US Secretary of State John Kerry.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State John Kerry is making a plea to lawmakers on Capitol Hill for more time before they move new legislation on Iran to a vote. But leadership in the Senate, on both sides of the aisle, still plan to proceed toward that vote this week, several senior congressional aides told The Jerusalem Post.
The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, written by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and cosponsored with bipartisan support, was to be marked up in committee on Monday – the last step required before a bill proceeds to the floor of the chamber for debate.
Mark-up includes the amending of the original draft of the bill, and roughly 50 amendments have been proposed since it was first introduced several weeks ago. Democrats hope to build in leeway for US President Barack Obama in his negotiations with Tehran; Republicans seek to tighten the screws on Iran in the final hours of those negotiations.
In his briefings with lawmakers, Kerry hopes to influence that process at the eleventh hour after pressing for several delays on the legislation, as well as previous bills that dealt with the negotiations.
Senate leadership originally planned on addressing Corker’s bill in early March, and then again on March 24, only to delay the mark-up once again to April 14.
The bill grants Congress the ability to conduct oversight, hearings, and review of any comprehensive deal concerning Iran’s nuclear program. Diplomats from world powers hope to clinch that deal by June 30, a self-imposed deadline.
Before that date, any action from Congress would risk undermining Washington’s leverage inside the negotiating room, Kerry told lawmakers on Monday in a closed door briefing with the full House of Representatives.
“He’s spoken to a number of senators, as has the president, as has [National Security Advisor Susan] Rice,” acting spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters on Monday, calling the process “consultative.”
Harf said that Kerry shared more information with members of Congress than was made publicly available in a fact sheet provided by the White House last week, after a framework agreement was reached with Iran and other world powers in Lausanne, Switzerland, proposing temporary caps on its nuclear work.
The Obama administration seeks to provide Congress with an oversight role that “preserves our ability to implement an agreement,” Harf said.
“There are things that need to be worked out over the next two-and- a-half months,” she said. “We share many of their concerns.”
Kerry was joined by US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and a representative from the US intelligence community, aides said. They are to brief the Senate in a similar closed-door session on Tuesday.
The Obama administration has repeatedly threatened to veto any and all legislation regarding Iran during the diplomatic process, warning that congressional action would lead to a breakdown in the negotiations with blame placed on the United States.
But Corker and his colleagues – including Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York likely to become the next Senate minority leader – says the deal is too important, too closely resembles a treaty and too directly affects existing congressional legislation not to require the legislature’s approval.
Several pro-Israel and Jewish American organizations based in Washington, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, are actively lobbying for the legislation to proceed to a vote.
Their effort is focused on a core group of Democratic lawmakers currently on the fence, directly against the Obama administration, engaged in its own campaign led by Kerry.
Kerry is attempting to quell that effort through direct meetings with AIPAC and other American Jewish community organizations.
Kerry and Wendy Sherman, chief US negotiator with Iran, met with several community leaders last week; and Obama held similar meetings in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Monday afternoon.
Whip counts suggest that support for the bill is just shy of a veto-proof majority, which Corker seeks before endorsing a vote.
The bill would require two votes, one after a presidential veto, for passage. After that, a second vote opposing the deal may also be vetoed.