Iran-US Prisoner Swap: Congressional Reaction

The following are reactions from both Republicans and Democrats. 


House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX)

Sept. 18, 2023 statement: "I am immensely relieved that the five Americans held hostage by Iran are finally reunited with their families and on their way home. I wish them peace, strength, and health as they rebuild their lives in freedom… I am very concerned that this $6 billion hostage deal incentivizes future hostage-taking."

Sept. 11, 2023 statement: “The Americans held by Iran are innocent hostages who must be released immediately and unconditionally. However, I remain deeply concerned that the administration’s decision to waive sanctions to facilitate the transfer of $6 billion in funds for Iran, the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism, creates a direct incentive for America’s adversaries to conduct future hostage-taking. It’s particularly egregious that this is taking place on the same week as the anniversaries of 9/11—as Iran is actively harboring the leader of Al Qaeda—and Mahsa Amini’s murder by Iran’s so-called ‘morality police.’ The administration is demonstrating weakness that only further endangers Americans and freedom-loving people around the world.”


Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), Member of the Committee on Armed Services and Select Committee on Intelligence 

Sept. 18, 2023 letter to Secretary Blinken: 

On the 22nd anniversary of the September 11 attacks, you approved a $6 billion ransom payment to Iran, as well as the release of five Iranian agents.

According to public news reports, your deal will also allow at least two of those Iranian agents to remain in the United States. One of them, Kaveh Afrasiabi, had been arrested for his work as an unregistered Iranian government operative and lobbied American officials on issues as sensitive as nuclear policy. It seems clear where his loyalties lie.

You should reverse your September 11 deal, which encourages Iran to take more hostages and gifts the regime billions of dollars. If the deal isn’t reversed, you should at a minimum remove all Iranian agents from American soil.

Please answer the following questions no later than 5:00PM on Friday, September 22, 2023:

(1)  Please provide the full details of the Biden administration’s September 11 agreement with Iran relating to prisoners, including any side-deals or related agreements.

(2)  Are the Iranian agents reportedly planning to remain in the United States deportable under our immigration laws? Why or why not?

(3)  What plan does the Biden administration have in place to monitor the activities and communications of the Iranian agents that it has agreed to release?

Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter.

Sep. 18, 2023 tweet: “Two of the five Iranians released as part of this terrible deal will stay in the U.S. Joe Biden’s embarrassing appeasement not only makes Iran stronger, it makes America less safe.”


Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), Member of the Committee on Foreign Relations 

Sept. 11, 2023 statement: “President Biden has established a secret nuclear deal with the Iranian regime that is being kept from Congress and the American people. Today’s news confirms there has already been a side deal including a $6 billion ransom and the release of Iranian operatives. Nevertheless these are only the barest outlines of the staggering concessions that Biden has already made and intends to make to the Ayatollah, including an additional $10 billion transfer and indeed hundreds of billions of dollars by not enforcing oil sanctions. Meanwhile he has allowed the Iranian regime to all but acquire a virtual nuclear arsenal over the last two and a half years.

“The Biden administration must keep their deal secret because if they disclosed it, the law requires them to come to Congress and defend it, and this appeasement is utterly indefensible. Instead they will continue lying about their policies until Congress forces them to do otherwise.”

Sept. 12, 2023 podcast episode: “This creates an incentive for every tin pot dictator in the world to seize more Americans. They're setting the going rate at $1.2 billion per American hostage. More Americans will be taken hostage because of this and to do it on the anniversary of 9/11 is disgusting and it's dangerous.”


Senator John Thune (R-SD)

Sept. 11, 2023 on Facebook: “The U.S. should be unrelenting in its efforts to bring detained Americans home, but Iran will now count pallets of ransom money, putting its leaders in a better position to develop a nuclear weapon and fund terrorists. And the price to release U.S. hostages will only go up.”


Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), Member of the Committee on Armed Services 

Sept. 11, 2023 statement: "The Biden admin says that Iran will use ransom payments for humanitarian purposes only. But Iran is clear that it has other plans. Iran has used sanctions relief to fund terrorism before. It is disgraceful and dangerous that Biden's Iran team never learns."


Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), Member of the Committee on Armed Services 

Sept. 15, 2023 op-ed: “A five-year high in oil exports has filled Iran’s coffers, despite the U.S. claiming to have sanctions on the regime. Not to mention the $6 billion the administration greenlit in response to the terror state’s hostage "diplomacy." This summer, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF), a Foreign Terrorist Organization, raised some of its proxies’ salaries by 13 percent. This means that the IRGC-QF, and its proxies, have ample support to kill Americans, attack our partners, and threaten the region.”


Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO), Member of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

Sept. 18, 2023 interview on Fox News:

Harris Faulkner: Why did you think it happened this way?

Senator Hawley: Well I think because the Biden administration is absolutely desperate to appease Iran. I mean that’s the only thing we can conclude Harris, we should get the clear on this, a lot of the same people who are running the Biden foreign policy also ran Obama’s foreign policy. They want a deal with Iran. They are willing to do just about anything. And here we have them giving away prisoners. Giving them $6 billion dollars. I mean come on.

Faulkner:  So why are they so desperate to do a deal with Iran? I have to think when you are that desperate and you give away everything, and look we all want our Americans home no matter where they are in the globe, but when you do this deal with literally the deal. There’s got to be something else in it that we don’t know. What is it?

Senator Hawley: Well, I think it is a desperation to appease this nation. And to get back into some kind of nuclear agreement with them. Just like the Obama administration did. I think it's religion to them, Harris. I think that the Obama team thought that their terrible deal with Iran was the best thing ever. Joe Biden desperately wants to resurrect it, get back into it. And they’re willing to do everything they can to try and entice Iran. If that means giving them $6 billion dollars. If that means giving them prisoners. They are here for it. Meanwhile, it's making us less safe. It’s making the region less stable. It’s a bad deal.


Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), Member of the Committee on Foreign Relations

Sept. 18, 2023 statement: “The idea of basically paying to release, in this effect, a hostage is a terrible idea.”


Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA)

Sept. 11, 2023 tweet: “It’s ridiculous for US to be blackmailed into paying $6B for hostages which will help indirectly finance the number 1 foreign policy of Iran: terrorism Last time it was $1.7B traded for hostages next time it will probably be $10B the price keeps going up & up.”


Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)

Sept. 11, 2023 tweet: “On the anniversary of 9/11, Biden has made a deal to swap prisoners and release $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds. You don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

“The Biden administration’s $6 billion payout incentivizes Iran’s terrorist activities and endangers the lives of even more of our citizens.”


Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Mark Green (R-TN)

Sept. 12, 2023 tweet: “Yesterday our country mourned the anniversary of 9/11. Then, President Biden agreed to negotiate with Iran—a state sponsor of terrorism. Despicable.”


Representative Mike Flood (R-NE)

Sept. 11, 2023 tweet: Handing Iran more cash further enables one of America’s biggest enemies — and we’re all finding about this on the 22nd anniversary of 9/11. Biden’s foreign policy is a disgrace and it’s weakening America’s standing in the world.



Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez (D-NJ)

Sep. 18, 2023 statement: “Today, five Americans, including Emad Shargi, Morad Tahbaz, and Siamak Namazi, are home where they belong. The Iranian regime detained and jailed them unjustly for too many years, based on false charges and sham trials. They should have never been detained in the first place, and I welcome them back to the loving embrace of their families. This is a moment to celebrate.”

“The joy of seeing them safely home is embittered by the knowledge that others, like Shahab Dalili and Jimmy Sharmahd, remain unjustly imprisoned in Iran, as do many citizens of our allies and partners.”

“There is no escaping the fact that the Iranian regime is a hostage-taker. That will not change today, even as these Americans are finally home with their loved ones.

