Republicans forge ahead against Iran deal, risking Democratic support

Bill proposes a vote of approval or disapproval of a nuclear agreement, which would require two-thirds majority to override a presidential veto.

March 5, 2015 02:29
4 minute read.
Benjamin Netanyahu

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (left) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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WASHINGTON -- After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's forceful address to a joint meeting earned him 23 standing ovations from across the aisle, Republican leadership in the Senate unexpectedly expedited Iran legislation on Tuesday, to the shock and frustration of Democrats.

The move to schedule floor debate for the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, a bill written by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and introduced with co-equal Democratic support, came swiftly after Netanyahu's address warned of a dangerous, nuclearized Middle East should the deal go ahead in its current form.

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The legislation would require congressional oversight, hearings and review of any comprehensive deal concerning Iran's nuclear program, currently under discussion in Switzerland among world powers.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) chose to schedule the floor debate and bypass the committee process. But ten Democratic senators had declared their intention to support new Iran legislation after March 24, and not before, as negotiations continue toward a political framework agreement on the nuclear program by that week.

Several of those penned a letter to McConnell on Wednesday, condemning the move.

"On a day defined by serious discourse about Iran's illicit nuclear weapons program, at a moment when legislators are contemplating the most serious national security issue of our time, we are disappointed that you have proceeded outside of regular order which suggests that the goal of this maneuver is to score partisan political points," the letter reads.

"We will only vote for this bill after it has gone through the regular mark-up process in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee," they continue, "and after the March 24th deadline for the political framework agreement."

Notably, the ten Democratic signatories commit their support after the March deadline, bringing support for the bill at that point up to 64 senators— assuming the Republican caucus votes en masse in favor.

While the bill would allow members of Congress to vote in favor or against an agreement, getting to "no" will be a challenging process. The initial vote to pass this current bill will ultimately require the support of two out of three members of Congress, since US President Barack Obama has vowed to veto it.

Should supporters of the bill succeed, a second vote against the deal itself would require a similar coalition.

That support will be impossible to achieve should the process be handled in a partisan way, says Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), who staunchly opposes the president's proposal to Iran and favors Netanyahu's position.

“I am more than disappointed. I’m outraged," Menendez said on the Senate floor, upon learning of McConnell's move. "I said just last night – and again this morning – that I have joined Chairman Corker and Senators [Lindsey] Graham and [Tim] Kaine – along with Senators [Joe] Donnelly, [Heidi] Heitkamp, [Angus] King, [Bill] Nelson, [Kelly] Ayotte, [Marco] Rubio, [John] McCain, and [James] Risch – in introducing bipartisan oversight legislation to ensure that Congress has a chance to review the deal before it goes into effect and to oversee its compliance after it goes into effect."

"And now," he continued, "putting any bipartisanship aside, we are back to politics as usual. The only way to make this work is to work together."

Corker also expressed hope that the committee process would proceed as planned, and suggested a markup next week— far sooner than anyone expected. But the tenets of the bill itself should invite bipartisan support, he said.

“I would think anybody who ran for the United States Senate and cares about the big issues facing our nation would want to support this piece of legislation,” said Corker. “I think everyone in America should want the House and the Senate to weigh in on this most important agreement that may be reached, and I’m glad we’re going to have the opportunity to do so.”

Following up on the developments, Corker added that he looks "forward to working through the committee process to build additional support, so that Congress has the ability to weigh in on behalf of the American people on one of the greatest national security issues of our time."

Democrats in agreement with the principles of the bill may nevertheless stand in opposition, in fear of breaking with the White House, which considers a deal with Iran its primary foreign policy goal.

Speaking with The Jerusalem Post after Netanyahu's address, former House speaker Newt Gingrich said he believed the speech had the effect of consolidating bipartisan support against the deal in its current form. But one of his successors, Nancy Pelosi (D-California), disagreed.

"As one who values the US–Israel relationship," she said, "I was near tears throughout the prime minister’s speech– saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the P5+1 nations, and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran."

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