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Engel Floor Remarks on Partisan Iran Bill

ENGEL FLOOR REMARKS ON PARTISAN IRAN BILL

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WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks in the House of Representatives in opposition to the Majority Leader’s partisan Iran Accountability Act of 2016 (H.R. 5631):

“Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to this measure and I yield myself as much time as I may consume.

“Thank you, Mr. Speaker.  Mr. Speaker, I just walked here from our hearing room where the Foreign Affairs Committee marked up 13 measures.  We had a Committee meeting this morning.  Some were written by Republicans, some by Democrats.  When these bills and resolutions were first introduced, a lot of members had questions and concerns. 

“But the Committee went to work, ironing out differences, and now all 13 pieces of legislation have been favorably reported with bipartisan support.  That’s how our Committee works.  That’s how our Chairman Ed Royce runs things.  That’s why we say that the Foreign Affairs Committee is the most bipartisan Committee in the entire Congress.  And I’m proud of that as Ranking Member.

“I believe, and we believe, that partisanship should end at the water’s edge.  When it comes to fighting for our country, there should be no Democrats and Republicans.  We should be working together on this.  Partisanship should end at the water’s edge.  And that’s our best, how we legislate—especially when it comes to advancing American interests and security overseas.

“So it’s rather jarring, Mr. Speaker, to walk onto the floor to debate the Majority Leader’s bill.  Eighty pages of new sanctions on the Iranian regime.  Introduced literally in the middle of the night last week.  Rammed through the Rules Committee.  Brought to the floor without any chance to improve it or any input from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“And that’s a disappointment, Mr. Speaker, because there are plenty of us on both sides of the aisle who think we should be doing more to hold Iran’s leaders accountable for their bad behavior. After all, Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.  Iran props up the Assad regime, detains Americans on trumped-up charges, and has racked up the worst record on human rights you could imagine.  Congress could speak with a unified voice on these issues.  But not with the bill we’re considering today. 

“I don’t like the regime.  Everyone knows that I opposed the deal with Iran.  And I think that if we work together, we can move forward on legislation. 

“But not at this way, not ramming it through the Rules Committee so it doesn’t get to the Foreign Affairs Committee, and it gets to the floor where nobody had any kind of input whatsoever.  That’s not how we should be running this House.  So it’s not with the bill we’re considering today.

“My friends on the other side know that.  This isn’t a serious bill.  It would force the United States to violate our obligations under the nuclear deal. 

“Now, I think that’s a mistake.  As I said before, I opposed the Iran nuclear deal, but I was on the losing side of that debate.  We shouldn’t relitigate this issue.  We shouldn’t have 62 votes again and again to try to upend this issue, like we do with the Affordable Healthcare Act.  We should not relitigate this issue.  Our work now should be to hold Iran to its obligations and make sure the deal is being fully implemented.

“One of the ways we could do this is to ensure there’s a viable snapback of sanctions if Iran violates the deal.  That’s why I’ve been saying we should reauthorize the Iran Sanctions Act before it expires by the end of the year. But here in front of us, in this 80-page bill, what is missing?  A reauthorization of the Iran Sanctions Act.  That shows me that this isn’t a serious undertaking.

“But regardless of what I think, we know that this bill has zero chance of becoming law.  It most certainly won’t pass the Senate, and if it did, the White House would veto it.

“So we can only conclude, Mr. Speaker, that this is a political exercise.  And that troubles me.  One of our greatest traditions in American foreign policy is that politics and partisanship stop at the water’s edge.  That principle has been especially true in the way Congress has dealt with Iran in recent years.  That principle has guided our work on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Maybe that’s why the Foreign Affairs Committee was cut out of this process.  We’ve avoided letting foreign policy turn into everyday politics.  But make no mistake: what we’re doing today is politics, plain and simple.

“I worry about that precedent.  I worry about what it means when Iran sees us playing politics with global security—when Iran’s leaders see us engage in political grandstanding instead of serious policymaking.

“I also worry about what it means for the Foreign Affairs Committee.  Our Committee’s jurisdiction gives us oversight of diplomacy, development, foreign assistance, war powers.  Yet here we are debating a major, major sanctions bill that never passed through the doors of our Committee room. Yesterday, the House voted on another Iran bill that completely bypassed our Committee as well.  The House just approved a Defense Authorization Act that includes dozens of provisions that fall within the jurisdiction of the Foreign Affairs Committee.  Who knows how many foreign policy riders will find their way into our spending bills this year? 

“All without the Foreign Affairs Committee saying a word.  This is a bad trend, Mr. Speaker.  This is not regular order, which the Speaker promised us.

“By the way, I wonder what our friends in the Freedom Caucus and Liberty Caucus have to say about the process that got this bill to the floor.  I wonder what happened to the Speaker’s commitment to regular order that put the gavel in his hand in the first place.  I didn’t see a lot of concern over regular order as this bill was being rushed through the Rules Committee.

“So we have a legislative process that cut out the most experienced legislators on this issue.  We have an important foreign-policy concern turned into a political football.  We have a bill that has no chance of becoming law.

“I’m starting to think this has something to do with the calendar.  Today when we finish our business, members will rush to the exits.  But next week, many of my friends on the other side will descend on Cleveland for their convention.

“Now let me say a bit with tongue in cheek that I sympathize with my friends on the other side.  Their standard-bearer has some pretty unusual ideas about foreign policy.  He thinks more countries should get nuclear weapons. He wants to withdraw from our alliances. He thinks we ought to be neutral in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and start a trade war with China. He looks to people like Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, and Saddam Hussein as apparent role models.  If I were in the Majority’s shoes, I’d want to change the conversation too.

“But this bill is the wrong way to do it.  This bill doesn’t make the Majority appear strong on foreign policy.  It only makes Congress appear divided on issues on which we cannot afford division.  This bill weakens us as a Congress when Congress should be finding ways to make Americans safer.  I oppose this measure.  I urge my colleagues to do the same.  And I reserve the balance of my time.”