WASHINGTON -- House Republicans have agreed on a new strategy to stop the clock on Congress' review period for the Iran nuclear deal.
Instead of proceeding with a resolution disapproving of the deal— certain to pass the House but facing procedural hurdles in the Senate— the GOP will now try to prevent implementation of the deal on legal grounds.
On Friday, September 11, the caucus will express a 'sense of the House' resolution asserting that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action— the formal name for the agreement— was not fully submitted to Congress by the Obama administration back in July. If accurate, this would stop the clock, as Congress' review period only begins once all documents related to the deal have been submitted.
"The House is going to make it very clear that without the [International Atomic Energy Agency] disclosures, the clock hasn't started," Rep. Peter Roskam, Republican from Illinois, told The Jerusalem Post
on Wednesday evening, referring to agreements tangential to the JCPOA between the UN nuclear watchdog agency and Tehran.
Speaker of the House John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, has agreed to the plan, Roskam said.
With this new strategy, Roksam said, "the president is denied the ability to say that he's fully complied under the law."
"The House has no interest in being a midwife to a disastrous Obama foreign policy," Roskam continued. "This becomes easier for the next American president to build on a clear repudiation by the Congress."
A bill passed by Congress last spring and signed by US President Barack Obama, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, allows the legislature to review the deal over a sixty day period.
But for that clock to begin, documents submitted to the Congress must include "any joint comprehensive plan of action entered into or made between Iran and any other parties, and any additional materials related thereto, including annexes, appendices, codicils, side agreements, implementing materials, documents, and guidance, technical or other understandings, and any related agreements."
The new Republican strategy is based on this provision, claiming that confidential agreements made between the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran— on which implementation of the JCPOA relies— constitute "side agreements" between "Iran and any other parties."
The White House has been wary to describe the IAEA's agreements with Tehran as "side deals," and has noted that, like all documents between the UN organization and its member states, their communications remain confidential. The Obama administration itself does not have access to the documents, US Secretary of State John Kerry says— although it has been briefed on their contents, which have in turn been shared by the administration with Congress.
These agreements detail a "road-map" agreed upon by the UN nuclear watchdog and Iran to resolve a longstanding investigation into Tehran's past nuclear work, which the IAEA suspects had military dimensions. One such document, leaked to the Associated Press last month, suggested Iran would have a prominent role in collecting materials for the IAEA to then study off-site. Critics of the document interpreted the procedure as the IAEA allowing Iran to self-inspect itself.
A delay of the vote was first proposed by Roskam, and now has wide support amongst his caucus. At a rally featuring presidential contender Donald Trump, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and media personality Glenn Beck, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, also running for the GOP nomination in 2016, said the Obama administration had not complied with the Iran review act and that his proceeding with the deal would be a violation of the law.
In an emergency caucus meeting at 4:00 pm on Wednesday, Roskam and Rep. Mike Pompeo, Republican from Kansas, proposed a measure asserting the administration has yet to fully comply with the review act. They are also proposing a new bill that would attempt to prevent Obama from lifting sanctions on Iran through executive order.
The Iran review act does not allow the president to proceed with implementation of the deal, including the relieving of sanctions, until the end of Congress' review period.
Thirdly, they propose a resolution of approval of the JCPOA that would force Democrats on record in favor of the agreement, as opposed to a planned vote of disapproval, which would allow Democrats to rebuff a rejection of the agreement.
Their path forward with this strategy is unclear: The author of the review act, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), wants to proceed with a vote of disapproval by September 17, when Democrats believe Congress' review period expires.
"What is difficult to understand is what the next course of action is if you take that position and don’t register bipartisan opposition today," Corker said.
Debate on the deal began on Wednesday in the Senate just as Congress returned from its summer recess. All senators are now publicly on record in favor or against the landmark nuclear agreement, which is intended to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear arms.
But over the course of weeks of debate in the public sphere, 42 senators— two independents, and 40 Democrats— announced their support for the agreement. Meanwhile, four of their Democratic colleagues joined a united Republican caucus opposed.
That means a vote of disapproval in the Senate is uncertain, should 41 of those in favor choose to support a filibuster of debate and prevent a vote.
"As I understand the law," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican from Kentucky, said later in the day, "we have to act before September 17, which is next week, or the deal does forward."
Roskam said it is difficult to speculate how the Senate will react to the new House plan. "The Senate is either going to take up Corker-Cardin, or they're not," he said, referring to the authors of the review act, Corker and Democratic senator Ben Cardin of Maryland.
Asked how the White House might retrieve the IAEA documents, or how the battle might unfold, Roskam added: "A lawsuit is obviously a possibility, particularly in light of today's ruling for standing in Congress in the Obamacare case."