The US House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that would permanently freeze Iran’s $6 billion, released as part of a prisoner swap deal in September.
The bill, named the No Funds for Iranian Terrorism Act, is yet another Congressional move aiming to pressure the Biden administration to harden its stance on Iran. Ninety Democrats joined all but one of House Republicans to pass the bill 307-119.
Rep. Michael McCaul, who introduced the bill, slammed the administration for making funds available to a government that sponsors Hamas, questioning the administration’s motive.
“There’s something else going on here,” McCaul said, “a deal we don’t know about,” suggesting that the Biden administration may have released the $6 billion to help bring about another nuclear agreement with Tehran.
Republicans have been opposing the ‘hostage deal’ ever since it was announced in August, but their opposition has intensified since October 7, when Hamas attacked Israel, killing 1,200 and taking more than 200 hostage.
“The idea that you can just take Hamas and keep it separate from Iran has always been a farce,” said House Majority Leader Steve Scalise. “Iran funds Hamas, and everybody knows it… We shouldn't even need the bill. The administration should be standing there saying we're not giving them the money anymore.”
But those close to President Biden argue that releasing the $6 billion had been necessary and key to securing the release of five Iranian-American hostages.
“Every member of Congress who was aware of these cases wanted our fellow citizens home,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks, ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Reneging on the deal would hurt U.S. global credibility.”
Biden critics say the deal has sent a signal that the US government would “reward hostage-taking”. They accuse Biden of emboldening the regime in Iran as well as its proxies across the Middle East.
Since mid-October, when Israel began its onslaught on Gaza, Iranian-backed groups have launched dozens of attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria. And from Yemen, the Houthis have been launching drone and missile attacks.
Not surprisingly, the bill was amended Thursday to state the Iranian-backed Houthis are benefitting from the Biden administration’s failure to condemn them, and perhaps more importantly, prohibit the use of US federal funds for Iran.
“There is only one language that is understood by our adversaries,” Rep. Keith Self said on the House floor in support of the bipartisan bill, “that is strength.”
The bill will have to pass the Senate, which is not likely given the Democratic majority in the upper chamber. But if it were to pass and turn into law, it would impose new sanctions to prevent any transfer of money to Iran.
Republican lawmakers in both chambers are aggravated by what they see as President Biden’s soft approach to Iran. Some have gone so far as to call his policy “appeasement.”
“This administration has subverted Israel and boosted Iran for nearly 3 years,” Senator Ted Cruz posted on his X account. “Rob Malley, who headed up his nuclear negotiations with Iran, had Iranian spies working under him at the State Department.”
On Thursday, 25 Senators signed an open letter to oppose the administration’s sanctions relief to Iran.
Addressing the three secretaries of State, Defense and the Treasury, the Senators (led by Senator Tim Scott) conveyed displeasure at the fact that despite attacks on American troops, “it is business as normal on the economic front."
The letter reads: “We therefore request that your departments provide us with a classified assessment on the administration’s plan to deter Iranian aggression and prevent the escalation of conflict in the Middle East. This assessment should be provided in a member or staff-level briefing no later than December 7, 2023.”