Republicans 'puzzled' by Iran sanctions slackening during shutdown

Royce isn't the only one asking questions.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonOvernight Healthcare: GOP governors defend Medicaid expansion GOP senator: Let's work with Dems to 'fix' ObamaCare Right renews push for term limits as Trump takes power MORE (R-Wis.) grilled a top State Department official about the decision during a hearing Thursday.

"Why would the State Department and the Treasury Department not deem the people in charge of enforcing the sanctions against Iran as essential services of the federal government?" he asked Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman. "Why wouldn't they do that?"

Sen. Tim KaineTim KaineTop Dem comes out against Tillerson ahead of key vote Decaying DC bridge puts spotlight on Trump plan Booker to vote against Tillerson MORE (D-Va.) interceded to put the blame back on Congress.

"We should not be expecting the State Department to help bail Congress out of the dysfunction of not being willing to sit down and compromise," Kaine said.

Royce in his letter went on to request that Lew provide him with the criteria used to determine which employees have been designated “essential” in Terrorism and Financial Intelligence offices; the number of those personnel still on the job;  and the number and criteria during the 2011 preparations for a similar lapse in appropriations.

The request comes after the administration made Iran sanctions a talking point in its campaign to blame Republicans for the shutdown.

Sherman testified before lawmakers on Thursday that the shutdown had “totally depleted” the Iran sanctions office at Treasury. And White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Friday that President Obama would be briefed about the situation later that afternoon.

“It illustrates the consequences that the Republican shutdown continues to have," Carney said.

Please send tips and comments to Julian Pecquet:

Follow us on Twitter: @TheHillGlobal and @JPecquetTheHill