D.C. Dispatch: March for Israel, the Santos expulsion and Iranian assets

By: - November 17, 2023 4:38 pm

The U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)

Iowa’s congressional delegation focused on Israel, Hamas, a potential government shutdown, Rep. George Santos and more this week.

Two bills advanced through committee, including a bill that would freeze $6 billion in Iranian assets, sponsored by Rep. Zach Nunn.

Check out what Iowa’s lawmakers were up to this week before the Thanksgiving break:

Israel march attracts thousands

The March for Israel on the National Mall on Tuesday was attended by hundreds of thousands of people, according to event organizers. Among those attendees was Sen. Joni Ernst.

“What Iran-backed Hamas perpetrated on Oct. 7 was pure evil,” Ernst said in remarks on the mall. “And those monsters deserve nothing short of complete and total destruction. Three days after the heinous terror attacks, I was on the ground in Israel, meeting with American and Israeli families, and sitting across the table from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as Opposition Leader Lapid.”

Rep. Randy Feenstra praised the march in a statement, saying, “I applaud the thousands of proud Americans who gathered in our nation’s capital today to condemn antisemitism and peacefully express their support for Israel. In the face of terrorist violence by Hamas, we cannot waver in our promise to the people of Israel.”

On the social-media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, Sen. Chuck Grassley posted, “Thx to everyone peacefully exercising their first amendment right to STAND W ISRAEL 2day incl Iowans We appreciate the many thousands that showed up to show their support for Israel.”

Rep. Ashley Hinson showed support for the people who marched, as well.

Senators: Recognize Hamas as a terrorist organization

In a letter to the United Nations, Ernst, Grassley and 32 other senators called for Hamas to be recognized as a terrorist organization.

“We commend your unequivocal condemnation of Hamas’ terrorism and your support for Israel’s right to defend its people,” the senators wrote.

The senators urged a resolution to the UN Security Council “recognizing and imposing sanctions on Hamas as a terrorist organization.”

The letter states that the U.S. Department of Treasury, and the nations of Australia, Canada, Japan and Israel and more countries have recognized Hamas as a terrorist organization, and states, “There are multiple consequences of the UN not recognizing Hamas as a terrorist organization.”

“The absence of UN sanctions on Hamas is a glaring loophole, circumventing U.S. financial controls, such as the rigorous standards set by the U.S. Department of Treasury, potentially allowing Hamas to evade U.S. sanctions,” the senators wrote. “Furthermore, the lack of UN sanctions on Hamas enables them to bolster their capabilities by exploiting international financial channels, including accessing financial systems and soliciting donations from charities.”

Government funding extended

A stopgap funding bill was passed by both chambers and signed by President Joe Biden, averting a shutdown until Jan. 19.

Hinson weighed in on the approval of the bill, saying she voted in favor of keeping the government open, and her party is working on single-subject appropriation bills to cut spending, “If the government shut down, our brave troops and Border Patrol wouldn’t have the tools to protect us and wouldn’t get paid. That is a nonstarter.”

Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks said she is proud the House passed the stopgap funding resolution.

“The appropriations bills included in this CR (continuing resolution), prevent a ‘Christmas omnibus’ spending debacle, but most importantly, the bills ensure that Americans don’t face the real costs and pains associated with a government shutdown, especially so close to Christmas,” Miller-Meeks said in a news release following the passage of the resolution.

Behavioral health service bill introduced

In an effort to increase behavioral health services in rural communities, specifically for farmers, Feenstra and Nunn introduced legislation that would reauthorize and increase funding for the Farma and Ranch Stress Assistance Network.

“Iowa’s farmers are critical to the American economy, providing the essential service of feeding and fueling our country,” Nunn said in a news release. “Sadly, farmers are also three and a half times more likely to commit suicide than the general population, which is exactly why the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network is so important.”

Feenstra said producers deserve the increase, “As a strong voice for our farmers in Congress, I am proud to lead legislation to expand behavioral health resources in our rural communities and connect our farmers with medical professionals who can provide the care that our producers deserve.”

The legislation would increase funding for the network from $10 million to $15 million.

Health care workforce resilience act

Ernst introduced legislation to ensure immigrants who receive green cards will not displace American workers, but allow for immigrant doctors and nurses to practice in the U.S.

The Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act would also allow for the recapture of unused green cards previously authorized, including 25,000 visas for nurses and 15,000 visas for physicians, according to Ernst’s office.

The bill would also require medical professionals to clear rigorous national security and criminal history background checks before they can receive recaptured visas.

“Growing up in rural Montgomery County, Iowa, I’m all too familiar with the challenges of accessing medical care. Postponed procedures, limited hospital beds, and long wait times for specialists have become the norm, and rural communities feel it the most,” Ernst said in a news release. “These nurses and doctors will provide critical medical services in communities suffering from staffing shortages so folks can receive the care they deserve.

Similar legislation, proposed by Ernst in August, would allow states to utilize other states’ unused visas for hiring doctors. Each state receives 30 slots for international medical students to remain in the U.S. if working in an area with a health professional shortage, and if they are unused, other states could use those slots.

