The House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted on Wednesday evening to tighten sanctions on Iran during a vote that was widely seen as a congressional warning to Iran’s newly installed president, Hassan Rouhani.
Lawmakers voted 400-20 to approve the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013, despite last minute efforts by pro-Tehran lobbying groups and liberal lawmakers to torpedo the legislation, which would further restrict Iranian oil exports and cut off Tehran’s access to foreign currency.
Pro-Israel officials and sources on Capitol Hill said the vote deals a severe blow to liberal Democrats and pro-Iran groups such as the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), which fought to kill the bill.
NIAC and its allies on Capitol Hill, such as Rep. Keith Ellison (D., Minn.), circulated a letter last week calling on President Barack Obama to directly negotiate with Iran.
The letter, which was spearheaded by Reps David Price (D.,N.C.) and Charles Dent (R.,Pa.), garnered 131 signatures, leading NIAC and others to claim that the anti-Iran mood in Congress was shifting.
However, 104 of the 131 who signed the Price-Dent letter went on to vote in favor of tighter sanctions, including co-author Dent.
"The Iran lobby got some members of Congress to sign a letter that said some nice things about diplomacy," said one top official at a pro-Israel organization. "Then they tried to convince journalists and policymakers that the letter meant there was broad opposition in Congress to ratcheting up sanctions on Iran."
"Today's vote was a resounding rebuke to that misinformation," the source said. "Any journalist who fell for that line should feel burned, and should be asking their contacts some tough questions about why they were misled."
Rep. Justin Amash (R., Mich.) did not sign the Price-Dent letter but still voted against the legislation.
The bill’s overwhelming passage is a sign that "there is absolutely no interest in weakening America’s stance toward the Iranian regime," according to one pro-Israel official. "Rather than appeasing so-called moderates, the strong sentiment is to intensify pressure on Tehran."
A senior GOP Senate aide concurred with that sentiment, telling the Free Beacon the bill’s success "is a major blow to Iranian front groups like NIAC that tried to derail new sanctions in Congress."
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) praised the House for passing the legislation and urged the Senate "to move quickly on its own version of sanctions legislation."
"The window is rapidly closing to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability," AIPAC said in a statement.
While the Senate will not consider the new legislation until after Congress’s August recess, lawmakers said the bill is a key step towards preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capabilities.
"There is no higher national security priority than preventing a nuclear-armed Iran," Rep. Ed Royce (R., Fla.), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said prior to the vote.
Now is not the time to be negotiating with a regime that vocally champions the destruction of the U.S. and Israel, Royce said.
"I'm convinced that Iran's supreme leader intends to continue on this path [towards nuclear weapons] because that is what he says he intends to do and that is unless sanctions bite to the point where the regime has to make a choice between compromise on this nuclear weapons program or the consequences of the sanctions on the regime," Royce said.
Royce offered a sharp condemnation of NIAC and other pro-Iran lobbying groups during a Tuesday afternoon event on Capitol Hill.
In addition to sanctioning Iran directly, the new legislation would also enable the president to go after those facilitating trade with Iran.
Any financial institution that does business with Iran or enables others to do so could be penalized under the law.
The bill would also force countries that still import Iranian oil to drastically reduce these purchases.
Additionally, the bill instructs the Secretary of State to "determine if Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) meets the criteria for designation as a foreign terrorist organization."
If the IRGC meets the criteria, the State Department is instructed to "designate the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization."