Exclusive: U.S. House to vote on Iran Sanctions Act renewal as soon as November

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives plan a vote as soon as mid-November on a 10-year reauthorization of the Iran Sanctions Act, congressional aides told Reuters on Tuesday, setting up a potential showdown with the White House and Senate.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 26, 2016. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood/File Photo

The Iran Sanctions Act, or ISA, which expires on Dec. 31, allows trade, energy, defense and banking industry sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program and ballistic missile tests.

Its fate is one of the major pieces of unfinished business facing lawmakers when they return to Washington on Nov. 14 for the first time after the Nov. 8 elections.

U.S. Representative Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is expected to introduce the 10-year renewal as soon as Congress gets back, aides said.

Congressional aides said a “clean” renewal, meaning unchanged from the current legislation, was likely to pass the House. Its fate in the Senate was much less certain, and a White House spokesman would not say whether President Barack Obama would sign it into law.

Republicans control majorities in both the House and Senate, and every Republican in Congress opposed the international nuclear deal announced in July 2015, in which Iran agreed to curtail its nuclear program in exchange for relief from crippling economic sanctions.

Republicans have since tried repeatedly to pass legislation to clamp down on Iran, accusing Obama of being so eager to burnish his foreign policy legacy that he conceded too much to Tehran in the nuclear talks.

Some Senate Republicans want more than a clean renewal of the ISA. They are trying to build support for legislation that would renew it but also do more to punish individual Iranians and businesses over the country’s ballistic missile tests and what they see as its support for terrorism.

Some senators have also pushed for a law that would eliminate the president’s right to waive sanctions for security reasons.


Obama’s administration had asked Congress to hold off on renewing the ISA, saying it has enough power to reimpose economic sanctions if Iran violates the nuclear agreement even if it expires.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest declined to say how Obama would respond to the bill if it passed both houses of Congress and reached his desk.

“I won’t prejudge at this point whether or not the president would sign that bill,” Earnest told reporters traveling with the president in Los Angeles.

“The president and the Treasury Department retain significant sanctions authority that already has been used to impose costs on Iran for their flagrant violation of their international obligations,” he said.

White House opposition to the bill could generate resistance from Democrats in the Senate, making it more difficult for any legislation to garner the 60 votes needed to move ahead.

Because Republicans hold only 54 seats in the 100-member chamber, they would need Democratic support to move any bill.

Renewing the sanctions bill could also increase frustrations in Iran. Iranian officials have been complaining for months that remaining U.S. sanctions have frightened away trade partners and robbed it of too many benefits it was promised under the nuclear deal.

A House Foreign Affairs Committee aide said addressing the ISA before it expires is a “top priority” for Royce.

“The Iran Sanctions Act was enacted to curb Tehran’s support for terrorism and its very dangerous weapons proliferation. It should remain in place until the regime stops exporting terror and threatening us and our allies with deadly weapons,” Royce said in a statement sent to Reuters.

“That’s why I’ll be introducing a bipartisan, long-term extension of these important sanctions,” he said.

Additional reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Lisa Shumaker