Capitol Hill Buzz: Republicans want answers on visit to Iran

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Posted: Apr 13, 2016 6:08 PM
Capitol Hill Buzz: Republicans want answers on visit to Iran

WASHINGTON (AP) — Stop us if you've heard this one. Three guys walk into ... the Iranian Interests Section in Washington.

They're Republican congressmen and they did actually march into the office that represents Tehran's only official government presence in Washington to apply in person for visas to travel to Iran. That was more than two months ago and they still don't have an answer. So they fired off a letter to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif asking him what gives.

"If you reject our visa applications, please provide an explanation," wrote GOP Reps. Mike Pompeo of Kansas, Lee Zeldin of New York and Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey in the letter to Zarif released Wednesday. All three lawmakers opposed the landmark international nuclear deal with Iran.

The congressmen have outlined what amounts to a Republican fantasy trip, which may account for what they called the "ridicule and delay" their request has generated inside Iran.

They want to visit American hostages held by the Iranians and get briefings on the detention in January of 10 American sailors who strayed into Iranian territorial waters. They're also pushing for trips to three Iranian nuclear sites and to get information about Iran's recent ballistic missile tests that many Republicans contend violate a U.N. resolution.

The congressmen told Zarif they've already missed a chance to observe elections in Iran because of the delay.

"With your claims that many moderates were elected, we imagine that there should be no problems now with our trip," they wrote.

The lawmakers noted that the U.S. government allows Iranian leaders to come to the United States. And American business delegations are going to Iran, so clearly the corporate world is getting visas.

"We trust the same courtesy will be extended to American leaders," they wrote to Zarif.

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Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken didn't waste the moment when he sat down to testify at a Senate hearing ahead of U2 front man Bono.

"Mr. Chairman, as a wannabe musician I could only dream of one day opening for Bono," Blinken said in the packed hearing room. "So thank you for making that dream come true. It's not the Verizon Center, but I'll take it," he added, referring to the Washington's 20,000-seat arena.

Bono and Blinken testified Tuesday before told the Senate appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations about the global refugee crisis and violent extremism.

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Senate Republicans have a sure-fire way of preventing President Barack Obama from making a recess appointment to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

The answer: Pro-forma sessions through every recess and break, up and until Jan. 20, 2017 when the next president is sworn in.

That's the word from Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, who told Iowa reporters on a conference call Wednesday that GOP senators are lined up to preside over the brief sessions every three days.

"I think I'm signed up to be here December the 20th," said the Iowa Republican.

Obama has nominated federal Judge Merrick Garland to fill the opening on the court after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Grassley, maintain that the president elected by voters in November should make the court pick.

It would be highly unusual for the president to make a recess appointment for the high court, but Republicans are taking no chances.

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The special House panel investigating fetal tissue research has announced that it will hold its first hearing next week. But Republicans who control the committee are not saying yet who their witnesses will be.

Republicans formed the panel following last year's conservative uproar over videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing how their organization sometimes supplies researchers with fetal tissue after abortions.

Conservatives have accused the group of illegality, but investigations by several congressional committees and numerous states have unearthed no evidence of wrongdoing. Planned Parenthood has said the videos, secretly recorded by abortion opponents, were doctored.

By law, those providing fetal tissue can charge no more than the expenses they incurred, a requirement Planned Parenthood has said it's obeyed. As the controversy raged last year, Planned Parenthood stopped collecting anything for the tissue it provided.

The panel's chairman, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said next Wednesday's hearing will explore whether abortion clinics or businesses that provide tissue to researchers were making a profit.

Blackburn's panel has issued subpoenas for documents from clinics and companies.

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Associated Press writer David Pitt in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.

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Follow Richard Lardner on Twitter at http://twitter.com/rplardner