Senate Majority Leader Harry
Reid (D-NV) is trying to pass a new Iran sanctions bill through the Senate
without any amendments or debate in a legislative move many see as designed to
prevent both Republicans and Democrats from adding even more sanctions to the
Reid announced on the Senate floor Tuesday morning that he wanted to bring
up the Johnson-Shelby
Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Human Rights Act of 2012, a new set of
sanctions that would punish anyone who provides Iran with equipment or
technology that facilitates censorship or the suppression of human rights,
including weapons, rubber bullets, tear gas, and other riot control equipment
-- as well as jamming, monitoring, and surveillance equipment. It also calls on
the Obama administration to develop a more robust Internet freedom strategy for
Iran and speed related assistance to pro-democracy activists in the country.
The legislation, named for Senate Banking Committee heads Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Richard Shelby (R-AL), would formally
establish that U.S. policy is intended to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear
weapon, and would require the administration to report extensively and
repeatedly on its efforts to increase diplomatic and financial pressure on the
But here's the rub: Reid wants to bring up the bill for
passage by unanimous consent, meaning there would be no debate and no
amendments offered. The bill could be passed by a simple voice vote if nobody
objects, but Reid said the Republicans won't let it happen.
"I'm going to ask consent soon
to moving forward on this unanimously reported bill out the Banking Committee.
Unfortunately, I have been told that my Republican colleagues will object to
moving forward with these new sanctions because they want to offer additional
amendments," Reid said on the Senate floor Tuesday morning.
"I have Democrats who want to offer
additional amendments also, but we don't have the time to slow down passage of
this legislation," he added. "When we put this away, we're not going to be
finished with Iran. ... But in an effort to get sanctions in place now, Democrats
have agreed to streamline the process and refrain from offering their
amendments. We can't afford to slow down the process."
Senate aides from both parties told The Cable that Reid's office is working behind the scenes to
prevent more amendments that would strengthen the sanctions in ways the
administration and Reid are resisting. The
Cable has obtained the text and a detailed summary
of one lengthy amendment that would add several new punitive measures to the
The amendment isn't signed but it appears to come from the
office of Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL)
because it contains expanded sanctions against all Iranian banks that matches
legislation Kirk had already been working on. An aide to Kirk declined to comment on the amendment.
The summary of the proposed amendment includes a direct rebuttal to Reid's argument that the
Johnson-Shelby bill should be passed quickly and that there will be plenty of
other chances to sanction Iran after that.
"As Iran continues inching closer to ‘red lines' surrounding its illicit
nuclear weapons program, S. 2101 will likely serve as the last legislative
vehicle to impose further economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic until
December," the summary reads. "Therefore, as long as opportunities exist to
incorporate new ideas and creative sanctions into the legislation, we should
seize upon those opportunities in overwhelming bipartisan fashion. In this way,
we keep our promise to the American people and support the President's stated
objective to exhaust every available diplomatic option."
The proposed amendment would expand sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran to
include all Iranian banks and would threaten sanctions on any international
firms that facilitate those banks' transactions, including the EU-based
international transactions facilitator SWIFT and Clearstream, a firm that works
with SWIFT to process worldwide money exchanges. Swift has already taken some actions to cut off Iran's Central Bank.
The amendment would also target the Iranian insurance industry, expand
sanctions against the Iranian energy sector, target Iran's high-tech and
telecommunications sectors, and try to narrow the conditions under which the
administration can exempt third countries who are still buying oil from Iran
from existing sanctions. The State Department exempted
11 countries from Iran sanctions last week and has yet to make a
determination on 12 others.
There are plenty of other potential amendments out there as well. For
bill ruling out containment of a nuclear Iran led by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Bob Casey (D-PA), could also become an
By calling for unanimous consent on the Johnson-Shelby bill today, Reid is
trying to portray the GOP as objecting to quick passage of Iran sanctions. It's
likely that after he files for unanimous consent today and Senate Minority Leader
Mitch McConnell (R-KY) objects, the
two will retreat behind closed doors and negotiate a compromise way forward. A
similar dynamic played out over the last round of sanctions when Kirk and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) wanted
to sanction the Iranian Central Bank over the administration's objections.
"Sooner or later -- and most likely it will be
sooner -- both sides are going to sit down together and figure out a way
forward that everyone can live with -- reflecting the overwhelming bipartisan
consensus that exists in support of additional Iran sanctions," one senior
Senate aide told The Cable.
"Hopefully calm will prevail on all sides after today and the Majority
Leader will authorize Chairman Johnson to negotiate with key Democrats and
Republicans on the contents of a manager's amendment that includes everyone's
best ideas," another senior Senate aide said. "In the end, the president
says the window of diplomacy is shrinking and we owe it to the American people
to consider every available non-military option."
UPDATE: In a short interview, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) said he does want to offer an amendment to the Johnson-Shelby bill and does not want to see it go through the senate via unanimous consent.
"Senator Graham and I are the lead sponsors of a bipartisan
resolution that says containment is not an acceptable policy against Iran. With
regard to the bill coming out of the banking committee, we're having a
discussion with Sen. Reid about when to take it up and how many amendments to
allow," Lieberman said.
"We are a little bit concerned. I'd really prefer to have a
bipartisan agreement with a limited number of amendments on both sides. I think
that's Sen. McConnell's position. So I'm going to talk to Sen. Reid and try to
work that out."
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) said this afternoon that Republicans will continue to object to moving forward on the bill until Kirk's amendment gets a hearing.
"I just wanted to say that Senator Kirk
is doing a lot of homework but he's not here, would like
to add an amendment -- a change to the proposal and therefore, would
hope that we could work out something with the leader so that we could
accommodate Senator Kirk's desire in that regard," Kyl said.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) filed the formal objection to unanimous consent on the Johnson-Shelby bill, due to his desire to be able to offer an amendment of his own.