WASHINGTON – Less than 24 hours after Iran's detention and release of U.S. sailors, the House approved GOP-backed legislation that amplifies Republican distrust of Tehran and would give Congress greater oversight of the landmark nuclear agreement.
Lawmakers voted 191-106 Wednesday to approve the Iran Terror Finance Transparency Act, spurning a veto threat from President Barack Obama. The White House said the bill could cause "the collapse" of the July agreement and that the president will reject the legislation if it reaches his desk.
The vote came as the potentially volatile incident in Iran's territorial waters was swiftly resolved. The 10 U.S. Navy sailors were freed unharmed early Wednesday as the White House cited new lines of communication with Iran established during the nuclear negotiations as key to the speedy resolution.
The vote count fell well short of the number needed to override a veto: Speaker Paul Ryan, determined to keep the House on schedule, had the vote gaveled to a close even though more than 130 lawmakers hadn't voted. In an unusual parliamentary move, Republican leaders agreed to allow members another opportunity to vote on Jan. 26. The measure's fate is uncertain in the Senate, where it would be certain to face a filibuster.
The House bill would bar the removal of certain individuals and foreign financial institutions on a restricted list kept by the Treasury Department until the president certifies to Congress that they weren't involved in Iran's ballistic missiles program or in terrorist activities.
The United States is poised to begin lifting sanctions against Iran as Tehran fulfills its obligations under the deal. Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that Iran will likely be in compliance within days.
The agreement, forged by the United States and Iran and signed by five other nations, commits Tehran to cutting back over more than a decade on nuclear technologies that could be used for weapons-making. In exchange, Iran will have access to about $100 billion in previously frozen assets and fully return to the oil market.
Republicans have said sanctions relief will leave Iran flush with cash to fund terrorism.
For most Republicans, the dramatic, whirlwind incident in Iranian waters is another example of Iran's belligerence and why it can't be a trusted partner. Since the agreement was reached, Tehran has accelerated its missile program in violation of existing U.N. sanctions, continued to support terrorist groups and hold American hostages, they said. Iran also has remained a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who lawmakers accuse of killing more than 200,000 of his own people in Syria's civil war.
"Iran has been on a bit of a tear," Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., deadpanned on the House floor Wednesday. And all of this has happened before Iran "will cash in with $100 billion plus in sanctions relief," added Royce, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
"We're all relieved to learn this morning that the sailors have been released," Royce said. "I'm sure it's occurred to many of us, that if Iran behaves this way now, in a few days when it gets its hands on this bankroll, what other actions are we going to see?"
Democrats who opposed the bill painted the legislation as a backdoor attempt to scuttle the agreement after Obama last year won enough support to prevent Congress from derailing it. But Iran's actions have made Democrats uneasy, and they are urging the White House to hold Tehran accountable as promised when the agreement was being crafted.
New York Rep. Eliot Engel, senior Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said he also is concerned about Iran's recent actions, but he said the bill seemed to be aimed at embarrassing Obama by establishing requirements that would be impossible to meet. Engel opposed the nuclear deal.
"We should go back to the drawing board rather than ramming through a partisan measure," Engel said.
The legislation targets more than 50 individuals and entities included in an attachment to the nuclear deal that also are on Treasury's "Specially Designated Nationals" list, which freezes any assets they may have in the U.S. and generally prohibits anyone in the U.S. from doing business with them.
The White House would be prohibited from taking them off the list unless it assures Congress they have not "facilitated a significant transaction" for Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, a foreign terrorist organization, or anyone sanctioned in connection with Iran's weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs, according to the legislation.
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