Dems To Force Vote on Biden Nominee Who Dismantled Iran Sanctions

Schumer to force vote on James C. O'Brien over Republican opposition

James C. O'Brien (Credit: U.S. Embassy in Armenia)
October 3, 2023

Senate Democrats are poised to force a vote Tuesday on a contested Biden administration nominee who played a central role in weakening Iran sanctions, a vote that comes as military nominees languish in limbo in what Democrats have described as a national security crisis.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) has scheduled a vote on James C. O'Brien, who serves in the State Department as the head of the Office of Sanctions Coordination, which is responsible for coordinating sanctions policies among government departments and international allies. O'Brien has been tapped to serve as the next assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.

O'Brien has generated Republican opposition due to his role in watering down sanctions on Iran that have led the hardline regime to restore its oil exports to the highest levels since the Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and restored sanctions. This has generated billions for the hardline regime as it continues to fund terrorism operations across the globe.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) has been holding O'Brien's nomination, effectively preventing it from moving forward, due to the nominee's role in weakening economic restrictions on Tehran, Cruz's office confirmed to the Washington Free Beacon.

Schumer's decision to force a vote on O'Brien comes as more than 300 nominations for military posts remain deadlocked in the Senate. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R., Ala.) has been holding those nominees over concerns related to the Pentagon's policy on abortions and other cultural issues. Senate Democrats have refused for months to move on any of those nominees, but at the end of September they finally forced votes on three of them. Schumer has the ability to push past a hold and expend floor time on a vote. While he has not made this move with the more than 300 military nominees on hold, he is choosing to exert his power on O'Brien.

"Sen. Cruz has warned for months that he would begin holding nominees linked to the Biden administration's Middle East policy, as long as they continued to lie to Congress and the American people about the policies they were implementing," a Cruz spokesman told the Free Beacon. "James O'Brien testified he would enforce mandatory sanctions on Iran, but then oversaw the dismantling of those sanctions, pouring tens of billions of dollars into the Ayatollah's coffers and endangering Americans' security."

Cruz decided to place a hold on O'Brien until the nominee "clarified those actions, but Democrats instead chose to shove him through, even while they insist they are helpless to move military nominees," the spokesman said. "There is no longer any doubt where their priorities are."

The State Department did not immediately respond to a Free Beacon request for comment on allegations that O'Brien was central to the dismantling of Iran sanctions.

Since President Joe Biden took office, tough economic sanctions on Iran's oil trade have essentially evaporated as the administration pursues diplomacy aimed at inking a revamped version of the original nuclear deal. O'Brien helped carry out this mission from his post at the State Department, congressional sources said.

Other Biden administration nominees also are facing Republican pushback.

Senate Armed Services Committee Republicans on Tuesday confirmed to the Free Beacon that they will vote against State Department official Derek Chollet after he failed to alleviate concerns that he is more focused on culture-war issues and climate change than on military readiness. Chollet is in line to become the Pentagon's top policy official.