release of all hostages. In the Senate, Foreign Relations Committee Chair Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) introduced S.Res.408, calling for the same. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) also introduced S.Res.413, a resolution calling on President Biden “to enforce existing law by revoking the visas of foreign nationals who endorse or espouse terrorist activity, including those who defend or support Hamas.” The companion resolution for S.Res.413 is Representative Tony Gonzales’ (R-TX) H.Res.796.

Senate Bills Introduced to Repurpose Assistance to Israel. Senate Republicans introduced two bills last week that seek to reallocate funds and assistance to Israel. On October 18, Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) introduced S.3081, which would authorize additional assistance to Israel using assets confiscated from Iran. On October 19, Senator Bill Haggerty (R-TN) introduced S.3083. The bill seeks to reallocate funding originally appropriated for Gaza to grants in order to resupply Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.

House Republicans Seek to Prohibit Funding to Palestine. House Republicans introduced two bills last week that move to prohibit funding to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Representative Brian Mast (R-FL) introduced H.R.5986, while Representative David Kustoff (R-TN) introduced H.R.5996. Both bills come after Biden’s announcement of $100 million in humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Congresses Targets Pro-Palestinian Activism in Higher Education. On October 18, Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) introduced S.3078. If signed and passed into law, the bill would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to prohibit institutions of higher education that authorize pro-Palestinian events on campus from participating in the Act’s student loan and grant programs. On October 19, lawmakers in the House and the Senate introduced resolutions targeting pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist activism on college campuses, H.Res.798 and S.Res.418. Shortly before, Senator Josh Hawley, who introduced the senate resolution, wrote a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland in which he outlined his concern for pro-Palestinian activism on college campuses in the wake of Israel’s response to Hamas’ October 7 attack. Senator Hawley called on the Attorney General to deploy Department of Justice resources to investigate the funding sources of pro-Palestinian student groups, suggesting that some may be receiving material support from terrorist organizations.

Bipartisan Senate Delegation Visits Israel and Saudi Arabia. Over the weekend, Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) led a bipartisan Senate delegation to the Middle East. The senators, who had originally planned to promote Israeli-Saudi normalization, met with Israeli politicians to discuss Israel’s ongoing war efforts. The delegation then travelled to Saudi Arabia, where they met with Saudi Prime Minister and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other senior government officials to discuss recent developments in the region as well as the US-Saudi bilateral relationship. Throughout the trip, the senators reiterated their commitment to Israel’s security and regional integration.

2) Personnel and Correspondence

Bipartisan Letter to Biden Urges Increased Support for Israel. On October 16, a bipartisan group of 113 lawmakers wrote to President Joe Biden, calling on the administration to bolster support for Israel’s security, hold Iran accountable for its role in funding Hamas, impose maximum sanctions on Iran, end Iran’s oil trade to China, and put pressure on nations that support Hamas. The lawmakers thanked President Biden for his support for Israel so far, and reaffirmed their commitment to increasing US security assistance to Israel as its war continues.

Bipartisan Letter to Egyptian Ambassador to the US Asks Egypt to Establish Humanitarian Corridors. On October 17, 107 lawmakers signed a bipartisan letter to Egyptian Ambassador to the United States Motaz Zahran to encourage Egypt to work with the United States, Israel, and their allies in establishing safe zones in southern Gaza with humanitarian corridors. The lawmakers assert that Israel has a “well-established right and responsibility to respond” to Hamas’s recent attacks, and ask for Egypt’s “robust participation” amid the ongoing humanitarian crisis that has resulted from Israel’s response.

HFAC Chairman McCaul Writes to Secretary Blinken, Declares Hamas Committed Acts of Genocide. In an October 19 letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice Beth Van Schaack, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) declared that Hamas has committed “acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes against the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”

Senate Republicans Ask Biden to Appoint Special Envoy to Sudan. On October 19, Senators Jim Risch (R-ID), John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Tim Scott (R-SC) sent a letter to President Joe Biden, asking him to immediately appoint a US presidential special envoy to Sudan within the State Department. The senators write that “Sudan’s precarious situation necessitates prompt, high-level diplomatic intervention,” adding that the country’s “multifaceted challenges demand a comprehensive US strategy spearheaded by an adept senior official.”

3) Briefings and Hearings

Senate Holds Hearing for Jack Lew as Ambassador to Israel. On October 19, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing for Jack Lew, President Joe Biden’s nominee for US Ambassador to Israel. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), chairman of the committee, opened the hearing with a call to confirm Lew’s nomination, describing Lew as “eminently qualified.” Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-ID) followed Senator Cardin’s statement by outlining Republican concerns with Lew’s nomination, particularly with respect to Lew’s experience working on nuclear negotiations under the Obama administration. In the remainder of the hearing, Lew’s reception was generally split down party lines, with Republicans raising concerns about his handling of Iran negotiations and Democrats stating their confidence that Lew will be able to advance US foreign policy goals in the region.

