Some things changed in the United States House of Representatives after Republicans gained the majority in January. But, one thing that has remained the same as during the previous years of Democratic leadership is that the House is committed to handing over to the executive branch, even when the executive branch is under the control as now of a president of another party than the House majority, the power to impose more and more sanctions across the world.
The latest vote in the House approving new sanctions power for President Joe Biden occurred last week. Then, the House approved the USA Act (HR 1151). This bill, among other things, authorizes the US president, “with respect to any [People’s Republic of China (PRC)] individual the President determines is directly managing and overseeing the PRC’s global surveillance balloon program,” to impose sanctions that deprive the targeted individuals of their property and bar their entry into or expel them from America. The bill also directs the “Secretary of State, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence and the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations” to coordinate “with allies and partners on the imposition and implementation of substantially similar sanctions and export controls to ensure that commodities, software, or technology from the United States and its allies and partners are not supporting the PRC’s global surveillance efforts.”
Further, HR 1151 directs the Secretary of Commerce to “evaluate, for appropriate controls under the Export Administration Regulations, the export, reexport, and in-country transfer of the items and technologies subject to United States jurisdiction related to aerospace programs, including airships and balloons and related materials and components, that are used by the People’s Liberation Army for intelligence and reconnaissance.” Not later than 180 days after the bill’s enactment, the Commerce Secretary is further required to deliver to select House and Senate committees a report including “a description of the types of items and technologies that were evaluated for potential controls” and “a list of the controls that [the Bureau of Industry and Security] has implemented or plans to implement because of its evaluation under this section.”
HR 1151 is not unusual among legislation approved in the less than four months the new Republican majority House has been operating. The bill was preceded by several other House approved bills and resolutions seeking to preserve and expand the executive branch’s sanctioning across the world, and by no House approved legislation seeking to restrain such executive branch power.
First, HR 22 was approved in the House on January 12. It declares that “the Secretary of Energy shall not draw down and sell petroleum products from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve” “to any entity that is under the ownership, control, or influence of the Chinese Communist Party.” The bill also states that such sales must be made “on the condition that such petroleum products will not be exported to the People’s Republic of China.”
Then, on January 25, the House approved H.Con.Res. 7. The resolution states that the House and Senate support sanctions the Biden administration had already imposed and encourages the Biden administration to impose yet more sanctions in response to protests in Iran. The resolution also calls on the Biden administration “to work to develop a strategy to prevent the Iranian regime from obtaining and exploiting facial recognition data and software for the use of mass surveillance and enforcement of mandatory hijab.” Not stopping at praising the executive branch’s then-current sanctions and calling for it to impose more, the resolution further states that Congress “welcomes the efforts of the international community to support protestors in Iran” and “calls on the international community” to take actions including “to impose human rights sanctions on officials and entities that are responsible for the repression of current protests and involved in violating the human rights of the Iranian people.”
Having already passed legislation favoring greater sanctions by the Biden administration in regard to China and Iran, the new Republican majority House next moved on to calling for the Biden administration to hold firm on sanctions on Syria even as the Syrian people struggle in the aftermath of a devastating February 6 earthquake. On February 27, the House approved H.Res. 132, a resolution that disparages the “Assad regime” in Syria by saying it “has shamefully used the earthquake to call for the lifting of United States sanctions, falsely claiming that such sanctions impede the aid response.” Of course, major purposes of the sanctions include restricting the Syrian economy and limiting the ability of all sorts of products to enter the country. So, it is a true, not false, claim that ending the sanctions would assist ameliorative response to the destruction wrought by the earthquake. But, instead of calling for removing sanctions that prevent or impede aiding earthquake victims in Syria, the resolution preposterously “urges the Biden administration to remain committed to the protection of the Syrian people including by implementing the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019.” That 2019 legislation provides foundation for US sanctions on Syria that have caused people in the country to suffer greatly for years before the earthquake and that then exacerbated the harms from the February earthquake.
Come March 27, the House approved HR 1189, a bill declaring that the "President, acting through the Secretary of State and in consultation with the Secretary of Commerce, shall develop a strategy to eliminate the availability to foreign adversaries of goods and technologies capable of supporting undersea cables consistent with United States policy described in section 1752 of the Export Control Reform Act of 2018 (50 U.S.C. 4811).” The bill states that China is among the “foreign adversaries” referenced as well as nations that would be included in “such term in section 8(c) of the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019 (47 U.S.C. 1607(c)).” There, a “foreign adversary” is defined as “any foreign government or foreign nongovernment person engaged in a long-term pattern or serious instances of conduct significantly adverse to the national security of the United States or security and safety of United States persons.” That definition leaves much means for the Biden administration to add in many others for punishment.
The same day — March 27 — the House also approved HR 1154. This bill states that it “shall be the policy of the United States” to “hold accountable persons implicated, including members of the Chinese Communist Party, in forced organ harvesting and trafficking in persons for purposes of the removal of organs.” The “holding accountable” part the bill leaves all the action to President Joe Biden’s discretion. The president is directed to make a list including each person he “determines funds, sponsors, or otherwise facilitates forced organ harvesting or trafficking in persons for purposes of the removal of organs.” Each person on the list, the bill then states the president shall sanction.
Sanctioning remains a top priority in the House despite a new party gaining the majority in January. Expect the new Republican majority House to keep expanding the Biden administration’s power to impose sanctions across the world. That is the path it has set for itself in its first few months and the path from which it has shown no indication it will leave.
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