Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) will force a recorded vote Wednesday morning on a Biden administration nominee who Cruz says lied to Congress about details surrounding the new Iran nuclear agreement, according to a notification sent by Cruz’s office to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC).
The vote to advance Barbara Leaf, a veteran Democratic Middle East hand who is nominated to serve as the State Department’s assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, will serve as the first recorded congressional vote tied to a new Iran deal as it starts to roll out, which the Biden administration is expected to announce soon.
"Leaf was a key player in the Biden administration hiding the details of their new Iran deal from SFRC and Congress more generally—until it was too late to shape it," Cruz’s office wrote in an email sent Tuesday to SFRC members and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. "They were working on a weaker ‘less for less’ agreement since the very beginning of the Biden administration, all the way back in February 2021. They now plan to announce it as a ‘take it or leave it’ bad deal."
Cruz is forcing the recorded vote to signal mounting Republican frustration with the Biden administration’s efforts to skirt congressional review of the deal and keep details surrounding it secret. Cruz has been blocking Leaf’s confirmation since last year due to her refusal to answer questions related to the Biden administration’s Middle East policy, including about the Iran deal.
Leaf, in written testimony to Cruz, claimed in September that the Biden administration was not seeking a deal with Iran that is separate from the original 2015 accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Asked for the details of a potential, weaker new deal, Leaf said "there have been no such arrangements, deals, or agreements contemplated to reduce pressure on Iran."
Cruz maintains that Leaf’s testimony to Congress was meant to prevent lawmakers on the SFRC from knowing what was being negotiated with Iran in talks led by Russia and China. In the months since, Leaf claimed that a "less for less" deal was not on the table, but details have emerged indicating this is what is being finalized as talks in Vienna reach their conclusion.
Leaf’s misleading statement will make it difficult for Republican members of the SFRC to vote in her favor, especially as it becomes clear that the new Iran agreement will provide sanctions relief not only to Iran, but also to Russia so that it can build out portions of Tehran’s nuclear program.
One Republican Senate aide familiar with the Cruz email told the Free Beacon that the senator’s move is meant to send a message to the administration that its efforts to keep Congress in the dark about the Iran deal will not be tolerated.
"The Cruz position is that the Biden administration is trying to roll Congress on the Iran deal, and that this is the first time senators will have the chance to vote on the record pushing back," said the source, who requested anonymity to discuss deliberations on the matter. "He says Leaf flat out lied because the Biden administration was desperate to avoid congressional oversight. It's being set up as a vote about whether senators are going to allow themselves to get pushed around."
Controversy has erupted in recent weeks over other previously undisclosed details of the deal, including that the Biden administration is prepared to lift some terrorism sanctions even as Iran actively plots to murder former Trump administration officials. The Free Beacon also first reported last week that the United States will allow Russia to cash in on a $10 billion contract to build Iranian nuclear reactors—a move that House Foreign Affairs Committee member Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) described as a "quid pro quo" for Russia in comment Tuesday to the Free Beacon.
The sanctions relief and other carveouts included in the agreement will allow Iran to serve as a "sanctions evasion hub" for Russian president Vladimir Putin, according to experts at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, as international sanctions on Moscow in response to its invasion of Ukraine cripple the country’s economy.
Cruz and Issa have filed legislation in the Senate and House to prohibit the Biden administration from waiving sanctions on both Iran and Russia as part of the deal. The legislation targets Russia’s work on Iranian nuclear sites and, if approved, could make the new deal dead on arrival.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), the SFRC’s chairman, and other Democrats, have expressed concerns about the deal and want the Biden administration to guarantee that Congress gets a vote on it. During a classified briefing for House lawmakers last week, many Democrats privately expressed opposition to the deal, sources told the Free Beacon on Tuesday.