President Barack Obama talks with Congressional leaders.
(photo credit: OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE PHOTO BY PETE SOUZA)
WASHINGTON – Over the last six years, Democrats have driven policy on Iran and its nuclear program virtually unchallenged. Midterm elections on Tuesday may change that dynamic overnight.
Republicans seek a majority in the Senate and full control over the legislature this year, and polls suggest their goal is in sight: Key races in Kentucky, Georgia, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa and Alaska are leaning red, according to various polls conducted over the weekend.
Should the GOP succeed this week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has vowed to present legislation long opposed by US President Barack Obama. He will challenge the president to use his veto power or, alternatively, invite Republican leadership to sit at their table on matters of foreign policy, particularly concerning ongoing negotiations with Iran.
That will be a victory in the eyes of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, which has angered the White House in its efforts to circumvent the president on Iran, lobbying Congress for sanctions legislation Obama publicly opposes.
Efforts this year by members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, supported by Netanyahu cabinet members, to trigger new sanctions against Iran should negotiations fail were blocked by current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada).
The majority leader has the authority to set the schedule for debate and voting on the Senate floor, and Reid, as its known on Capitol Hill, “filled the tree” with matters that prevented discussion of the proposed measure.
That much will certainly change, as will leadership in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee itself. Its chairmanship will likely move to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), an ally of current Chairman Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) but a hawk much less interested in assuaging the president’s position and keen on establishing hearings and votes that will reject a deal insufficient to the Israeli government.
Over the summer, Corker surprised his colleagues by attaching language to the US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act that would trigger such hearings, as well as a non-binding resolution vote, on any future deal announced with Iran.
Whether a newly unified Congress will have the power to truly gut a nuclear agreement is unclear. That appears unlikely.
But Senate control will provide Netanyahu with a sharpened tool that he has long sought in Washington: actionable leverage on the president that might change the course of crisis with Iran.