March 25, 2023

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New Congress projects first bipartisan front in support of Iranian protesters

The 118th Congress officially got off to a rocky start this month after it took more than a dozen tries to elect a Speaker of the House and a new Republican member of the House didn’t even make it to the end of his first four weeks before falling under federal and state investigations.

But this week there were some glimpses of the kind of bipartisan work that the chambers have eschewed in recent years in favour of partisan bickering and showboating.

In both chambers, lawmakers rallied behind a pair of resolutions expressing support (once again) for the protests against Iran’s government across Tehran and other cities in the country — protests which have gone on for months now after initially being sparked by the death of a young woman in police custody following her arrest for wearing a headscarf incorrectly.

The House, which has been a place of turmoil for the past month as Kevin McCarthy attempts to gain control of an unruly and tenuous Republican majority, passed a resolution in support of protests against Iran’s government 420-1, a sign of how opposition to Tehran and support for the calls for women’s rights from the protesters have united both sides of the aisle even as the two parties disagree over how broadly to approach US-Iran relations.

The vote drew nearly every member of the chamber together; it even provided an opportunity for George Santos, the embattled freshman congressman trying to cling on to his seat in the face of multiple investigations by various law enforcement authorities and calls for resignation by his peers, to deliver his first floor speech in the House of Representatives.

Speaking in support of the resolution, Mr Santos was able to at least for a brief moment give himself the air of credibility most of his colleagues enjoy simply by staying out of the spotlight, and delivered his first on-camera remarks apart from the rushed, impromptu press conferences that hungry reporters force him into every time he leaves his office.

And in the Senate, members of both parties called for the Biden administration to further sanction Iranian officials over another issue — Tehran’s support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has come in the form of drones and other military aid. Some Republicans, like Senator Ted Cruz, have been eager to attack the Biden administration over insufficient support for Ukraine and supposedly weak posturing towards Iran, but those attacks have been mostly limited to the right wing.

“We need to cut the head of the snake off, in every way that we can. That means sanctioning [Russia] directly at its inner core … but it also means sanctioning those vigorously who are assisting Russia in this unjust and unholy war,” said Bob Menendez, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Iran could respond in the days ahead with more sanctions targeting US officials, a response that Tehran employed in the past week when lawmakers in the EU took similar steps to express support for the demonstrators across the country. Tehran’s government has repeatedly blamed the demonstrations on US and European interference. Such sanctions against US officials typically have little to no practical effect.

Authorities in the country also recently oversaw the execution of a British-Iranian dual national, Alireza Akbari, over a 2019 spying conviction that he denied.

The repeated expressions of support for the anti-government protests come as the Biden administration has publicly admitted to a freeze taking place in US-Iran relations, stalling any and all progress on talks over resuming the multi-nation nuclear accord signed by Washington and Tehran under the Obama administration. A spokesperson for the State Department indicated this week that talks still appear to be going nowhere on that issue.

Dr Ramesh Sepehrrad, advisory chair of the Organization of Iranian American Communities, praised Congress for “speaking with one voice” on the issue of Iran and continuing to shine a spotlight on the demonstrations themselves.

“It is important to keep the world’s focus on the ongoing revolution in Iran for a democratic, secular, and non-nuclear republic of Iran,” she said in a statement to The Independent.

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