The head of the American Legion, one of the largest veterans advocacy groups in the United States, said on Wednesday that an amendment to place more sanctions on Iran has “no place” being added to a veterans bill currently being considered in the Senate.
Republicans this week have grounded Senate action on important military issues to a halt by adding Iran sanctions measures to bills meant to combat military sexual assault and help America’s veterans. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) included an Iran sanctions provision in his alternative to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) vets bill, which would, according to the Hill, “boost veterans’ healthcare programs and give veterans in-state tuition rates at all schools across the country.”
Democrats criticized the Republicans for “inject[ing] partisan politics into the mix, insisting on amendments that have nothing to do with helping veterans,” as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said on the Senate floor on Wednesday.
The American Legion piled on, saying in a statement that “sanctions against Iran have no place in a U.S. Senate debate over legislation that aims to expand health care, education opportunities, employment and other benefits for veterans.”
“Iran is a serious issue that Congress needs to address, but it cannot be tied to S. 1982, which is extremely important as our nation prepares to welcome millions of U.S. military servicemen and women home from war,” said American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger. “This comprehensive bill aims to help veterans find good jobs, get the health care they need and make in-state tuition rates applicable to all who are using their GI Bill benefits.”
Dellinger added: “This legislation is about supporting veterans, pure and simple. … We can deal with Iran – or any other issue unrelated specifically to veterans – with separate legislation.”
Sanders also chastised the Republicans on Wednesday. “The cost of war is real, and we’ve got to support those who have put their lives on the line defending this country,” he said on CNN, “and now what is happening for the same old stupid partisan reasons, the Republcan leadership says, ‘Well we want to attach to this bill Iran sanctions.'”
The push to place more sanctions on Iran — led by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) — stalled after Democrats co-sponsoring the measure backed off, appearing convinced by the Obama administration’s arguments that it will derail talks with Tehran over its nuclear program and could lead to war. Even the powerful Israel lobby group AIPAC backed away earlier this month, saying what while it supports that sanctions bill, “there should not be a vote at this time on the measure.”
Yet Senate Republicans keep pushing, solidifying the issue as a completely partisan one. Nearly the entire GOP Senate caucus — except Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) — sent Reid a letter this month calling for a vote on the bill (Corker, who is the Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, opposes a vote at this time). Reid blasted the “totally partisan letter” at the time.
And on Wednesday, numerous Republicans took to the Senate floor calling for a vote on Iran sanctions, even if it means attaching the issue to unrelated measures like Sanders’ veterans bill. “Why can’t we vote on it?” asked Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) justified his call for a vote claiming that AIPAC’s members want one, a position that contradicts what AIPAC’s leaders have said publicly.
“The Republicans have been doing this on every issue,” Reid said on Wednesday. “It doesn’t matter if it’s an issue that 90 percent of the American people support. Republicans say they want to help veterans. They have a strange way of showing it.”