New Senate legislation would codify sanctions on Iran and bar the Biden administration from lifting economic penalties on Tehran until it can certify the hardline regime has ceased all efforts to assassinate current and former American officials.
Republican leaders want to block the Biden administration through the PUNISH Act, which was introduced Thursday by Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, from providing Iran's hardline regime with access to billions of dollars in oil revenue. The bill's introduction comes on the heels of the administration's $6 billion ransom payment to Tehran last month as part of a hostage deal.
The legislation also comes as the Biden administration is engaged in diplomacy with Iran aimed at securing a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear deal. As part of these talks, the Biden administration has avoided enforcing sanctions on Iran's illicit oil trade, providing it with access to tens of billions of dollars in cash that were cut off during the Trump administration's "maximum pressure" campaign.
Ernst and other Republicans in the Senate and House have been pressuring the Biden administration for years to enforce U.S. sanctions on Iran, but they have largely been met with inaction from senior diplomats conducting diplomacy with Tehran. Last month's $6 billion ransom payment drew particular outrage in light of Iran's ongoing efforts to assassinate current and former American officials, including former secretary of state Mike Pompeo.
"President Biden’s strategy of appeasement continues to risk the lives of Americans at home and abroad. Iran cannot be allowed to continue to attempt to kill U.S. citizens and Iranian dissidents with impunity," said Ernst, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "The world’s number-one state sponsor of terrorism is not to be trusted. I’m holding President Biden accountable by preventing his administration from providing Tehran with another cent of sanctions relief. My PUNISH Act will put an end to this failed appeasement strategy and ensure Iran feels the maximum consequences of their actions from the United States."
Ernst's latest legislative push, which is endorsed by 13 other Republican senators, would bar the Biden administration from using its executive authority to lift sanctions on Iran until the Islamist regime "ceases to attempt to assassinate United States officials, other United States citizens, and Iranian nationals residing in the United States," according to text of the bill. The bill is certain to attract widespread Republican support in the House and Senate, though it is unclear if Democrats would support a bid to strip the Biden administration of its sanctions waiver authority.
While the White House has broad leeway to waive any sanctions it desires, the legislation is tailored to revoke this power until the United States can certify to Congress that Iran is no longer trying to kill Americans. With Tehran refusing to back down from these efforts—and issuing new threats against Americans and dissidents living abroad—it is unlikely the Biden administration would be able to provide such a determination in the near future.
Sanctions could only be lifted once the State Department certifies that Iran has not supported or attempted to carry out assassinations or kidnappings for five years.
Lawmakers have been pressing the Biden administration for some time to provide them with a classified briefing on Iran's active assassination plots against U.S. officials, other U.S. citizens, and Iranian dissidents living in the United States, citing concerns that the administration is not doing enough to protect these individuals and hold Tehran accountable.
These tensions spilled into public view last month after U.S. Strategic Command hosted a former Iranian official who once bragged about Iran's efforts to kill Trump administration officials and their families.
Investigations into the Biden administration's dealings with Iran have kicked into overdrive following a report last week about a secret Iranian government-run propaganda network that sought to influence U.S. policymakers. At least one alleged member of this group, Ariane Tabatabai, works in the Pentagon and holds a security clearance.