Let's hope that the U.S. Congress musters the votes for Iran sanctions legislation quicker than it was able to push through expanded hate-crimes legislation.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act that passed the U.S. Senate last week was 10 years in the making. Long a top priority of Jewish communal organizations and hailed by such diverse groups as the Anti-Defamation League and Agudath Israel of America, the legislation allows federal authorities to pursue hate-crimes cases when local authorities are either unable or unwilling to do so.
It also expands the federal definition of hate crimes to include those motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. The measure was attached to the 2010 Defense Department authorization bill, a move that succeeded in circumventing conservative opposition to the legislation in the past.
Now, even as it zeroes in on health care reform, members of Congress need to ensure that Iran sanctions legislation not languish in their midst. Lawmakers must understand the urgency of moving forward with action at this critical juncture.
Despite a draft agreement reached last week with Iranian negotiators to ship its uranium abroad for low-level enrichment, Tehran has yet to sign off on the deal. The plan is aimed at preventing Iran from enriching uranium to the point that it can be used for nuclear weapons.
Now, even as international inspectors were at the previously secret Qom facility, Iranian leaders were brandishing their characteristic rhetoric, suggesting -- not surprisingly -- they aren't interested in engagement after all. While some officials said that Iran would go along if the plan is amended, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in apparent reference to Israel: "When an illegal regime possesses nuclear weapons, the other countries' rights for peaceful nuclear energy cannot be denied."
The Obama administration is now backing efforts by Congress to strengthen its arsenal of tools to hit Iran where it counts.
Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, who sponsored legislation calling for tougher sanctions, came to the local Jewish community this week seeking greater activism on the legislation. He and U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) introduced the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act, which would authorize state pension funds to divest from companies doing business with Iran. Casey is also a co-sponsor of the Senate version of the Iran Refined Sanctions Petroleum Act, which would allow the president to impose sanctions on companies that help Iran import or produce refined petroleum.
While he said that Congress is exhibiting strong bipartisan support for the legislation, he was frank in responding to a query about how to move it all forward. Keep reminding us, he said.
Let's just hope it doesn't take 10 years. By then, it might be too late.