Exclusive: Congressional Republicans to Unveil Largest Iran Sanctions Plan in History

Unprecedented legislative package aims to reassert GOP role in foreign policy, bankrupt Tehran

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June 8, 2020

Congressional Republicans will unveil this week the largest package of Iran sanctions in history, an unprecedented plan that aims to cripple Tehran’s global terrorism enterprise and bankrupt the cash-strapped regime, according to a copy of the legislative package exclusively obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The Republican Study Committee (RSC), the largest caucus of GOP lawmakers in Congress, will on Wednesday release a massive legislative proposal targeting malign regimes across the globe, including Russia, China, and Iran. The policy proposal includes more than 140 new initiatives intending to reassert Republican leadership on the foreign policy stage.

The Iran portion includes "the toughest sanctions that have ever been proposed by Congress on Iran," according to Rep. Mike Johnson (R., La.), the RSC’s chairman. It would greatly expand the Trump administration’s "maximum pressure" campaign and force the removal of several contested policies that Republicans argue have kept the Iran nuclear accord on life support since President Donald Trump abandoned it in 2018.

The legislative proposal specifically tackles some of the thorniest issues in U.S. foreign policy: contested American taxpayer aid to Lebanon and other Middle Eastern nations controlled by Iran, sanctions waivers that have kept Tehran’s nuclear program alive, and the 2002 authorization for use of military force in Iraq, which Republicans view as severely outdated given the rise of numerous new terror factions.

Johnson and Rep. Joe Wilson (R., S.C.), head of the RSC’s foreign affairs and national security task force, told the Free Beacon that their proposal is more than a conservative wish list. Some Democrats could support many of the priorities, including foreign policy leaders such as Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), Rep. Ted Deutch (D., Fla.), and Rep. Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.)—all of whom have expressed concerns about the Iran nuclear deal and Tehran’s regional ambitions.

"We’re not doing this for messaging purposes," Johnson said. "Many of these things we would expect and should be bipartisan because this is one of these issues that every person who looks at the situation objectively should agree to."

The most significant proposal, however, is likely to pit Republican lawmakers against elements in the Trump administration. In a move likely to spark a turf war with the State Department, the RSC is calling on Congress to unilaterally cancel a set of sanctions waivers that have legitimized Iran’s nuclear program and increased its footprint in Iraq.

The waivers are one of the biggest points of contention between the Trump administration and Iran hawks in Congress. While a months-long pressure campaign in May forced the State Department to cancel waivers for Iran’s nuclear facilities—including a military bunker that formerly housed the country’s atomic weapons program—others still remain in place.

The most significant current waiver allows Iran to sell electricity to Iraq. Under this waiver, the countries inked a two-year $800 million electricity deal late last week, providing Tehran an even greater foothold into Iraq’s economy and government.

Under the GOP’s new plan, the administration would be barred from lifting sanctions without first obtaining consent from the House and Senate. It also would take the unprecedented step of sanctioning every Iraqi militia group responsible for attacking the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad earlier this year. Most of these groups are not currently subject to U.S. sanctions.

Republicans are "concerned that there needs to be consistency about" America’s Iran sanctions policy, Johnson said, acknowledging that these waivers undermine the president’s maximum pressure campaign.

Other proposals complement policies already undertaken by the Trump administration, such as efforts to invoke the snapback of all international sanctions on Iran that were originally lifted as part of the landmark nuclear deal.

With a United Nations-endorsed arms embargo on Iran set to expire in October, Republican hawks and their allies in the administration now see snapback as key to stopping countries like Russia and China from selling arms to the Islamic Republic.

To further the possibility of snapback, the RSC proposes new legislation mandating the United States to use its influence at the U.N. Security Council to ensure international sanctions are reimposed.

If the arms embargo on Iran is not extended, Congress could play a central role in crafting new embargoes on the sale of weapons to Iran. This would include "new sanctions on the arms industries of countries like Russia and China that return to selling weapons to Iran, the banks facilitating any sale of weapons to Iran, and the companies shipping weapons," according to the proposal.

U.S. aid to Lebanon has also emerged as a top priority for Republican lawmakers—and a potential flashpoint between them and the Trump administration.

While the State Department has aggressively defended the millions in U.S. taxpayer aid provided each year to the Lebanese government and its military, Republicans are increasingly willing to criticize a policy they say emboldens Hezbollah, the Iranian terror proxy controlling the country.

For the first time, the RSC and its allies are calling for a complete halt of U.S. aid in Lebanon, potentially paving the way for a showdown with typically hawkish Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Earlier this year, Pompeo told the Free Beacon his administration still views U.S. aid to Lebanon’s armed forces as beneficial.

Both Johnson and Wilson said there is no valid reason to continue awarding Lebanon with taxpayer aid as Hezbollah systematically takes control of the country.

"They’re using U.S. taxpayer dollars supposedly to counter Hezbollah, and that may have been true in the past, but it does not appear to be true anymore," Johnson said. "That money is being spent in ways that are counterproductive to our goals in the region."

Other sanctions would target Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s multibillion-dollar financial empire, as well as the country's petrochemical, financial, and automotive sectors.

The GOP also recognizes that in the years since the 9/11 terror attacks, the regional threat landscape has shifted dramatically. They are now calling for a reassessment of the war authorizations granted in 2001 and 2002—a call certain to rankle antiwar Democrats who view these authorities as carte blanche for the administration to wage endless wars.

The RSC argues that both war authorizations are out of date and do not give the president adequate authority to combat a bevy of new terror factions, primarily those armed and funded by Iran.

While Democrats have pushed to have these authorizations revoked, Republicans view them as critical to the U.S. military campaign against these growing factions.

"We’re not going to take the Ilhan Omar approach," Rep. Wilson said. "It’s important we don’t open the door for Ilhan and AOC [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.)] and the thirty leftists who call for disbanding the American military."

Published under: Iran , Sanctions