WASHINGTON — The campaign arm of the Senate Democratic Caucus on Thursday criticized U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, as "an extreme ideologue" over an amendment he offered to the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013.
At a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on Wednesday, Cotton sought to extend sanctions that would be imposed on Iranian human rights violators to close family members of the "primary malfeasant."
Some Democrats on the panel raised concerns that the proposal was unconstitutional because it would violate "due process" protections guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment. Cotton argued that those protections only apply to U.S. citizens.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee issued statement Thursday claiming Cotton’s proposal would "completely disregard American citizens’ due process rights guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment."
"To call Tom Cotton an extreme ideologue is not overstating anything. He is proposing legislation that would eliminate the constitutional right to due process for grandchildren, nieces and nephews of Americans accused of a crime," said Justin Barasky, a DSCC spokesman.
Cotton said the aim of his proposal was to prevent a human rights violator from avoiding sanctions by simply shifting assets to a family member as he said has happened in the past.
"The whole point (of the law) is to impose financial pain and hardship on those malefactors listed – like the Supreme Leader of Iran. It’s pointless if you simply let them divert assets and income to relatives," Cotton said.
Cotton further explained that the law identifies specific Iranian officials for sanctions and his amendment would have expanded that list to include close relatives of those officials.
"The amendment does not identify any American for sanctions or punishments, contrary to reports," he said.
Cotton has been touted as a potential challenger to U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who is up for re-election in 2014. Political analyst Stu Rothenberg this week rated the Arkansas contest as a "pure tossup."
At the committee meeting Wednesday, Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., raised concerns that Cotton’s proposal would visit the sins of uncles on nephews and provide no due process to family members who would face sanctions that could include a 20-year jail sentence.
"I really question the constitutionality of a provision that punishes nephews on account of the actions of uncles," Grayson said.
Cotton insisted that Iranian citizens do not have such constitutional rights. Grayson, however, said that decades of Supreme Court rulings have resolved that every criminal defendant, regardless of citizenship, is guaranteed due process.
Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., who chairs the committee, said there is a real concern that the sanctions could be circumvented using family members but suggested that Cotton rework his amendment to address the constitutional issues raised by Grayson.
The bill, which has 338 co-sponsors, is aimed at stopping Iran from building nuclear weapons by ratcheting up economic and other sanctions on the Iranian regime. It cleared the House committee unanimously.