House Committee Leaders Urge Senate Passage of Nuclear Security Legislation

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), shown from right to left in 2010, on Wednesday received a letter from four senior House lawmakers calling on the upper chamber to approve key nuclear security legislation (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster).
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), shown from right to left in 2010, on Wednesday received a letter from four senior House lawmakers calling on the upper chamber to approve key nuclear security legislation (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster).

WASHINGTON – House leaders are urging their Senate colleagues to pass legislation that would bring the United States into line with two international nuclear security agreements amid concerns that adoption of the bill might not be possible during the last weeks of this congressional session.

In a bipartisan letter on Wednesday, leaders of the House Judiciary Committee urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to work toward passage of H.R. 5889, which the lower chamber has already approved.

The legislation, which is being held up by an anonymous Republican senator, is meant to ensure the United States meets legal standards mandated by the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Terrorism. The pact requires member nations to criminalize the possession and use of nuclear weapons and related radioactive material. It went into force in 2007 and now has 82 state parties.

The bill would also bring the United States into line with a 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. The change still requires ratification by Washington and dozens of other states to enter into force, but would add security standards for domestic storage, use and transfer of nuclear material to the pact. The deal originally focused on protecting international shipments of civilian nuclear material.

“Implementation of these multilateral treaties has been neglected by Congress for far too long,” according to a copy of the House letter obtained by Global Security Newswire. “We believe enactment of this legislation provides an opportunity for the House and Senate to put aside partisan differences and reach across party lines in the interest of America’s national security.”

On the Republican side, the letter was signed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (Texas) and Representative James Sensenbrenner (Wis.), chairman of the panel’s Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security subcommittee. Top committee Democrat John Conyers (Mich.) is also a signatory, along with Robert Scott (Va.), ranking Democrat on the homeland security panel.

According to the letter, House lawmakers “made a determination at the beginning of this process that our constitutional responsibility to implement treaty obligations must take precedence over partisanship. House Judiciary majority and minority staff worked together closely, in consultation with the Departments of Justice and State, to carefully craft bipartisan legislation to finally achieve implementation of these critical treaties.”

Senate Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has introduced competing legislation and argued that the House version contains drafting errors that would make it impossible to implement. He also said the House bill lacks provisions explicitly applying the death penalty to nuclear crimes and extending federal wiretapping authorities – measures backed by the Obama administration that his version would reinstate.

In a statement to GSN on Wednesday, Grassley said his version of the bill “cleared the Republican side of the Senate before the Senate left for recess in September, and [is] now stalled on the Democratic side.”

During a panel discussion at the Hudson Institute the previous day, proponents of the legislation expressed doubts that passage would be possible during the lame-duck session of Congress.

Laura Holgate, senior director for WMD terrorism and threat reduction at the National Security Council, told GSN that the administration continues to discuss the issue with lawmakers and that it remains a “presidential priority.”

November 15, 2012
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WASHINGTON – House leaders are urging their Senate colleagues to pass legislation that would bring the United States into line with two international nuclear security agreements amid concerns that adoption of the bill might not be possible during the last weeks of this congressional session.

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