This is the state of play. Iran is a state sponsor of terror. Notwithstanding the fact that the Obama administration has seen fit to help the Tehran regime obtain nuclear weapons even after it illegally detained US ships and sailors. In order for citizens of Iran, or travelers who have visited Iran, to come to the United States they must apply at a US embassy for a visa:
At issue is a provision that would require travelers who visit certain countries -- including Iran, Sudan, Syria and Iraq -- to apply at a U.S. Embassy for a visa before coming to the U.S., even if they are from a country for which such visas would normally be waived.
House staffers who spoke with us say Iran was included for good reason, because it remains on the U.S. list of state of sponsors of terrorism for its open support for Hezbollah and Hamas. The White House did not object until the Iranian government told the administration last week that the bill would violate the nuclear agreement, according to correspondence on these negotiations shared with us.
Since 2013, when the open negotiations with Iran began, the Obama administration has repeatedly told Congress that additional sanctions on the Islamic Republic would wreck negotiations. The resulting agreement obligates the West to lift sanctions in exchange for more transparency and limitations on Iran's nuclear program. Iran and the White House seem to be interpreting "lift sanctions" more broadly than others expected.
There was negotiations between Congress and Obama and a deal was reached that would waive the restrictive travel regulations in a few instances:
The law as written provides exemptions only for official government travel and military service. According to e-mails provided to me between administration officials and Congressional staffers, the White House signed off on those being the only two exemptions after extensive negotiations.
But Kerry's State Department decided to unilaterally make their own rules. When the rules were released those two narrow categories were expanded to eight rather broad ones.
The memo says that the secretary of homeland security can use national security waivers at his sole discretion and urges him to use them liberally.
“There are no findings of facts or other determinations required to be made before exercise of the waiver authority,” the memo states. “The national security waiver can be exercised by category, not just individuals.”
The memo then lays out detailed rationales and legal arguments for exempting eight categories of people from the new visa rules. When the Homeland Security Department announced its implementation plan on Jan. 21, five of these categories were included for exemptions: anyone who had visited Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on behalf of an international organization, non-governmental organization, or as a journalist, and those who visited Iran or Iraq for “legitimate business purposes.”
Now members of Congress are crying foul:
Those in Congress who negotiated the law consider the State and Homeland Security Departments’ implementation to be a violation of it.
Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told me that the administration is abusing the national security waivers that Congress provided.
“The president has decided he is going to break this law -- and he plans to do so, in part, to accommodate the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, Iran,” McCaul told me in a statement. “I believe this decision could have serious consequences for our security and -- perhaps more importantly -- far-reaching consequences for our democracy.”
In late January, McCaul joined with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce in a letter to the president demanding all memos, e-mails and other correspondence related to the decision to expand the exemptions for the new visa restrictions for Iran and Iraq. The lawmakers gave the administration a Feb. 12 deadline.
Wednesday on Capitol Hill, McCaul will lead a hearing with testimony from two top Homeland Security officials who are charged with implementing the program.
On the one hand, I am appalled that the administration would negotiate a deal with Congress then, cavalierly, abrogate it without so much as a "by your leave." Congress only found out about the expansive reading of the agreement by the administration when the rest of us did. On the other hand, I am equally appalled that Congress would have cut a deal with a man who is a known liar, cheat, and duplicitous f*** and expect anything different.
Cariciature via DonkeyHotey and Flickr Creative Commons