WASHINGTON -- House Republicans unexpectedly changed course in their effort to undermine the Iran nuclear deal on Wednesday night, but Senate leadership is nevertheless moving forward with its original plan to end debate this week and hold a vote disapproving of the accord.
While Senate Republican leadership is expected to move to end formal debate on its disapproval resolution this afternoon— a move that will require 60 votes— the House, instead, is accusing the White House of failing to properly comply with a law that initiates congressional review of the deal and allows for the vote in the first place.
House Republican leadership believes the Obama administration did not submit the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in its entirety back in July, citing the omission of "side agreements" between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran, on which implementation of the broader deal rely. Those agreements are not in the possession of the Obama administration, as the IAEA considers them confidential transactions between a UN body and a participating member state.
According to the law, 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."
Should the IAEA's understandings with Iran be defined as side agreements, then House Republicans believe the 60-day review period— granted to them by the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, signed into law by US President Barack Obama— has not yet begun. Thus, they believe they can stop the clock and fight implementation of the agreement on legal grounds.
The author of that law, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), disagrees, and supports a vote before the presumptive deadline for that review period arrives on September 17. The Senate is now poised to proceed with a vote, while the House plans on taking a different course.
Their diverging plans cast the ultimate fate of Congress' mark on the deal into confusion and may compromise bipartisan opposition to the landmark nuclear agreement. Four Democratic senators, and over a dozen of their party colleagues in the House, have announce opposition to the JCPOA.
At least one of those Democratic congressmen, Steve Israel of New York, expressed "outrage" at the strategic maneuvering. The House now plans to vote on a resolution casting the Obama administration in non-compliance with the review act on Friday.
They will then vote on a bill to halt the lifting of US sanctions on Iran by executive order and, thirdly, on a resolution of approval of the agreement. This would put Congress in the position of potentially passing a resolution of disapproval in one chamber, and rejecting a resolution of approval in the other.
How those two measures would reconcile is unclear, according to several sources on Capitol Hill and one lobbyist with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC.
"We are lobbying for cloture and a direct vote" in the Senate, the AIPAC source said, and "in the House, we are focused on building opposition to the resolution of approval."
Speaker of the House John Boehner, Republican from Ohio, said on Thursday that he would use "all tools at his disposal" to "stop, slow and delay" implementation of the agreement. "This debate is far from over," he said.
But despite Boehner's efforts, the JCPOA will be implemented as scheduled after September 17, a White House official told The Jerusalem Post
on Wednesday night.
"The text of the JCPOA lays out a series of steps and benchmarks leading toward adoption and implementation," said National Security Council spokesman Ned Price, "and the administration intends to keep our commitments."
The Obama administration has good reason for confidence entering these votes: Neither path through the House or Senate offers much hope to opponents of the deal seeking to kill it. While 58 senators are on record opposed to the agreement, two supporters must break ranks with Democratic leadership and vote to end debate for a vote to occur at all.
That may be possible, as Chris Coons, Democrat from Delaware, has called for an up-or-down vote on the measure. Should the resolution of disapproval reach a vote, it will pass, but will be vetoed by the president. His veto will then be sustained by a majority of the Democratic caucus.
That would end debate in the Senate, which would then focus on legislation intended to shape implementation of the deal. But the House is not there yet.
Republicans hold a more sizable majority in the House, but their caucus is divided: Few had any expectation of this change of course much before Wednesday afternoon. And yet, without reconciliation within their own house and with their colleagues in the Senate, none of their bills have any chance of passing into force.
In the end, as September 17 approaches, their new strategy may have little to do with such practicalities. House Republicans have accepted a tactical defeat— they have failed to kill the deal— and they see little reward in highlighting this fate with a "show vote" of disapproval. Instead, they now seek a political victory by casting Obama in violation of the review law.
They believe this will deny the president a clean political victory, and obfuscate what might otherwise be perceived as a Republican defeat.
"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 and architect of the new House plan, told the Post
in a phone call on Wednesday evening. With this new strategy, he said, "the president is denied the ability to say that he's fully complied under the law."
Roskam believes his path forward could mirror a strategy adopted by House Republicans against the Obama administration in another arena: Their fight against his landmark healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act.
"A lawsuit is obviously a possibility," Roskam said, "particularly in light of today's ruling for standing in Congress in the Obamacare case."