Earlier this month Minnesota 3rd District Congressman Erik Paulsen spoke to a gathering of 60-some Jews in Plymouth, and implicitly questioned the Obama Administration’s willingness to move forward on Iran Sanctions.
In one of the highlights of his talk, Congressman Paulsen spoke about Iran, mentioning the sanctions bill that he was instrumental in passing in the House last December (there are videos of Rep. Paulsen’s speeches on the House floor in support of the Sanctions bill here). A version of that bill has also been passed in the Senate, and the two versions of the bill must now be reconciled in order to become law. And this is where things get interesting.
Essentially, there is extremely broad support in both the House and the Senate for this bill (it was passed nearly unanimously in both chambers of Congress). But the House and Senate leadership must now act to send the bill to “conference” to be reconciled and finally passed in full. So this widely-supported bill is only awaiting action by the Obama administration and Congressional leadership to become law. And that action has been pretty slow in coming.
Now we have to remember that, like I said, overwhelming majorities in both houses supported this bill. In fact, both leaders of the House and Senate (Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada) personally supported this bill themselves. Moreover, the Senate has already appointed their negotiators (called conferees) back in March, and the House has selected their conferees this week.
So pretty much the entire Congress supports this bill; they’re as good as chomping at the bit to go ahead and reconcile it, and the Congressional leaders themselves support it, and yet the Congressional leadership has still not actually moved to announce reconciliation and move the bill forward to final passage. Huh, anyone? So what’s actually making them hold it up?
And this situation is what Congressman Paulsen raised in his talk. He addressed the fact that Congress supports this bill, and that the action required now if for the Congressional leadership to send it to Conference, and yet that no one has actually stepped forward to act on this thing they supposedly all support and are really behind.
He proceeded to question, given what we know of Pelosi and Reid’s support for this bill, what kind of pressure the White House Administration must be putting on them to be keeping this bill off the table, and away from becoming law, and more importanly, why.
Now, I understand that of course no president likes to be told what to do by Congress, and would rather keep any law (except ones he pushes himself) from passing for as long as possible. But given the extremely time-sensitive situation we currently find ourselves in with Iran (and Congressman Paulsen returned several times in his talk to the idea that “we have no time” with Iran, and must act quickly if we are to prevent Iran getting nuclear weapons and unleashing a torrent of violence and instablity throughout the region), it seems to me like a rather childish and irresponsible course of action to play delaying games with Congress on this issue.
Last I checked, they were the “Legislative” branch, and if that broad a swath of Congress – people who normally couldn’t agree on how to split a check – are all united behind the idea that this is a law we need, and a course we need to follow, I sincerely hope that no Executive-vs.-Legislative power trip games are being played out on this issue. (I also hope that President Obama’s stated support for this bill is not being combined with some sort of back room pressure to slow it down – outward support for something you’re actually trying to kill I can generally never get behind).
At this point, over 75% of Congress has gone so far as to send a letter to President Obama, calling on him to impose “crippling sanctions” on Iran. (You can read the full text of the House letter, authored by Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Mike Pence here, and the Senate letter here). We shall see whether any of these actions will actually get whoever is holding up this much-needed bill to lay off, and actually get the bill itself moving.
In addition to his comments about stopping Iran, Congressman Paulsen also spoke during his talk about the important relationship between the United States and Israel, and highlighted the important strategic role that Israel plays as a stalwart American ally in the highly-volatile region, providing intelligence, experience in counter-terrorist operations, and a reliable ally for us in the Middle East.
Thoughts from Attendees:
Following the event, host Brian Dorn shared that “[i]t was great to hear [Congressman Paulsen’s] perspective of the current state of US-Israeli relations, especially after his recent trip to Israel.” (Congressman Paulsen visited Israel with a delegation from Minnesota late last year).
Event organizer Mark Miller said that “Rep. Paulsen [is] a solid supporter and good friend of Israel, [who]…recognizes the threat to Israel and the critical importance of the U.S.- Israel strategic alliance.”
Personal Note: Event attendees were also urged to sign up to be election judges in November. There is currently a serious lack of qualified judges, so if you are free and so inclined, please consider volunteering to help people get their votes counted and their voices heard!
For more of Congressman Paulsen’s thoughts on the US-Israel relationship and Iran, see my interview with him during AIPAC Policy Conference below: