Congressional GOP Introduces Largest Package of Iran Sanctions in History

Bill aims to handicap Biden admin's diplomacy with Iran, send message to regime

Then-secretary of state Mike Pompeo discusses Iran in January / Getty Images
April 21, 2021

Congressional Republicans unveiled on Wednesday what they described as the largest package of Iran sanctions in history, a largely symbolic move meant to handicap the Biden administration's diplomacy with Tehran and send a message that GOP lawmakers will not roll over as crippling economic sanctions on the hardline regime are lifted.

The legislation, dubbed the Maximum Pressure Act, would formally codify the Trump administration's tough sanctions campaign on Iran and force the Biden administration to submit any revamped nuclear deal with Iran to Congress for review before it is approved. The bill, spearheaded by the Republican Study Committee, was unveiled during a morning press conference on Capitol Hill with former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who led the Trump administration's efforts to isolate Iran and defund its regional terrorism enterprise.

As the Biden administration inches closer to rejoining the 2015 nuclear accord and unwinding American pressure on Iran, Republicans in Congress are using their legislative and oversight authority to hamper negotiations and make clear that any such deal will not last beyond Biden's term in office. While the sanctions bill stands little chance of passing a Democrat-controlled Congress, it is yet another sign that Republicans are united in opposition to a revamped accord that provides the Islamic Republic with potentially billions in cash assets. It is also likely that hawkish Democrats, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), will not back the Biden administration if it grants sanctions relief before Iran dismantles its nuclear program.

Pompeo and Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the Republican Study Committee's chairman, said the legislation is a signal to the White House and Iran that Congress will not abide by any deal that is not first brought before it for a vote. The Obama administration never brought the Iran deal before Congress for a vote, fearing that it could not pass. Because the agreement was never formally ratified, the Trump administration was easily able to scrap it in 2018. Banks and several colleagues formally notified the Biden administration earlier this month that Congress will not be bound to an agreement that grants Iran sanctions relief, as the Washington Free Beacon first reported.

"If President Biden bypasses Congress and rejoins the failed Iran deal, our adversaries should know that conservatives in Congress will continue to fight to support President Trump's successful maximum pressure campaign and work to pass this legislation which would reimpose all sanctions until Iran" shutters its nuclear program and stops supporting terrorist groups across the Middle East, Banks said in a statement.

Pompeo said the former administration's hardline stance on Iran brought the regime to its knees and isolated it more than ever before. Recent statistics support the claim. The International Monetary Fund disclosed in a report that Iran burned through nearly all of its cash reserves in the final years of the Trump administration. The government would likely not have weathered another four years of crippling sanctions.

"America, our ally Israel, and the world are safer because President Trump's Maximum Pressure policy and crushing sanctions denied the Iranians the resources they needed to support building a nuclear weapon or to support terrorism around the globe," Pompeo said. "Rejoining the failed Iranian nuclear deal would come at great cost."

In addition to expanding sanctions on Iran's ballistic missile program, military, and militia groups in the region, the Republican Study Committee's bill would codify into law Pompeo's 12 demands on Iran, which included a total halt to the country’s  nuclear enrichment program.

The legislation would also mandate that Congress approve any agreement developed by the Biden administration during its talks with Iran. The terms of a deal would have to be sent to the Senate to be formally ratified as a treaty. It would also limit the president's ability to unwind sanctions unilaterally via executive order, which the Biden administration has already been contemplating.