Follow us on social

Screen-shot-2021-04-30-at-12.51.16-pm

Top Senate Dem quietly inserts Iran poison pill into China bill

Proponents of diplomacy with Iran say the measure may have been meant to complicate the ongoing talks in Vienna.

Reporting | Middle East

It seems like a basic transparency measure. But some Senate Democrats worry that an amendment quietly added to a China-related bill could be a stealth poison pill for diplomacy with Iran.

Shortly before the Strategic Competition Act was set to be marked up by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chairman Bob Menendez (D–N.J.) and ranking member Jim Risch (R–Idaho) inserted an amendment that vastly expands the reporting requirements for international agreements.

The amendment requires the State Department to provide detailed reports to Congress within five days after it “approves the negotiation or conclusion” of an international agreement or “non-binding instrument” with “an important effect on the foreign policy of the United States.”

While the amendment was backed by some legal experts, two congressional aides and an activist speaking on condition of anonymity expressed concern to Responsible Statecraft that it could affect ongoing negotiations in Vienna, where the Biden administration is in talks with five other world powers to constrain Iran’s nuclear program.

“In our view, the language was concerning because it could be interpreted as requiring congressional notification for any negotiation of an international agreement (not just Iran) once it has begun,” one congressional aide told Responsible Statecraft. “That felt vague and open-ended that it could potentially derail efforts that diplomats do all the time to quietly test waters on issues.”

The activist was more blunt, stating that the amendment “could give opponents of [the Vienna negotiations] in Congress an opportunity to try and frustrate those talks.”

Menendez and Risch both opposed the original 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which the Biden administration is seeking a return to.

Menendez has also worked to frustrate the Biden administration’s current diplomatic approach, cooperating with Senate Republicans and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in an attempt to pressure the Biden administration to take a harder line on Iran.

Menendez’s office did not respond to a request for comment as of press time. 

Democrats were also concerned with the way the amendment was introduced, one of the congressional aides and the activist claimed. Menendez used his prerogative as chairman to insert it into the text of the bill shortly before markup — the debate on the bill — began.

“This was done last-minute, very little notice to other Democratic members of the committee,” the second aide said. “People were caught unaware of it, it seems, by design.”

The State Department declined to comment, but Sen. Chris Murphy (D–Conn.) claimed that the Biden administration is worried.

“I know the State Department has some concerns about when they would be required to make that initial notification of Congress,” he said during the April 21 markup meeting. “It's sometimes difficult to know when a negotiation begins, and so I would hope we would work with the State Department moving forward to make sure that we get that provision right.”

The Strategic Competition Act has passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but it still has a long way to go before becoming law. It will still have to pass the full Senate and the House of Representatives, with plenty of opportunities to amend the text.

The bill itself is widely expected to pass, with bipartisan support and the backing of the administration. But the fate of Menendez and Risch’s amendment is less certain.

“Chairman Menendez, working with Republicans, used his position as chair of the committee to slip in and try to hide from his fellow Democrats language that could frustrate one of his party’s and his president’s most significant foreign policy objectives,” the activist said. “The administration feels completely blindsided by this.”

Photos: Al Teich and lev radin via shutterstock.com
Reporting | Middle East
Menendez's corruption is just the tip of the iceberg

U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) looks on, following his bribery trial in connection with an alleged corrupt relationship with three New Jersey businessmen, in New York City, U.S., July 16, 2024. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Menendez's corruption is just the tip of the iceberg

QiOSK

Today, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) became the first U.S. senator ever to be convicted of acting as an unregistered foreign agent. While serving as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez ghost-wrote a letter and approved arms sales on behalf of the Egyptian regime in exchange for bribes, among other crimes on behalf of foreign powers in a sweeping corruption case. An Egyptian businessman even referred to Menendez in a text to a military official as “our man.”

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said Menendez was engaging in politics for profit. "Because Senator Menendez has now been found guilty, his years of selling his office to the highest bidder have finally come to an end,” he said.

keep readingShow less
What will Vance do for Trump's foreign policy?

USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connect

What will Vance do for Trump's foreign policy?

Washington Politics

Donald Trump announced earlier today that he had selected Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance to be his running mate. Coming only two days after the assassination attempt on the former president in Butler, Pennsylvania, Trump’s selection elevated the young first-term senator to the Republican national ticket as the party’s national convention was getting underway in Milwaukee. In choosing Vance, Trump seems to have ignored pressure from Rupert Murdoch, who had reportedly been lobbying intensively in favor of North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and against Vance. Trump has chosen a loyalist who will appeal to his core supporters in the party’s populist wing.

While the selection makes sense in terms of the senator’s political alignment with Trump, it is somewhat unconventional given Vance’s limited experience in government. Vance will be the youngest vice presidential nominee since Richard Nixon in 1952. He has been in elected office for only a year and a half. Vance will likely face a lot of questions about his preparedness to serve as president if necessary.

keep readingShow less
States should let the feds handle foreign influence

The Bold Bureau / Shutterstock.com

States should let the feds handle foreign influence

Washington Politics

In April, a state bill in Georgia aimed at clamping down on foreign influence landed on the desk of Governor Brian Kemp.

Presented under the guise of common-sense legislation, the bill was more reminiscent of McCarthyism; if passed, it would have required workers of foreign-owned businesses such as Hyundai, Adidas, or Anheuser-Busch in Georgia to register as foreign agents, placing a huge burden on everyday Americans.

keep readingShow less

Israel-Gaza Crisis

Latest

Newsletter

Subscribe now to our weekly round-up and don't miss a beat with your favorite RS contributors and reporters, as well as staff analysis, opinion, and news promoting a positive, non-partisan vision of U.S. foreign policy.