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Allison Graves
By Allison Graves May 4, 2018

Gov. Rick Scott attack mischaracterizes vote Sen. Bill Nelson took in 2015

As Florida’s U.S. Senate race heats up, Republican Gov. Rick Scott slammed Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson’s record on Iran.

"While Bill Nelson voted against requiring Iran to recognize Israel and release American hostages, the following year, Governor Scott signed legislation that helped prevent state investments in Iran," Scott said in a press release April 30.

For this fact-check, we wanted to hone in on Nelson’s specific votes. We found that Scott’s claim mischaracterizes the vote Nelson took and leaves out that Nelson has actually advocated for the release of hostages in Iran.

Nelson and Scott will face each other Nov. 6.

The vote

In 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a joint resolution known as the Hire More Heroes Act of 2015. This measure aimed to encourage small businesses to hire veterans.

The bill itself had nothing to do with Israel, Iran or American hostages. But Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., offered up several amendments related to the Iran nuclear agreement.

Often times, a member of Congress will attach an unrelated, controversial amendment in hopes of prompting debate on the amendment’s issue, experts said.  

And that’s what happened when McConnell proposed amendment 2656.

Experts told us the amendment would have jeopardized the Iran deal by blocking the president from fulfilling the commitments the United States had agreed to unless Iran met other demands outside of the deal’s terms.

Specifically, the amendment would have prohibited the president from waiving sanctions unless Iran released Jason Rezaian, Robert Levinson, Saeed Abedini, and Amir Hekmati, and formally recognized Israel as an independent state.

Nelson, along with nearly every other Democrat, voted no on a cloture motion on McConnell’s amendment. The amendment ended up failing after the original amendment was tabled.

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Nelson’s vote was technically a vote on a procedure. But Gregory Koger, a University of Miami political scientist, said the vote was essentially intended as a proxy for a vote on the amendment.

More important than that, however, is the fact Scott’s claim mischaracterizes the substance of the vote. Scott said Nelson voted against releasing American hostages and Iran recognizing Israel as a sovereign state, but multiple experts said the amendment was really just an attempt to kill the Iran deal.

"The vote was on whether to attach new conditions to the Iran nuclear agreement, thereby preventing the agreement from going forward," Koger said.

Matthew Bunn, a professor of practice at the Harvard Kennedy School, said that had the amendment succeeded as intended in blocking the deal, the American hostages would almost certainly have remained in custody.

He also noted that Nelson has been among the most dogged senators in pursuing the release of the fourth hostage, Levinson. Nelson met with Levinson’s family and has repeatedly called on Washington to urge Iran to release him.

In 2017, Nelson led lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who sent a letter to White House officials asking them to "maintain pressure on Iran to see that (Levinson) is returned as soon as possible."

This year, Nelson cosponsored the Iran Human Rights and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act (S.2365) to impose sanctions against individuals involved in taking Americans hostage and violating the human rights of the Iranian citizens.

Our ruling

Scott said that Nelson "voted against requiring Iran to recognize Israel and release American hostages."

The attack is a misleading stretch. What really happened in 2015 was that Nelson voted no on a cloture motion. By voting no, Nelson voted to continued debate on an amendment that experts said would have defeated the Iran deal.

The amendment would have prohibited the president from waiving sanctions unless Iran released detained Americans and formally recognized Israel. But the deal was focused on the nuclear issue, not an attempt to solve major issues with Iran.

Also, Nelson has worked to urge the White House to continue pressing for the release of a U.S. hostage in Iran.

We rate this claim False.

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Says Bill Nelson "voted against requiring Iran to recognize Israel and release American hostages."
in a press release
Monday, April 30, 2018

Our Sources

Interview, Ryan Patmintra, spokesperson for Gov. Rick Scott’s Senate campaign, May 1, 2018
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL)Scott campaign

Email interview, Ryan Brown, communications director for Sen. Bill Nelson, May 1, 2018

Email interview, Lisa Koch, assistant professor of Government, Claremont McKenna College, May 1, 2018

Email interview, Matthew Bunn, professor of practice, John F. Kennedy School, Harvard University, May 1, 2018

Email interview with Gregory Koger, a University of Miami political scientist, May 2, 2018

Sun Sentinel, Nelson urges Iran to help find Bob Levinson, November 2016

Bill Nelson press release, Nelson presses Iran for help finding Florida man, Dec. 10, 2017

Politico, Nelson, Rubio press Trump on search for missing FBI agent, July 11, 2017

Sunshine State News, Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson, Ted Deutch Continue Efforts to Get Iran to Release Bob Levinson, March 13, 2018

Fox News, Lawmakers to Trump: Iran must return American hostage Bob Levinson, July 13, 2017, H.J.Res.61 - Hire More Heroes Act of 2015

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Gov. Rick Scott attack mischaracterizes vote Sen. Bill Nelson took in 2015

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