skip to main content

S. 3871: A bill to provide a means for Congress to prevent an organization’s designation as a foreign terrorist organization from being revoked by the Secretary of State.

Who decides if a FTO should GTFO?


The State Department maintains an official list of groups which it has designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO’s). There are currently 68 such organizations, which U.S. citizens are barred from financially supporting.

The most recently added, in December 2021, are the so-called “FARC dissidents” in Colombia, who refused to stop fighting even after a 2016 peace treaty in the country. (The official guerilla group FARC, which was primarily responsible for the fighting before 2016, was delisted the exact same day.)

Indeed, 20 organizations have been delisted over time — most recently five groups in May, all of which were believed to be defunct.

The U.S. joined the multilateral Iran nuclear deal in 2015 under former President Barack Obama in 2015, but then Donald Trump withdrew in 2018. The next year, the Trump Administration designated a branch of Iran’s military called the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

As President Joe Biden now seeks to restore a modified version of the nuclear deal, Iran is demanding that the U.S. delist the IRGC as a pre-condition to signing on. Although Biden recently finalized his decision to keep the IRGC on the list, the administration was nonetheless seriously considering delisting the group.

What the legislation does

Congressional legislation would ban a presidential administration from delisting a group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization without Congress’s approval.

It appears the legislation would still allow a group to be designated as such without Congress’s approval, though. Presumably, this asymmetry is because this bill is merely intended to hamstring any efforts at a renewed treaty with Iran.

The legislation does not have an official title. The Senate version was introduced on March 17 as S. 3871, by Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS). The House version was introduced three weeks later on April 7 as H.R. 7479, by Rep. Greg Pence (R-IN6).

Another bill, the Preventing Terrorist Sympathizers from Appeasing Terrorists Act, would prevent the unilateral delisting of the IRGC specifically. It was introduced in the House on April 1 as H.R. 7354, by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA10).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the legislative branch should have a say every bit as meaningful as the executive branch on such a critical issue.

“Our nation’s freedom and national security should not be put in jeopardy because President Biden, or any president for that matter, needs to score a political win,” Rep. Pence said in a press release. “I could not think of a greater nightmare scenario than the executive branch delisting foreign terrorist organizations who have been proven to carry out acts of war on our U.S. troops, our nation, and allies.”

“This brutal military organization [the IRGC] threatens our close friends in Israel and has a long history of targeting U.S. forces and diplomats, including the most recent missile assault on a U.S. consulate in Iraq. It is unthinkable that this offer would be on the table,” Sen. Marshall said in a separate press release. “My bill would provide Congress the ability to block this revocation and prevent the Biden administration from bending the knee to Iranian thugs.”

What opponents say

While there is plenty of debate about whether Biden should actually delist the IRGC, that’s a separate issue from this legislation’s actual policy proposal: giving Congress more of a say in the matter. GovTrack Insider was unable to locate any explicit statements of opposition to that idea.

Indeed, Congress has previously given itself a similar power: a 45-day window to potentially overturn an administration’s proposed delisting of a nation from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

But opponents of this legislation could counter that the Immigration and Nationality Act already requires the Secretary of State to inform Congress of such a FTO decision seven days beforehand. (Although that merely informs Congress, without giving the legislative branch power to do anything about it.) Plus the judicial branch already has a role as well: a new FTO can seek to have that status stripped by contesting it in the D.C. Circuit Appeals Court within 30 days.

Odds of passage

The Senate version has attracted six cosponsors, all Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The House version has attracted 23 cosponsors, all Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in either the House Judiciary or Rules Committee. (Not, as one might expect, the Foreign Affairs Committee.)

Odds of passage are low in the Democratic-controlled Congress.

Last updated Jun 7, 2022. View all GovTrack summaries.

No summary available.