“Twelve years ago I introduced a bill on Iran to put sanctions in place. You know those crushing sanctions that brought Iran to the table? I was the author that put those sanctions in law 12 years ago. And I was opposed by none other than Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the process.”
— Former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), speech at the Iowa Republican Party’s Lincoln Dinner, Des Moines, May 16, 2015
A few weeks ago, The Fact Checker caught Santorum super-polishing his resume. (He supposedly “invented” health savings accounts.) Now he’s exaggerating his role in establishing sanctions against Iran.
A few days before this speech, our colleagues at FactCheck.org called out Santorum’s “puffery on Iran” during a speech he gave on May 9. He adjusted his language somewhat — but not enough to avoid getting a bushel of Pinocchios.
What was Santorum’s role in the crushing sanctions on Iran? And what’s the full story on Obama’s and Clinton’s supposed opposition?
As always with congressional actions, there are various versions of bills — and votes — which can allow politicians to pick and choose their examples.
Going back 12 years takes us to 2003, but presumably Santorum is referring to the Iran Freedom and Support Act of 2004, which he introduced on July 16, 2004. That bill mostly called for assistance to help foster democracy in Iran and had nothing to do with sanctions. It never came to a vote.
Then, on Feb. 9, 2005, or about 10 years ago, Santorum introduced a bill titled the Iran Freedom and Support Act of 2005. This bill also focused on U.S. assistance for democracy in Iran, but in addition codified existing executive orders regarding a ban on U.S. investment and included some sanctions, such as against companies that assisted Iran’s nuclear program. This bill also went nowhere.
But on June 15, 2006, Santorum attempted to attach his bill as an amendment to a defense spending bill. He was defeated 46 to 53, and two of the “nay” votes included then-Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
But what Santorum leaves out of the story is that the Bush administration also opposed his measure, fearing it would undo delicate efforts to begin a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear standoff.
“Senate Backs Bush’s Iran Approach” read the headline in the Arms Control Association’s report on the vote. “The defeat followed an intervention by the Department of State, which said the measure would harm relations with countries needed as part of its diplomatic strategy,” the article said, noting that many Republican co-sponsors of Santorum’s legislation abandoned it after the administration objected.
Then, after negotiations with the White House, a revised version of the legislation was introduced in the House on Sept. 27, 2006, removing a section that might upset countries (such as Russia, a key player in the negotiations) investing in projects in Iran linked to nuclear proliferation. The new version also gave the president waiver authority to terminate the sanctions with as little as a three-day notice. That bill passed by voice vote in the House and then was unanimously approved in the Senate.
In other words, once the Bush administration reached an agreement with congressional leaders and dropped its objections, Clinton and Obama supported the bill.
Santorum’s claim that this bill was the root of “crushing sanctions” now faced by Iran is an even bigger stretch. In effect, his law made relatively minor modifications to the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996, which was the first law that authorized U.S. penalties against third-country companies involved in Iran’s nuclear activities. That law was further expanded by the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010.
The authoritative Iran Primer says another significant law was the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act, which significantly expanded the president’s authority to sanction firms and individuals in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. That law was originally passed in 2000, aimed squarely at Iran, and then later Syria and North Korea were added to it. Santorum’s 2006 law does not even merit a mention in the Iran Primer.
Indeed, as FactCheck.org reported, the Congressional Research Service in a 2014 report says that no sanctions have been imposed using the sanctions section of Santorum’s law. The comprehensive CRS report, over 78 pages, barely mentions the law that Santorum claims is responsible for the “crushing sanctions” on Iran.
A Santorum spokesman did not respond in detail to our queries, except to say that Santorum worked closely with the House sponsor of the 2006 bill, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), to pass the legislation.
The Pinocchio Test
Santorum needs to significantly revise his history of this legislation. It’s absurd to single out Obama and Clinton as his opposition when the real pushback came from the Bush administration. Even some of Santorum’s Republican co-sponsors jumped ship. Once the administration accepted modified (and weaker) language, the law passed unanimously.
Moreover, Santorum greatly overstates the impact of his law. His bill was a relatively minor moment in the years-long buildup of Iran sanctions — so minor that its core sanctions element has never been implemented. He did pass a law, which maybe counts for something, but such embellishment of the facts is worthy of Four Pinocchios.
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