The Final Efforts of the 117th Congress


A view of the U.S. Capitol building on Nov. 28, 2022 in Washington, DC, as Congress wraps up the current lame-duck session, tries to fund the government and pass an omnibus bill. (DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES)

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2023, pp. 16-17

Congress Watch

By Julia Pitner

POST-ELECTIONS and the end of the current congressional session, the FY2023 is racing toward its end as an omnibus bill. The Senate’s good intentions for finishing its own bill (S. 4543) shifted to the House version (H.R. 7900) in late October, with the intention of replacing the House text with the Senate Armed Services Committee bill. However, the campaign and election season got in the way. 

Yet, the Senate has used the Armed Services bill to negotiate changes on the House version instead. As a result of this approach, provisions that had no corresponding text in the two bills (i.e., conditioning arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Turkey) were eliminated. However, several Middle East-related provisions made it into the consensus/compromise H.R. 7776 omnibus bill. As has been noted previously in these pages, tightening the knot on Iran and supporting Israel remain the key features in these provisions.

Of note is the one provision that explicitly does both—the Middle East integrated air and missile defense act, originally known as H.R. 7987—DEFEND Act of 2022. Touted by congressional members as support for the Abraham Accords, while finding common cause with the anti-Iran negotiation members, this section of the omnibus bill states that, “The Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, shall seek to cooperate with allies and partners in the Middle East with respect to implementing an integrated air and missile defense architecture to protect the people, infrastructure, and territory of such countries from cruise and ballistic missiles, manned and unmanned aerial systems, and rocket attacks from Iran and groups linked to Iran.”

Other related defense provisions include an increase of money for the extension of United States-Israel cooperation to counter unmanned aerial systems “including directed energy capabilities” and authorizing an increase of $15 million (to $40 million total) to support the “DOD to research, develop, test and evaluate joint U.S.-Israel directed energy capabilities to address threats to both the United States and Israel.” This originated as H.R. 9256, “U.S.-Israel Anti-Killer Drone Act of 2022, sponsored by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-NY).

Also included in the omnibus bill is $200 million in funding for the Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system and Israel’s cooperative missile defense program, with co-development and co-production totaling $200 million. On Dec. 6, it was announced that Lockheed Martin and the Israeli company Rafael are cooperating to jointly develop, test and manufacture high-energy laser weapon systems. 

Putting additional squeezes on Iran, the omnibus bill also includes provisions requiring the modification of the annual report on the military capabilities of Iran and related activities, to include “Iranian-linked proxy groups” and its support of specifically named groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Yemen; maintaining sanctions against Iranian officials and embargos on arms and resources as well as additional constraints on the transfer of funds and ultimately on any progress on the Iranian nuclear negotiations. At the same time, a provision was added supporting the IAEA’s work on monitoring Iran’s nuclear facilities.


In October and November, as demonstrations in Iran expanded, congressional tweets flew. The majority of tweets by Democratic members expressed support for the demonstrators, especially women and girls who are at the forefront, calling for free speech and decrying Iran’s closure of social media platforms. The majority of their Republican colleagues, however, tweeted that the demonstrations were not only a reason to call for an end the nuclear negotiations with Iran but to also fire the special envoy, Rob Malley. Post-election results, a few began to call for investigations into Biden’s foreign policies. 

On the practical side, noting the closure of internet sites by the Iranian government, on Dec. 1, Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) sponsored H.R. 9397—INFO Act of 2022, together with co-sponsors, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) and Rep. William Keating (D-MA) “to promote internet freedom through programs of the Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that preserve and expand the internet as an open, global space for freedom of expression and association, which shall be prioritized for countries (1) whose governments restrict freedom of expression on the internet; and (2) that are important to the national interest of the United States.” The text of the bill specifically mentions Iran as one of those countries.


In a twist of the ironic, while U.S. congressional members began demanding that Iran allow the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights in to investigate human rights abuses of the protesters, several were continuing their push to defund the Commission of Inquiry (COI) into Israel/Palestine. Not satisfied with just targeting the COI and UNRWA, on Nov. 3, Reps. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Steve Chabot (R-OH) sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the Biden administration make the “retiring” of two Palestinian-focused U.N. bodies—the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) and the Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR)—a U.S. diplomatic priority and “urgently press other countries with whom we cooperate” to join the U.S. in voting against annual U.N. resolutions that approve their continued functioning and activities. 

After letters from Congress to the administration, lobbying by the family, and the inclusion of language of the House NDAA (and now omnibus bill) calling for an independent investigation into Shireen Abu Akleh’s death, on Nov. 14, it was reported in Israeli media that the FBI was launching an investigation. In response, Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN) and 18 co-sponsors introduced H.R. 9291, the “Justice for Shireen Act” requiring “not later than 30 days after the date of the enactment of this act, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Secretary of State, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Defense, shall submit to Congress a report on the death of Shireen Abu Akleh. Matters to be included (1) an identification of those individuals or entities that carried out, participated in, or were otherwise complicit in, or responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh; and (2) an identification of any United States defense materials or services that were implicated in the death of Shireen Abu Akleh. (c) The report required shall be submitted in unclassified form and made available to the public at the same time on the website of the Department of State.” By Dec. 1, the bill had 22 all Democrat cosponsors. The Republicans cried “bias” and “politicization of DoJ” over Twitter. 

A final piece of news on the Israel Visa Waiver request—it was denied after advocates lobbied members of Congress regarding Israel’s treatment of Palestinian Americans and others visiting the occupied territories.

The Washington Report will begin anew tracking the efforts of the 118th Congress as they try to shape U.S. policy in the Middle East and North Africa region with legislation and appropriations, or just tweet about it. And, as of this writing, they may begin their session with the FY23 budget.

Julia Pitner is a contributing editor of the Washington Report. She lives in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.


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