Congressional Battle on Iran Deal Begins
Over the next two months, as per the Corker bill, Congress can review and vote on the nuclear deal with Iran reached this week in Vienna. In that timespan, lawmakers will hear perspectives on the deal from both sides of the debate, and will hopefully be considering the facts of the deal, as well as carefully calculating the political costs and benefits of their votes.
The Corker bill, signed into law in May, gives Congress the ability to hold a vote of approval or disapproval of the deal. A vote of approval would not need to pass for the deal to go through, so most expect Congressional leadership to opt for a vote of disapproval, which would need a majority to pass and a two-thirds majority in both chambers of Congress to override Obama’s veto. But fearing they might not have the numbers to override a presidential veto, Republicans have been mulling over other ways to block or undo the deal.
Addressing the various legislative routes of attack on the deal, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), the author of the review bill, told reporters “we’ve obviously discussed every option known to man.” There’s even talk that Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) may try to move their sanctions bill. The bill would extend the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996, now set to expire in December 2016, for an additional 10 years – despite the fact that the agreement before Congress is predicated on sanctions relief. Reflecting the reckless aggressiveness of legislative attacks on the deal, Kirk recently had to apologize for getting “carried away” in comments about the agreement. Kirk predicted a nuclear war as the outcome of the agreement. He went on to say that “Barack Hussein Obama” (many conservatives use the president’s full name as a snarky appeal to xenophobia) “wants to get nukes to Iran.”
Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK) is again active on the Iran issue. He proposed attaching amendments to spending bills that would seek to undermine the implementation of the deal, or perhaps even blocking democratic nominations as retribution. When it was clear Monday night that a deal would be announced, Cotton warned his colleagues that if they voted for the deal, the attack ads against them in the next election would be like nothing they’d ever seen.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) at one point suggested holding a vote of approval in hopes that its failure to pass would send an “unmistakable signal about congressional opposition to lifting sanctions.”
When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced his run for President, he emphatically declared “we need to terminate the bad deal with Iran on the very first day in office.”
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), long time advocate of military action against Iran, actually admitted that the interim agreement with Iran “worked better than I thought it would,” before adding that we should leave the interim deal in place and “let a new president have the chance to conclude a deal with Iran… I think everybody running for president, except Rand Paul, could negotiate a better deal than the Obama administration.” The truth is no one could negotiate a better deal because the negotiations are finished. There is no round two.
Given that all of these alternatives could fall short of preventing implementation of the deal, a vote on a resolution of disapproval is still the most likely path. In fact, the first of potentially multiple resolutions of disapproval has already been circulating the halls of Congress. This resolution was introduced yesterday and now has 171 Republican co-sponsors, roughly two-thirds of Republicans in the House of Representatives. No Democrats have co-sponsored it.
With any resolution of disapproval, there are a number of potential outcomes. Best-case scenario, the resolution would fail to pass in a vote (this is very unlikely given the Republican majority in Congress). The second best case would be a filibuster backed by 41 Senators blocking a vote of disapproval and preventing it from taking place. The third and most likely outcome would be Congress passing a resolution of disapproval, and Obama vetoing it. At that point, anti-deal legislators would attempt to override the veto.
Because almost every Republican is against this deal, the fence-sitting Democrats will decide the outcome of any vote to override Obama’s veto, and if history is any guide, some of them will vote against their party’s leader. The interim nuclear deal was announced in November 2013, and by January 8, 2014, 16 Democratic Senators (12 of whom are still in office) had sponsored a sanctions bill that if passed would have derailed the negotiations. This year, before a compromise on the Corker bill was reached in committee that removed provisions that would have killed the deal, the bill had 8 Democratic co-sponsors. In May, a pro-diplomacy letter that circulated through the House of Representatives garnered 151 Democratic signatures, over one-third of the House. But 42 House Democrats refused to sign the letter, indicating that some of them may also vote against the deal when the time comes.
While the announcement of a deal puts the wind at our backs, victory is far from assured. Now is the time to double down on Congress and make your voice heard. Call your Senators and Representatives and tell them to speak out for peace and vote in favor of the Iran deal. The Capitol switchboard is 1-202-224-3121. The switchboard operator will connect you with the office you request.