Tim Scott and other Republicans propose bill to block Iranian funds after Israel’s Hamas attack


South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott on Tuesday introduced a bill with 22 other Republicans and independent lawmakers to permanently refreeze $6 billion in Iranian oil revenues that were released as part of a deal to release five American detainees.

The funds have since come under fire from conservatives and drawn vocal defenses from White House officials in the wake of the terror attack by the Palestinian group Hamas on southern Israel earlier this month.

Iran is a major sponsor of Hamas, and critics of the US releasing the proceeds say it would ease broader financial pressure on Iran – even as the US said there was no “substantial, concrete evidence” that Tehran was directly involved in the Hamas attack that Israeli officials said resulted in More than 1,000 people were killed in Israel.

Scott’s bill has support from some in Senate GOP leadership, including John Barrasso, Steve Daines and Shelley Moore Capito. She also has the support of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who left the Democratic Party to become an independent last year.

In addition to freezing Iranian revenues, the bill would direct Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to study high-value Iranian assets currently blocked under U.S. sanctions and report that information to Congress.

The legislation faces an unclear path to becoming law, given that Washington is divided between the two parties.

Photo: Senator Tim Scott arrives for a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing "Oversight of the US Securities and Exchange Commission," September 12, 2023, at the Capitol.

Senator Tim Scott arrives for a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on “SEC Oversight,” Sept. 12, 2023, at the Capitol.

Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

In a statement, Scott described the $6 billion freeze as “a grave mistake that created a market for American hostages, emboldened our opponents, and placed a balance on the balance sheets of one of Hamas’s largest supporters.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other officials have disputed Scott’s argument, noting that oil revenues, which were being withheld by South Korea, have not yet been spent as part of the prisoner release deal and are intended for humanitarian purposes only. He is subjected to strict supervision after his transfer to Qatar.

“Some who are pushing this false narrative — they’re either misinformed or misinformed. Either way, it’s wrong,” Blinken recently said on ABC’s “This Week.”

ABC News reported that the US and Qatari governments agreed last week to once again prevent Iran from accessing any of the funds.

However, Scott told a group of students at Georgetown University on Monday that the White House’s reverse course was not enough.

“We have to go a step further. We must be aware of every asset worth more than $5 million in any banking system or financial institution we can get our hands on near Iran,” he said.

Speaking with ABC News last week in Iowa, Scott rejected the “ludicrous” idea that freezing Iranian assets could be seen as a reversal of a US agreement and hurt future efforts to release Americans illegally detained abroad.

“If we can get the money back, it will save lives, it won’t cost lives,” he said.

The Biden administration has come under pressure from some Democrats as well. “Until I have complete confidence that Iran played no role in these barbaric terrorist attacks on the Israeli people, the United States must freeze $6 billion in Iranian assets,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin wrote in a post on X.

Other Democratic senators have echoed that, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana, Jacky Rosen of Nevada, and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, all of whom, like Baldwin, are up for re-election in 2024.

Photo: Israeli soldiers stationed outside Kibbutz Peri near the border with the Gaza Strip, October 17, 2023.

Israeli soldiers are stationed outside Kibbutz Beri near the border with the Gaza Strip, October 17, 2023.

Jacques Guez/AFP via Getty Images

Scott’s bill is not the only effort to legislatively prevent Iran from accessing its oil assets. Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, said they would introduce a proposal to block the United States from releasing any of the funds.

On October 9, Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee led 20 of her Senate Republican colleagues in a letter to President Joe Biden urging his administration to support Israel in any way possible and to “immediately freeze Iranian bank accounts.”

Scott did not sign that letter. His office did not respond to questions about the reason.

The senator, who continues to poll in the single digits nationally, according to the GOP base average of 538, was uncharacteristically aggressive in his rhetoric about the war Israel launched against Hamas after it was attacked.

He has criticized rivals such as former President Donald Trump, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and fellow South Carolinian Nikki Haley for their own comments about the conflict.

Scott has also taken a hard line on not accepting refugees from Gaza, the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory that is now the focus of much of the fighting, because he cannot know “who they are.”

“Not on my watch,” he said at Georgetown.

This article originally appeared on abcnews.go.com

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