Inside The House GOP Plan to Stop a Second Iran Nuclear Deal

Republican Study Committee package would block the Biden administration from lifting sanctions

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Iran's supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei / Getty Images
April 28, 2023

Congress is readying a bevy of bills that would effectively kill any hope the Biden administration has of inking a revamped nuclear deal with Iran, according to sources briefed on the matter.

House Republicans on Friday will begin rolling out a series of six bills designed to expand sanctions on Iran and curtail the White House’s ability to waive sanctions in future deals, according to copies of the legislation exclusively obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. The bills, sponsored by members of the conservative Republican Study Committee, target Iran’s military, government leaders, and financial sector.

The legislative blitz comes as the Biden administration works to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Though the Biden administration publicly claims negotiations with Iran are on standby, lawmakers close to the issue maintain that the White House is still working behind the scenes to secure a new nuclear deal. These talks may have inspired Tehran to step up its military activity and attacks on the United States, the Free Beacon reported this month.

Study Committee chairman Kevin Hern (R., Okla.) said the legislative blitz is a warning to the White House that Republicans have "not forgotten about the Biden administration’s continuing attempts to re-enter the Iran deal."

Winning approval in the Democrat-controlled Senate could pose a challenge, given Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's hesitance to interfere in the White House's diplomacy with Iran. But the study committee's national security task force, led by Rep. Joe Wilson (R., S.C.), will "play an integral role" in selling the bills to Democrats and Republicans in both chambers, Hern said. The Republican lobbying campaign will include an "extremely aggressive" push to get the bills included in this year's National Defense Authorization Act, the yearly spending bill that is jointly authored with the Senate, according to several Republican aides.

The study committee’s package would prevent the Biden administration from using executive authority to unilaterally lift sanctions on Tehran—just as the Obama administration did when it skirted Congress to ink the original accord. One of the primary vehicles to stop a new deal is a bill spearheaded by Rep. John James (R., Mich.) that would deem any agreement with Iran as a formal treaty that requires congressional approval. With a split Senate, the Biden administration would likely fail to attract the two-thirds necessary for a treaty to be enacted. This bill alone would neuter diplomacy, stopping the White House from making good on any promises to Tehran.

James’s bill would also expand sanctions on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the country’s paramilitary fighting force that has killed hundreds of Americans. Though the IRGC was designated as a terror outfit in 2019, its vast network of affiliates still remains in the clear. The bill would broaden sanctions by targeting "individuals and entities that provide significant financial or material support" to the IRGC, according to a copy of the measure. Any financial institution that does business with an IRGC front company would also be subject to sanctions under the bill.

"Despite having bipartisan opposition in Congress and no support from our Israeli and Arab allies and partners, President Biden has not fully shut the door on negotiating a flawed Iran nuclear deal," James said in a statement to the Free Beacon. "My legislation returns congressional accountability to the Iran nuclear negotiations and forces the administration to work with us to find a resolution to address Iran’s nuclear and malign activity."

A related measure set to be introduced by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R., Colo.) would further widen IRGC sanctions to include the thousands of companies and smaller cells run by the terror organization. This IRGC’s vast network, which extends into Latin America and Europe, remains immune to most American sanctions currently on the books.

A third measure, backed by Rep. Bryan Steil (R., Wis.), would block the Biden administration from lifting terrorism sanctions unless it can prove the individual or entity has ceased engaging in these activities. Given Tehran’s vast regional terrorism enterprise, Iran would be unable to clear this threshold.

Congressional sources familiar with the bill said it is a direct response to the Obama administration’s contested decision to unilaterally skirt terrorism sanctions on Iran via a series of executive licenses.

The fourth bill, authored by Rep. Cory Mills (R., Fla.), would prohibit the Biden administration from lifting existing sanctions on Mahan Air, an Iranian fleet that ferries weapons and militant fighters across the region. Iranian officials are pushing for these sanctions to be lifted as part of any new deal with the United States.

Two other bills, from Wilson and Texas Rep. Pat Fallon (R.), would further isolate the IRGC by cutting off its access to international financial institutions.

Fallon’s bill would make it difficult for Iran’s banking sector to work with global financial institutions, while Wilson’s bill sanctions Iranian government leaders and others involved in the country’s vast security state.

"The Iranian regime continues enriching uranium, oppressing the Iranian people, and exporting missiles and terrorism," Wilson told the Free Beacon. "Now that the Republicans are in the House majority, we will pass legislation to continue to pressure this brutal regime."