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- As Delivered -

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following testimony before the House Committee on Rules opposing the Prohibiting Future Ransom Payments to Iran Act (H.R. 5931):

“Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.  It’s a pleasure to, to be here.

“Let me first say, with respect for my dear friend Chairman Royce, I have to oppose the legislation.

“As I’ve said again and again, I think we need to be tough on Iran.  Everyone knows I voted against the Iran deal.  We need to ensure, though, that the deal is fully enforced and that Iran comes up with its end of the bargain—it has to produce.  We need to crack down on the regime for supporting terrorism, building missiles, suppressing the rights of the Iranian people. The list goes on and on.

“And I also have problems with the way the payments to Iran were carried out.  But frankly, Mr. Chairman, I think this focus on ‘pallets of cash’ is an optics problem more than anything else.  Money is money.  It’s fungible. This payment was Iran’s money whether we like it or not.  There will be more payments, under the commitment we made in 1981, under President Reagan, with the Algiers Accords.  President George H.W. Bush sent money to Iran under those Accords as well. And once money is in Iran’s bank account, whether we send it by check, cash, money order, or electronic funds transfer, there’s no way to trace what happens to it next. 

“My chief concern is that, with respect to this payment, Congress wasn’t fully briefed or notified.  Mr. Chairman Sessions, I agree with you, WHAT you said at the beginning, that notification and transparency are key, which is exactly the, the approach I’ve taken with my amendment.

“So again, we didn’t know ahead of time that these payments would be in cash.  If we had, Members would have had the chance to ask questions or voice concerns.  We almost certainly wouldn’t be sitting here eight months later legislating on this narrow point. 

“We’re a coequal branch of government.  And we have an oversight role to play.  I share Chairman Royce’s concern about this. So during the markup, I offered an amendment in the nature of a substitute. My measure would have required that the, the Administration notify Congress at least five days in advance of any claims settlement agreement or payment to Iran, to any other state sponsor of terrorism, or to North Korea.  It would give us a chance to weigh in and clear up any confusion.  It would make sure lawmakers know when and how these payments happen before they happen.

“In my view, if the Majority had invited Democrats to collaborate on drafting this bill, we would have ended with something that resembled my legislation.  We’ve been doing this for the past four years.  We could have tinkered with the notification period.  We could probably have even found some common ground on the cash issue.  I think working across the aisle, we would have wound up a lot closer to my amendment than to the underlying bill.  But we weren’t given that chance.

“So it turns out that the biggest sticking point is the word ‘ransom.’  My amendment would have stripped out the six times the word is used in this bill, including in the title and the findings.  Now, whether you think the payment to Iran was ransom or not, we all know that including this word in the bill again and again and again turns this legislation into a political hot button.  It turns it into an attempt to embarrass the Administration.  Frankly, I disagree with the Administration on a lot of Iran policy, but I’m not interested in embarrassing them.

“So, we’re left with something that seems very political.  Fifty Republicans cosponsors to this bill, no Democrats.  No Democrats were asked to participate in putting the bill together.  It’s not the way we usually do business on the Foreign Affairs Committee.  And that’s why I will oppose the bill, and I ask that my amendment be made in order so that members have the opportunity to vote on a more balanced approach to this problem.  I still think there’s time left to make this a constructive and bipartisan piece of legislation.

“You know, again, Chairman Royce and I have worked closely together on many things.  And some changes, let me say, that in the bill that passed the Foreign Affairs Committee and today, some changes were made and there were some amendments from other people.  I think most of that for the better.  But for me, it’s, it’s not good enough.

“So I would, respectfully, say let’s put our heads together.  Let’s come up with a bipartisan piece of legislation that doesn’t seem political in this election year, that doesn’t seem like it’s up there to embarrass the Administration.  That actually will allow Congress to function, because we need to be notified.  And we extended it so it’s not just Iran, it’s North Korea  or any country.  And I think that’s very, very important.

“So I thank you for the opportunity to testify.  I thank Chairman Royce, who I’ve worked closely together with for the past four years.  And I respectfully ask that my amendment be made in order.”