Despite Iran’s Clear Role in Hamas Terrorist Attack on Israel, Senate Democrats Block Hagerty’s Legislation to Prevent Sanction Relief on Iran

October 17, 2023

Because of the Biden Administration’s refusal to enforce sanctions, Iran has profited $80 billion in oil sales to bankroll its terrorist proxies like Hamas

WASHINGTON—United States Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today spoke on the Senate floor about the Biden Administration’s flawed Iran policy and refusal to enforce sanctions, resulting in increased revenue for Iran that has emboldened and empowered Iran and its terrorist proxies like Hamas and Hezbollah. Hagerty highlighted Iran’s role in Hamas’s terrorist attack on Israel, which took the lives of 1300 people in Israel, including 30 American citizens—a consequence of the Biden Administration’s lax sanctions—and sought to pass his Iran Sanctions Relief Review Act (ISRRA)legislation to ensure that the President submits any sanctions relief relating to Iran for congressional review. Yet, Senate Democrats blocked the legislation.

Ninety-three percent of Hamas’s funding comes from Iran. The Biden Administration’s refusal to enforce sanctions on Iran has resulted in tens of billions of dollars in additional oil revenue for the regime since President Biden took office. The Iranian regime uses this additional revenue to provide funding, arms, and technology to Hamas and other terrorist organizations.

*Click to photo above or here to watch*

Senator Hagerty’s remarks and the debate exchange may be found here. Text of his remarks is below.

Senator Hagerty: Mr. President, In the aftermath of the Barbaric massacre committed by Iran-backed terrorist organization, Hamas, there’s been significant attention given in the United States Senate to the $6 billion the Biden Administration unfroze as part of a ransom deal with Iran. This is understandable.

Because money is fungible, the combination of waivers and non-enforcement of sanctions has enabled Iran to spend billions of dollars bankrolling terrorists, including Hamas. This $6 billion was just the latest installment of an enormous windfall the Iranian regime has enjoyed ever since [President] Joe Biden took office.

But not enough attention has been paid to the way Congress has willingly abdicated its responsibility and allowed the Executive Branch to get away with a reckless policy of appeasement towards Iran. According to many recent news reports this year, the Biden Administration was negotiating an unwritten agreement with Iran in which the United States would relieve billions of dollars of sanctions on Iran in return for a number of Iranian promises. One of the architects of this strategy of pursuing an informal and unwritten agreement with Iran as part of a broader strategy of appeasing the Iranians was none other than [U.S. Special Envoy to Iran Robert] Malley.

Rob Malley was placed on unpaid leave by the State Department in June. He’s had a security clearance suspended amid a probe into the possibility that he mishandled classified material. The results have been catastrophic. Iran has received tens of billions of dollars in revenue it would not have received had sanctions been properly enforced. Iran’s continued to obstruct nuclear inspection efforts, and its proxies have continued engaging in terrorism across the region, most recently, and most tragically in Israel.

Furthermore, rewarding hostage taking by paying $6 billion for the potential release of five American hostages, as the Biden Administration recently did, as just one element of this unwritten agreement, it only incentivizes more hostage taking of U.S. citizens abroad, both by Iran and by other adversaries. To that point, as of now, it appears that Iran-backed Hamas is holding 13 American citizens hostage in Gaza.

Let me be clear: I believe the Biden Administration’s Iran policies are deeply misguided and threaten the security of Americans and of our partners and allies in the Middle East, but I’m not here today to debate the pros and cons of resurrecting the Iran deal or any specific agreement the Biden Administration has made with Iran. The massacre in Israel last week should have settled that debate, though I suspect we’ll likely continue to have that debate in the months ahead.

Rather, Mr. President, I’m here today to argue for preserving the role of Congress amid concern that the Biden Administration has continuously refused to enforce sanctions as part of a gradually unfolding agreement with Iran, and is doing so in such a manner that’s designed to circumvent its legal obligation to submit an agreement to revive the Iran nuclear deal to Congress for review and for an up or down vote.

