Updated Oct 11, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Vulnerable Democrats call on Biden to freeze $6B in Iran funds

Sens. Jon Tester (L) and Joe Manchin. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

All six Senate Democrats up for re-election in competitive states have joined Republicans in calling for President Biden to re-freeze $6 billion in Iranian assets made available as part of a U.S. prisoner exchange last month.

Why it matters: While Biden has won praise for his "unequivocal" support for Israel in the wake of the Hamas attacks, some Republicans argue his policies have emboldened Iran, which helps fund the Palestinian militant group and other proxies throughout the region.

  • The Biden administration has not confirmed reports that Iran helped plot the attack on Israel, instead labeling the Islamic Republic "broadly complicit" through its years of financing and training of Hamas militants.
  • Biden officials have also stressed that Iran has not yet touched the $6 billion in unfrozen assets — which was transferred from South Korea to a restricted bank account in Qatar — and that it can only be accessed for humanitarian purposes.

The latest: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) announced Wednesday that they will introduce legislation to reimpose the freeze via "unanimous consent" — essentially daring a single Democrat to object.

Driving the news: Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) — all of whom are facing competitive races — have called on Biden to freeze the assets while the U.S. assesses whether Iran played a direct role in the attacks.

  • So, too, has independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) and three House Democrats running for Senate in battleground states — Reps. Collin Allred (Texas), Ruben Gallego (Ariz.) and Elissa Slotkin (Mich.).
  • Brown, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, also vowed to investigating the financing behind the attack, including Hamas' potential reliance on cryptocurrency.
  • Casey, whose likely GOP opponent Dave McCormick called on him to block the transfer this week, accused Republicans of "intentionally misleading" the public about the role the funds played in the attack.
  • "These funds should remain frozen until we can determine whether Iran played a role in the attack and what the appropriate U.S. response should be," Casey added.

State of play: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen did not rule out the possibility of re-freezing the Iranian assets Wednesday, saying she "wouldn't take anything off the table in terms of possible future action."

The big picture: Republicans and national security hawks have long been critical of Biden's Iran policy, including the administration's attempts to restore the Iran nuclear deal that former President Trump exited.

  • Many have made the argument that because money is "fungible," unfreezing assets for humanitarian relief could allow Iran to use its existing funds to finance terrorism.
  • "It's clear as day that Iran made this possible, helped [Hamas], but yet the administration is in denial," Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) told reporters after a classified briefing on Israel Wednesday. "I heard that in there: they're 'not sure' of Iran's role. B.S."
  • Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), a GOP presidential candidate, went as far as to say Biden has "blood on his hands" in a speech on Tuesday.

Editor's note: This story was updated with information about Sen. McConnell's and Sen. Cotton's plan to introduce legislation to reimpose the freeze.

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