The House split along party lines on Thursday to pass HR 3457, the Justice for Victims of Iranian Terrorism Act, with just 10 Democrats joining 241 Republicans and five members from each party not voting.
For Republican Ed Royce, chairman of the Foreign Affairs committee who managed the floor debate, Congress has
“ a moral obligation to ensure that these judgments, for these victims, which represent Iran’s legal debt, the victims of its official policy of terrorism, are paid. There have been 90 such attacks on Americans.”
New York Democrat Eliot Engel, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs committee, regretted the partisan nature of the bill, which he and others saw as an effort to revote on the Iran nuclear agreement.
“I don’t want the dispute on Iran to turn into the Affordable Healthcare Act, where we try to kill it 60 different ways. We should not be using this for political purposes.
“We should be passing legislation which I know we can get out of the Foreign Affairs Committee in a collaborative way that would really do something to help these victims. That would really do something to hold Iran accountable for all its reprehensible acts,” Engel said on the floor today.
Several members cited family members of victims of Iranian terror attacks they had met with recently, including the widow of Chief Warrant officer Kenneth Welch, who died during a truck-bomb attack on the U.S. embassy annex in Beirut on Sept. 20, 1984; former U.S. Navy Seal Ken Stethem, brother of U.S. Navy diver Robbie Stethem, who was murdered on board TWA 847 in Beirut by Imad Mugniyeh in 1985, and Anne Dammarell, a U.S. AID worker who was injured during the bombing on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut on April 18, 1983.
(I happened to be one of the first foreign reporters on scene to witness the immediate aftermath of the 1983 bombing, and wrote several stories on it at the time for USA Today.)
In response to criticism from Democrats that Iran doesn’t have $45 billion in cash to pay the terror claims, the bill’s sponsor, Pennsylvania Republican Pat Meehan, reminded Members that Iran had just found $21 billion to buy new fighter jets from Russia.
“$21 billion for Russian jets but not a penny for victims of their own terror… The President can negotiate an installment plan.”
The Senate will now take up a companion bill, S.2086, sponsored by Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. The White House has maintained its threat to veto the legislation.