When President Obama pursued the original Iran nuclear deal, his Administration blatantly disregarded its Constitutional duty to submit the agreement as a treaty requiring the advice and the consent of two thirds of the Senate. In response, Congress passed a law, known as the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, or INARA by a vote of 99 to 1. In brief, the law says that if the United States and Iran make any agreement related to Iran’s nuclear program, the White House must submit it for Congressional review and potential up or down votes in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The nearly unanimous bipartisan passage of INARA by the Senate reflected the Senators’ bipartisan frustration that the Executive Branch was ignoring the Constitution and trying to circumvent Congress on such an important matter. And yet, since taking office, the Biden Administration has disregarded its legal obligations under INARA, and the U.S. Congress has allowed this Administration to get away with it.

If the multitude of reports are accurate, the Biden Administration was intentionally avoiding calling its unfolding agreement with Iran an official agreement. That was an effort to, again, sidestep Congressional approval that’s required under INARA. In early 2021, I was concerned that this might happen, so I introduced the Iran Sanctions Relief Review Act, or ISRRA, in the 117th Congress, and reintroduced it in the 118th Congress.

As a backup to INARA, my bill requires Congressional review and an up or down vote on any Presidential waiver of Iran sanctions, whether that’s labeled as an agreement or not. My bill borrows a provision from the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act, or CATSA, that overwhelmingly passed Congress back in 2017. The CATSA provision allows for Congressional review and an up or down vote on any Presidential waiver of Russian sanctions. My bill takes word for word that same provision and applies it to any Presidential waiver of Iran sanctions. This is important because any new agreement to revive the Iran deal will require once again the Executive Branch to waive Iran sanctions.

Additionally, in light of reports that the $6 billion the Biden Administration unfroze was part of the larger unwritten and informal agreement with Iran, Congress would have had the opportunity to object before the money was unfrozen had my bill had the force of law. In other words, my bill protects the role of Congress as the Executive Branch continues to ignore its legal obligations and refuses to submit a new agreement to the Senate and to the House.

So far, 41 Senators have co-sponsored the Iran Sanctions Relief Review Act. This number is significant because 41 Senators would be more than enough to deny the Senate’s advice and consent if the Executive Branch actually followed the Constitution and presented a new Iran agreement to the Senate as a treaty.

The House companion to this bill has passed through the House Foreign Affairs Committee with bipartisan support. We must protect the first branch of government from an Executive Branch that seeks to encroach it or to ignore it.

Mr. President, as in a legislative session, I ask unanimous consent that the Foreign Relations Committee be discharged from further consideration of S.2210, and that the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration. I further ask that the bill be considered read a third time and passed, and that the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table.


The motion was objected to by Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), who opposed providing a backstop to the Executive Branch’s attempts to evade the legal requirements for congressional review of agreements related to Iran’s nuclear program.


Senator Hagerty: Mr. President, I would welcome the opportunity to work with my colleague, Senator Murphy, on sanctions policy—that make sense.

But I would say this: if this policy is good enough for CATSA and Russia, why wouldn’t it be good enough for Iran? The Senate has already passed CATSA; I’ve used the exact language.

I’d also like to say this: if it’s true that this Administration is not waiving sanctions and is not entering an agreement, they should have no difficulty with this level of review. I don’t believe that’s the case.

And I’d also like to address the accusations, I should say, leveled against the policy in the last Administration. After the withdrawal of the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], Iran never stopped their nuclear program. Israel, through a very brave and courageous raid, proved that they were continuing on that path.

As part of my prior job as U.S. Ambassador to Japan, it was my responsibility to get Japan to stop buying Iranian crude [oil]. I was successful at that after many rounds of negotiation. We cut Iran’s fund flows down to a trickle. That starved Iran’s ability to fund its proxies like Hamas and Hezbollah. In fact, it was widely reported in the media that Hamas and Hezbollah were going broke.

That all changed when the policy of appeasement came back in 2021 by avoiding sanctions, by not enforcing sanctions. The estimates are as high as $80 billion of illicit oil revenues that have entered Iran’s coffers. We know about the payment that was allowed by Iraq to Iran by this Administration; Senator [Tom] Cotton just addressed this. And the $6 billion has received so much scrutiny in the media just recently.

All of this has enriched Iran. All of this has put Iran in a better position to fund its proxies and fuel them, and I think all of this is part of a very misguided policy of appeasement.

I yield the floor.