“Unfortunately, all Americans must understand the risks they take when traveling to Iran or other countries who detain Americans for political leverage — no one is safe, no one is spared. Travel to countries like Iran, Russia, North Korea, Venezuela, or the People’s Republic of China is simply too dangerous. The United States cannot permit travel by U.S. citizens to hostile nations to become a source of ransom that then is used for their nefarious activities.”

“Americans go to these countries with targets on their backs and we must do more to warn against this travel, to protect Americans, and to deter and disincentivize the Iranian regime’s practice of hostage-taking. I will continue to press for justice for those who have suffered at the regime’s hands.”

“Finally, Iran still has not answered for the life of Bob Levinson, who was abducted 16 years ago from Kish Island. Time and again, the Iranian regime has had opportunity to provide details about what happened to Bob, and to offer the unbearably painful but much needed answers to his wife, children, and grandchildren who have missed him every day for the last 16 years. Instead, they have told lies about his detention and ultimately what became of him. I will not stop calling on Iran to give a full accounting of what happened to Bob Levinson, and finally – finally – offer his family some compassion and peace.”


Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Member of the Committee on Foreign Relations

Sept. 18, 2023 statement: “Five Americans are on their way home to their families today after being unjustly imprisoned in Iran for years. It was important that the Biden administration worked closely with the governments of Qatar, Oman, South Korea and Switzerland to achieve the release of these Americans. I cannot imagine what they and their families have been through. I look forward to seeing them reunited with their loved ones in the United States.

“I am pleased to see that the Biden administration today also announced sanctions on Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), and former Iranian President Ahmadinejad for their roles in the disappearance and apparent death in Iranian custody of Robert Levinson, an American citizen whose fate has never been clearly determined. Visa restrictions also will be imposed three Iranian government officials ‘believed to be responsible for or complicit in serious abuses or violations of human rights, as well as hostage-taking or wrongful, arbitrary, or otherwise unjust detention of U.S. and foreign nationals,’ as well as two Iranian prison officials.

“We should never turn our backs on Americans unjustly imprisoned abroad, which is why Congress enacted legislation to codify the position of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs when we passed the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act of 2020.

“Those released today were not alone. We should not forget that there are numerous other Americans who are still detained, in Iran and elsewhere.  The James Foley Foundation recently reported that there are 59 publicly disclosed American hostage and wrongful detention cases. Hostage Aid Worldwide identified at least 20 hostages in Iran besides the five released today. Between 2010 and 2022, the Iranian regime detained 66 foreign and dual nationals, with 40 arrested during the anti-establishment protests that followed Mahsa Jina Amini’s murder in custody one year ago.

“The Iranian people continue to suffer under the current hardline regime. As such, the Iranian funds released today – funds that were derived from legal sales of oil in prior years – are strictly reserved for humanitarian aid, primarily food, agricultural goods, and medicine that are not subject to sanctions. The Iranian money has been held in a South Korean Bank and will now be transferred to a Qatari bank. The Government of Qatar, working closely with the United States, will ensure the money is only spent on approved humanitarian goods. The Biden administration has stated that if Iran tries to divert the funds or use them for anything other than the purposes authorized that they will take action to freeze the funds. Congress also will be monitoring and will hold the executive branch to this pledge.”


Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Member of the Committee on Foreign Relations

Sept. 18, 2023 tweet: “The $6B isn’t “ransom” and Esper knows it. South Korea bought $6B of Iranian oil and never paid for it, wary of sanctions. In 2020 (when Esper was Sec Def!) Trump signed off on the $$ being transferred to Iran for humanitarian needs.”


Related Material:

Iran-US Prisoner Swap: Fact Sheet on Details

Iran-US Prisoner Swap: US Statements

Iran-US Prisoner Swap: Iran Statements

Iran-US Prisoner Swap: Hostage History

Iran-US Prisoner Swap: New Sanctions

Iran-US Prisoner Swap: Profiles

Iran-US Prisoner Swap: World Reaction