Rep. Brad Schneider (D., Ill.) organized an impromptu conference Tuesday evening to explain to pro-Israel leaders why he authored a bill that could delay a new round of Iran sanctions by up to four months while experts assess the impact of U.S. policies towards Tehran.
Schneider came under fire from some pro-Israel leaders and those on Capitol Hill after the Washington Free Beacon reported that he was pushing a new bill to establish a congressional panel that would "review, assess, and make recommendations with respect to the current United States strategy toward the threats posed by the government of Iran."
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The panel would be given 120 days to investigate the viability of passing new sanctions on Iran, according to the draft bill, which was never formally filed in the House.
Congressional sources familiar with the bill criticized it for duplicating sanctions legislation already under consideration as well as for potentially encouraging lawmakers to delay more immediate action on Iran.
Schneider and his allies decided to shelve and rewrite the draft bill following the Free Beacon’s report, according to sources on Capitol Hill.
Schneider’s office sent out word of the evening conference call following a Wall Street Journal article that also mentioned his bill. It claimed that "inaccurate media reports regarding sanctions" had forced Schneider to clarify his position.
The call was not open to the press, according to Schneider Chief of Staff Reed Adamson, who declined to provide a Free Beacon reporter access to the call or details of it afterward.
"Congressman Schneider would like to invite you to join a conference call this afternoon regarding the need to increase the intensity and accelerate the pace of sanctions as we head into this week’s negotiations with Iran in Geneva," Adamson wrote in his email to leaders.
"There have been inaccurate media reports regarding sanctions and it is important to know that Congressman Schneider has called upon the Senate to immediately pass the ‘Preventing a Nuclear Iran Act’ and opposes any legislation that would delay, hinder, or stop current or future sanctions," Adamson wrote.
One Illinois-based Jewish official said that Schneider is doing damage control after making a misstep on the sanctions front, an issue he has championed in the past.
"It's pretty clear Schneider's gone into deep spin mode to try to explain himself," the official said to the Free Beacon. "I think as a community, if he's willing to make a mea culpa and admit he erred, we should welcome that new direction."
While Schneider has expressed support for the liberal Middle East lobbying group J Street, which opposes new sanctions on Iran, the lawmaker has traditionally expressed support for tough sanctions.
That is why some on Capitol Hill said they were surprised to see him touting a bill that some believe was an attempt to appease the White House, which is pushing for at least a two-month delay in new Iran sanctions.
Schneider’s draft bill was "nothing but a veiled attempt to appease J Street, Iran, and, of course, the Obama administration," said one senior Republican House aide familiar with the bill.
"Rather than stand firm against Iran's nuclear program—the one issue on which Schneider claims expertise—he has instead dealt a blow to all those who seek to prevent a nuclear Iran," the aide said. "The purpose of this initiative is clear: soften pressure on Iran, provide cover for the Obama administration, and pray the supreme leader sees it fit on his own to end his prized nuclear program unilaterally."
Some insiders speculated that the conference call was an attempt to mollify Illinois-based pro-Israel leaders, who will be critical to Schneider’s upcoming reelection.
The race against former Rep. Bob Dold (R., Ill.)—a staunch pro-Israel ally—is already shaping up to be a close competition.
"Brad pulled his bill and now he's in full-spin mode trying to explain his views on an issue that shouldn't be confusing to anyone," Dold said in a Tuesday evening statement. "Brad’s lack of leadership moves us backwards at a time when we need to stand unambiguously against Iran."