Bill for veterans moves through subcommittee

The House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity passed a bill, introduced by Nunn, that seeks to increase mental health education for veterans and includes provisions to the Transition Assistance Program to combat mental health-related conditions.

The bill is named for two veterans who died by suicide after leaving the military, including Cpl. Adam Lambert, a Marine Corps. Veteran from Adel.

“Iowa’s Cpl. Adam Lambert was a proud Marine and a brave serviceman who raised his hand to serve our country. America is the land of the free and home of the brave because of people like Adam,” Nunn said in a news release. “Unfortunately, the transition back to civilian life is harder than it should be. In Adam’s memory, I’m proud to work with his parents on this legislation to make that transition easier by improving mental health services.”

According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, 6,392 veterans died by suicide in 2021.

Nunn biofuels research bill

A bipartisan bill supporting loans for biofuel innovation was introduced by Nunn.

The Ag Biorefinery Innovation and Opportunity (BIO) Act would create a grant to build and expand biorefineries, expand the types of biofuels eligible for funding and eliminate “bureaucratic red tape that is impeding access to the funding,” according to Nunn’s office.

“The biofuels industry drives Iowa’s economy and is critical to our nation’s energy security,” Nunn said in a news release. “The bipartisan Ag BIO Act will eliminate bureaucratic red tape that is driving up energy costs by making it harder for biofuels producers to innovate and expand their manufacturing capacity.”

The bill is supported by the Ag Energy Coalition, Ag Bioeconomy Coalition, Plant Based Products Council and Corn Refiners Association.

A companion bill in the Senate and the bill in the House were introduced by delegates representing Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Kansas.

Iranian asset freeze advances out of committee

A call to freeze $6 billion of Iranian assets will be voted on by the House.

Nunn introduced a bill in October to permanently freeze and prevent the transfer of Iranian assets, currently held in Qatar, which he says will prevent illicit financing of global terrorism.

“The terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas against Israel were barbaric and demand a strong response. Iran must be held responsible for their role in funding and supporting these acts,” Nunn said in a news release. “The last thing we should be doing is allowing Iran, the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, access to $6 billion that could be used to finance future terrorism.”

The $6 billion in frozen assets were in exchange for the safe return of five U.S. hostages.

Feenstra for education assistance tax relief

Two bipartisan bills to change tax code to assist employers in recruiting employees were introduced by Feenstra and Rep. Danny K. Davis, a Democrat from Illinois.

One of the bills would expand the education assistance program and both bills would make a tax exclusion and broaden educational program assistance. Currently, $5,250 worth of educational programs can be funded by employers and be tax-exempt in the employee’s salary. The legislation proposes increasing that number to $12,000.

“To strengthen our workforce and grow our economy, we must connect education with concrete skills that prepare young people for careers in a wide array of industries and support continuing education and skills development for folks who have been in the workforce for decades,” Feenstra said in a news release. “We can achieve those goals by making it easier for businesses to invest in their employees’ education through a simpler, more efficient tax code.”

Santos ethics report

Following an ethics report showing Santos, a Republican from New York, allegedly used campaign funds for expenses unrelated to campaigns — such as Botox, a honeymoon in Las Vegas, rent and an OnlyFans subscription — the House will vote on a resolution to expel the representative.

Iowa delegates have made statements regarding the representative’s actions.

Hinson posted on X that “the Ethics Committee has completed their investigation of Rep. Santos & the report is thorough & damning. His conduct was illegal & unacceptable & Americans deserve better from their representatives. He should resign today. If he refuses, I will vote to remove him from Congress.”

Feenstra also said on X he would vote to expel the first-term representative, “Rep. George Santos has proven that his ethics do not align with what we expect from our leaders. In light of the Ethics Committee report, I will vote to expel him from Congress for his illegal and unethical behavior should he choose not to do the right thing and resign.”

Nunn said he, too, would vote to remove Santos, posting on X, “The American people deserve honesty and transparency from their elected representatives. George Santos has clearly not lived up to those ideals. This Ethics Committee investigation proves he is unfit to serve and should resign from office. If he does not, I will vote to remove him.”

Miller-Meeks also weighed in on X, saying, “Now that the House Ethics Committee has found substantial evidence of criminal activity and referred ⁦[Santos]⁩ to the DOJ, I strongly urge his resignation or face expulsion.

Commemorative time capsule

Grassley has proposed burying a time capsule in the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol. The time capsule would be buried July 4, 2026, on the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The capsule would be opened on the 500th anniversary of the signing, in 2276.

The contents of the capsule would be decided by the minority and majority leaders of each chamber of Congress.

“History teaches us invaluable lessons. It’s our responsibility to learn from the people and events that came before us, and to preserve those accounts for future generations,” Grassley said in a news release.

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Jay Waagmeester
Jay Waagmeester

Jay is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch intern. Jay is based in Ames and is currently a senior majoring in journalism and marketing at Iowa State University. He has interned at New Century Press and contributed to the Iowa State Daily.