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House passes bill to freeze Iranian prisoner-swap funds

The vote split the Democratic caucus, with 90, including Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), joining Republicans in telling President Biden to re-freeze the money.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) speaks in support of the "No Funding For Iranian Terror Act" on the House floor on Nov. 30, 2023. Credit: YouTube/House Foreign Affairs Committee Republicans.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) speaks in support of the "No Funding For Iranian Terror Act" on the House floor on Nov. 30, 2023. Credit: YouTube/House Foreign Affairs Committee Republicans.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday intended to permanently freeze $6 billion in Iranian funds released as part of a prisoner swap in September.

Under the deal, Iran released five American prisoners in exchange for the Biden administration waiving sanctions to allow the transfer of the money to a bank in Qatar. The administration has said that none of the money has been released and claims that it can only be used for humanitarian purposes.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who sponsored the legislation, noted during debate on the House floor that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi had said in an interview that the money would be used on whatever Iran wanted.

“Money is fungible, as everybody knows,” McCaul said. “Giving Iran access to these funds for any purpose frees up money for its malign activities, including its support to proxies, like we saw on Oct. 7, like Hamas.”

“Blocking money to Iran is the most consequential thing we can do here, in this Congress, to stop Iran’s financing of terrorism to Hamas and other proxies, to help keep our troops safe who are under fire from Iran-backed militias,” he added.

While many Republicans slammed the Biden administration for releasing money to Iran when the deal was announced, support among Democrats for re-freezing the money has grown substantially in the wake of Hamas’s Oct. 7 terrorist attacks.

Formally known as the “No Funds for Iranian Terrorism Act,” the bill ultimately passed the House with the support of 90 Democrats and all but one Republican. 

The bill also divided Democratic leadership, with Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Caucus chairman Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) voting in favor and Democratic Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Assistant Leader Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) against.

A series of amendments to the bill, which passed in the minutes before the final vote, included a call for U.S. allies in the Middle East to condemn antisemitism and a sense of Congress that the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen have benefited from the Biden administration’s failure to condemn the group.

An amendment condemning Hamas passed with a large majority, but was opposed by 10 of the staunchest left-wing critics of Israel in Congress, including Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.).

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), a libertarian who frequently opposes foreign policy legislation, was the lone Republican “nay” vote.

Companion legislation to freeze the Iranian funds has been introduced in the Senate but has not yet passed out of committee.

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