II. Executive Branch

1) White House

Biden Reacts to Murder of Muslim Child in Illinois. On October 15, President Joe Biden condemned the racially and religiously motivated attack on a six-year-old Muslim child, who was killed, and his mother in Illinois. In response to the attack, President Biden asserted that Americans “must come together and reject Islamophobia and all forms of bigotry and hatred.”

Biden Meets with Israeli Officials, Pledges Full US Support. In his visit to Israel last week, President Joe Biden reaffirmed the United States’ support for Israel amid its ongoing war in Gaza. President Biden met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet to discuss Israel’s strategy and conveyed on the same day that he is asking Congress “for an unprecedented support package for Israel’s defense.” President Biden also reiterated his administration’s commitment to deepen Israel’s integration in the region, stating, “We must keep working for Israel’s greater integration with its neighbors. [Hamas’s] attacks have only strengthened my commitment and determination and my will to get that done.” attacks have only strengthened my commitment and determination and my will to get that done.” Biden also spoke with Netanyahu on October 22, as the two discussed the first two convoys of humanitarian assistance and the recent release of two American hostages.

President Biden Gives Oval Office Address on US Response to Israel-Gaza. On October 19, President Biden addressed the nation on the importance of US leadership in responding to the developing situation in Israel and Gaza. President Biden insisted that the United States should not turn its back on Israel and said he would request $100 billion in assistance to support security interests in Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan. President Biden also spoke to domestic increases in Islamophobia and antisemitism.

Biden Requests Emergency Supplemental Funding for Israel. In a letter to Speaker Pro Tempore of the House of Representatives Representative Patrick McHenry (R-NC), the Biden administration outlined its request for emergency supplemental funding for Israel for fiscal year 2024. The administration is requesting $14.3 billion in emergency funding that will bolster Israel’s security, including $10.6 billion for assistance through the DOD for air and missile support and $3.7 billion for the State Department to Israel’s military and enhance US Embassy security. The request also includes humanitarian assistance to Gaza and support for Palestinians in the West Bank and surrounding areas.

US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and UK Make Joint Statement on Israel. On October 22, President Biden discussed the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas with the heads of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom, reiterating Israel’s right to defend itself and calling for adherence to international humanitarian law. The assembled leaders also welcomed the release of two hostages and the announcement of humanitarian convoys into Gaza. Finally, they each committed to “continue close diplomatic coordination, including with key partners in the region, to prevent the conflict from spreading, preserve stability in the Middle East, and work toward a political solution and a durable peace.”

Biden Speaks with Egyptian President and Iraqi Prime Minister. Last week, President Joe Biden held calls with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani. With Sisi, President Biden discussed efforts to address the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza and prevent the conflict from widening. With al-Sudani, President Biden also discussed the risks of conflict escalation and the humanitarian crisis, in addition to reemphasizing the bilateral partnership between the United States and Iraq.

Biden and Blinken React to Hospital Explosion in Gaza. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken offered their condolences following an explosion at the Anglican-run Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City that killed hundreds of civilians. In the wake of the incident, President Biden spoke with King Abdullah of Jordan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while Secretary Blinken spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. President Biden noted that he is directing US national security experts to gather information about the incident, which Hamas and Israel have each accused the other of perpetrating. Later in the week, President Biden came to back Israel’s assertion that it was a failed rocket launch by Palestinian Islamic Jihad that caused the explosion; however, independent investigators have not been allowed into Gaza to examine the scene.

Israel to Allow Entry of Humanitarian Aid into Gaza as US Announces $100 Million in Aid. On October 18, Israel’s war cabinet approved the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza from Egypt. The decision follows President Joe Biden’s recent trip to Israel, where he pressured Israeli officials to allow aid to enter from the closed Rafah Crossing. Gazans have been without access to electricity, food, fuel, water, and other supplies as a result of Israel’s complete siege of the territory since Hamas’s October 7 attack. While Israel has since resumed water supply, much of it remains unpotable. Following news of the crossing’s intended opening, President Biden announced that the United States will provide $100 million in humanitarian assistance to Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank, which will support relief efforts on the ground. The announcement has drawn both criticism and praise from members of Congress.

DHS Announces Start of Visa-Waiver Program for Israeli Citizens and Nationals. On October 19, the US Department of Homeland Security announced the start of visa-free travel for short term visits to the United States for eligible Israeli citizens and nationals following Israel’s admission into the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The travel benefit, which was previously scheduled to take effect on November 30, was recently fast-tracked as a result of the developing situation in Gaza and Israel. Israel’s admittance to the VWP has drawn considerable attention from US lawmakers, some of whom have expressed concern that Israel did not sufficiently meet the requirements of the program during a pilot phase. Despite their concerns, DHS approved Israel’s entry on September 26.

2) State Department

Blinken Speaks with Qatari, Lebanese Officials. On October 21, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani. Secretary Blinken thanked Prime Minister Al Thani for Qatar’s assistance in securing the release of two Americans held hostage by Hamas and reaffirmed the partnership between the United States and Qatar. Blinken also spoke with Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati to discuss recent engagements at Lebanon’s southern border. Blinken underscored US support for the Lebanese Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces as tensions between Hezbollah and Israel increase.

