Debbie Wasserman Schultz Blocking Bipartisan Iran Sanctions

Breaks with Pro-Israel Democrats

Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Debbie Wasserman Schultz / AP
January 7, 2014

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.) has become a major obstacle to a new bipartisan Iran sanctions measure, according to multiple sources on Capitol Hill and in Florida.

Wasserman Schultz has broken with leading pro-Israel Democrats like New York Senator Chuck Schumer and New Jersey Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, privately urging her fellow Democrats to follow the White House’s lead by opposing a bipartisan House resolution backing new sanctions on Iran, according to multiple congressional sources close to the debate.

The Iran resolution fell apart in the final days of 2013 after House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) withdrew his support for it following a last minute lobbying campaign helmed by Wasserman Schultz, who sources identified as the "key Democrat" leading the anti-sanctions charge.

Wasserman Schultz’s backroom bid to kill the sanctions measure has angered some Democrats on Capitol Hill and in her hometown of South Florida.

"Debbie has been busy at home telling her constituents she is doing all she can to stop Iran, but in reality it appears she is busy behind the scenes working to scuttle bipartisan action to put increased sanctions pressure on Iran," said one Democrat on Capitol Hill who is closely tracking the Iran debate.

"Every minute she is publicly silent, or working against bipartisan efforts to pressure Iran, is a minute she is siding with the Mullahs over the American people who overwhelmingly want mounting pressure," said the source, who asked for anonymity.

Sources inside Wasserman Schultz’s heavily Jewish South Florida community say that the lawmaker’s opposition to strengthened sanctions has become a "problematic position" for her constituents.

Wasserman Schultz has become "one of the two problems in Florida in regards to support for those sanctions," according to one South Florida Jewish community insider.

The other Democratic opponent is Rep. Alan Grayson (Fla.), according to the source.

The concern is so great that Jewish community leaders in South Florida scheduled a meeting with Wasserman Schultz for early this week, the insider said.

The South Florida Jewish community’s concerns have reverberated in D.C., where senior Jewish community officials and others have been quietly expressing frustration over Wasserman Schultz’s bid to kill the new sanctions measure.

"She’s being very careful not to say anything publicly while working hard behind the scenes to jam up the legislation," said a D.C. Jewish community insider involved in the political debate over sanctions.

Senior congressional aides working on Iran sanctions say that Wasserman Schultz’s behind-the-scenes bid to stymie the Iran resolution has become problematic for bipartisan supporters of a robust sanctions regime.

"People are talking about it," said one senior Capitol Hill insider familiar with the sanctions negotiations. "Sources in the Jewish Federation network in Florida are saying this too; she’s not been very helpful."

While Wasserman Schultz has publicly talked tough on Iran, she is believed to have played a key role in pressuring Democratic Whip Hoyer to pull his support for the bipartisan resolution at the last minute.

Hoyer had been working with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.), and Reps. Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.) and Ed Royce (R., Calif.) to pass a last-minute resolution supporting increased sanctions on Tehran.

The measure was to act as a companion to a new Iran sanctions bill currently up for debate in Senate.

The White House opposes new sanctions and has enlisted Democratic allies to launch a full court congressional press that effectively killed the issue in 2013 and could hold up new measures well into 2014, according to insiders.

A spokeswoman for Wasserman Schultz did not respond to a Washington Free Beacon request for comment.