Republicans and Hawkish Democrats Refuse to Acknowledge the Humanitarian Impact of US Sanctions.

Jonathan Cohn
3 min readFeb 4, 2022

Yesterday, the US House debated amendments to the COMPETES (America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology and Economic Strength) Act, a bill focused on economic and geopolitical competition with China, subsidizing the US semiconductor industry (amogn others) and ratcheting up military activities in the Indo-Pacific region.

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) introduced two amendments to merely study the humanitarian and environmental impact of US sanctions, but that proved too much for Republicans and several dozen hawkish Republicans.

Her first amendment, with Chuy García (IL-04), would require the Treasury secretary to provide Congress with an assessment of the humanitarian suffering caused by US sanctions on Afghanistan and its confiscation of the country’s foreign-held money, as well as a review of how this has opened the door for illicit financial activities with China.

Although the US was not successful at building a robust military apparently during its 20 years in Afghanistan, it did manage to build an independent central banking system. Nonetheless, last summer, as the Taliban neared Kabul, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken blocked the bank’s access to $9.4 billion of its own foreign reserves, leading to bank closures, runaway inflation, and high unemployment.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres implored heads of state to release funds to Afghanistan last week, highlighting the humanitarian emergency the country faces:

“Families huddle in makeshift tents under plastic sheets — even burning their possessions to keep warm….Clinics are overcrowded — and under-resourced…Ambulances and hospital power generators are running dry because of skyrocketing fuel prices….Afghans are stalked not only by COVID-19, but by deadly preventable diseases like measles, diarrhea and even polio…Education and social services are on the brink of collapse…Millions of children — critically, girls — are out of school, and 70 per cent of teachers are not getting paid….Over half of all Afghans face extreme levels of hunger…The country is facing its worst drought in two decades, pushing nine million people closer to famine….More than 80 per cent of the population relies on contaminated drinking water….And some families are selling their babies to purchase food…The Afghan economy is enduring a bitter winter of its own…There is a danger that the currency could go into freefall, and the country could lose 30 per cent of its GDP within the year….Liquidity has evaporated….Sanctions and mistrust by the global banking system have frozen nearly $9 billion in central bank assets….Vital systems are starved of needed funds…Lack of liquidity — particularly in local currency — is limiting capacity to reach Afghans in need.”

Notably, Jayapal’s amendment wasn’t even requiring the release of these funds; it was just about acknowledging and assessing this humanitarian impact as well as the negative geopolitical implications.

And 211 Republicans (all those present) and 44 Democrats still voted against it, leaving the vote at 175 to 255.

Here were the 44 Democrats:

Jayapal had another amendment, filed with Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), to direct the State Department, in coordination with Department of Energy and in consultation with appropriate agencies, to report on the impact of US sanctions on innovation, emissions reduction, climate cooperation, and economic justice

The amendment failed 181 to 248, with 39 Democrats joining Republicans in voting against it.

Here are the 39 Democrats:



Jonathan Cohn

Editor. Bibliophile. Gadfly. Environmentalist. Super-volunteer for progressive campaigns. Boston by way of Baltimore, London, NYC, DC, and Philly.