Secretary Blinken Meets with Senior Israeli Officials. In his visit last week to Israel, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Israeli President Isaac Herzog, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The officials discussed issues relating to Israel’s war with Hamas, including US assistance to Israel’s security, efforts to prevent the conflict from widening, the protection of civilians in Gaza, the provision of humanitarian aid, and the release of hostages being held by Hamas.

US Vetoes Security Council Resolution Calling for “Humanitarian Pauses” in Gaza. On October 18, the United States vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have called for “humanitarian pauses” to deliver aid to millions of Gazans. US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield cited as reason for the veto the fact that the resolution “made no mention Israel’s right of self-defense.”

US Signs On to Statement As UN Sanctions on Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program Expire. On October 18, the United States signed on to a joint statement calling for continued efforts to counter Iran’s missile- and UAV-related activities amid the expiration of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which set restrictions on the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile program. The statement’s signers expressed concern that the restrictions’ expiration will enable Iran to develop and export missile drone technology.

Ambassadors to Kuwait and Oman Confirmed. On October 18, the Senate confirmed Karen Sasahara as ambassador to Kuwait and Ana Escrogima as ambassador to Oman. Both ambassadors are career members of the US Foreign Service and have served previous posts in the Middle East and North Africa.

3) Department of Defense

Secretary Austin Speaks with King of Jordan. On October 16, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke with King Abdullah of Jordan to convey his support for Israel’s right to defend itself after Hamas’ recent attack and to discuss regional efforts to prevent the conflict in Gaza from intensifying. The officials also spoke about the importance of facilitating access to humanitarian aid for civilians.

US and Israeli Defense Officials Meet. On October 16, CENTCOM Commander General Michael “Erik” Kurilla visited Israel to meet with high-level Israeli military leadership, including Israeli Chief of Defense Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi. In the meetings, General Kurilla discussed Israel’s defense requirements, efforts to avoid expansion of the ongoing conflict, and the United States’ “ironclad” support for Israel. On October 18, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, discussing Israel’s ongoing operations against Hamas, US security assistance to Israel, mitigating the risk of conflict escalation, and civilian safety.

DOD Orders Troops to Prepare for Possible Deployment to Israel. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has ordered roughly 2,000 troops to prepare for a potential deployment to Israel to help with medical and logistical support. The order comes amid changes to the US military posture in the Middle East, with the Navy recently deploying two aircraft carriers (and their supporting ships) to the Eastern Mediterranean.

US Forces Involved in Drone Incidents in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Last week, US forces were involved in separate incidents in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen in which they intercepted drones. US forces in Syria thwarted two separate drone strikes shortly after forces in Iraq had shot down three unmanned aerial systems targeting troops. Following the incidents, a US Navy warship in the Red Sea intercepted three cruise missiles and several drones launched by the Houthis in Yemen. In response, US Central Command released a statement saying, “In this moment of heightened alert, we are vigilantly monitoring the situation in Iraq and the region…US forces will defend US and Coalition forces against any threat.” Pentagon Press Secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder also responded that, “It’s important to separate these attacks from the current situation” in the Gaza strip, although the DOD also said that the Houthi drones may have been directed toward Israel.

4) Department of the Treasury

Treasury Finalizes Cyber Security Cooperation MoU with UAE. On October 16, the Department of the Treasury and the Cyber Security Council of the United Arab Emirates announced the finalization of a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Cybersecurity Cooperation. The MoU enhances cooperation with respect to information-sharing relating to cybersecurity threats on the financial sector, staff training and study visits, and cross-border cybersecurity exercises. The MoU builds on previous efforts between the two nations to deepen cooperation on cybersecurity issues and protect the international finance system.

Treasury Department Sanctions Hamas Operatives and Financial Facilitators. On October 18, the Department of the Treasury imposed sanctions on four Hamas members, operatives, and financial facilitators, and their related companies. The sanctions target members managing assets in a secret investment portfolio, a Qatar-based financial facilitator with close ties to the Iranian regime, a key Hamas commander, and a Gaza-based virtual currency exchange and its operator. The State Department announced concurrent sanctions against the group as well. The new sanctions build on the May 2022 designations of officials and companies involved in managing Hamas’s investment portfolio, in addition to dozens of other sanctions that have been imposed on Hamas and its networks since 2004. US lawmakers have been asking for increased scrutiny of Hamas’s financials, as outlined in an October 17 letter led by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to the Treasury and the White House that focuses on Hamas’s alleged use of cryptocurrencies to finance its operations.

Treasury Department Sanctions Actors Supporting Iran’s Missile and UAV Programs. On October 18, the Department of the Treasury announced sanctions against 11 individuals, eight entities, and one vessel based in Iran, Hong Kong, China, and Venezuela connected with Iran’s ballistic missile and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) programs. The sanctioned individuals and entities are accused of providing material support to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL), or their subordinates in the production and proliferation of missiles and UAVs. In a statement, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson said that “The United States will continue to take action to disrupt Iran’s proliferation of UAVs and other weapons to oppressive regimes and destabilizing actors, and we encourage the international community to do the same.”