House passes legislation to punish Iran after weekend drone attack on Israel

The House of Representatives passed a series of Iran-related bills on Monday evening with wide bipartisan support, a response to the attack on Saturday evening by Iranian forces against targets in Israel.

Among the legislation passed on Monday were bills aimed at expanding sanctions over Chinese firms that do business with Iran’s petroleum sector and provisions to direct US representatives at the IMF to oppose financial assistance to Iran. Another bill directed the president to submit reports to Congress on Iranian holdings and assets in the United States financial system.

The bills were passed under suspension of the rules with just a handful of lawmakers in opposition. It was an expected outcome, as none of the legislation dealt with issues seen as controversial or requiring greater politicking — such as military aid to Israel, or the US’s interaction with agencies delivering aid in Gaza. It also followed a major Iranian strike over the weekend against Israeli targets that was largely countered by Israeli and US air defences.

Monday’s spate of legislation was largely a continuation of the status quo in Washington — support for ramping up nonmilitary pressure against Iran’s government, while the Biden administration and the president’s allies in the Democratic Party push publicly against calls from conservatives for a direct military strike against Iranian facilities and/or capabilities. The White House repeated several times over the weekend that the US is not seeking military conflict with Iran; President Biden himself reportedly urged Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu against retaliatory action in a phone call. More importantly, on that same call, the president is reported to have told Mr Netanyahu that the US would not support such a military action.

Conservatives continue to insist that the US’s refusal to use military force against Iran serves as an effective non-deterrent, and have called for the president to take more drastic action.

Meanwhile, Monday’s vote in the House precedes the chamber taking further action in the week ahead. The House is expected to introduce more legislation targeting Iran over the coming days, including a resolution set to be unveiled at a bipartisan presser on Tuesday regarding Iran’s support of militia groups and “proxy battles” across the Middle East.

The House has yet to take up supplemental funding legislation for Israel and Ukraine passed by the Senate in February. Instead, Speaker Mike Johnson told Republicans at their conference meeting on Monday that he would split the legislation into multiple parts, allowing both the portions dealing with Israel and Ukraine’s militaries to stand alone.

Mr Johnson’s course puts him back in conflict with the Senate, where the GOP minority has urged him to bring the supplemental to the floor without changes. The increasingly desperate situation faced by Ukraine’s military has been laid at the speaker’s feet as he battles conservatives in his own party who are seeking a chance to kill that part of the legislation.