WASHINGTON (AP) — Key Senate Democrats led by Minority Leader Harry Reid announced their opposition Wednesday to fast action on a bill giving Congress final say on any nuclear deal with Iran.
The development appeared likely to upend GOP plans to move swiftly on the bill following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Tuesday speech to Congress in which he railed against the emerging agreement.
"I think we are better off on things relating to the Iran deal to wait until we see if there can be something negotiated," Reid said in an interview with The Associated Press.
"And if there is something negotiated which allows a deal, then we should all jump in with all the energy we have. But until then I think it takes away from the fact that we might get a deal that's a good deal."
Reid also used the interview to throw cold water on the chances for Congress passing legislation to authorize military force against Islamic State fighters, and he discussed his eye injury, which he said is improving, though it remains uncertain if he will fully regain vision in his right eye.
Not long after Reid made his comments, the Iran bill's chief Democratic sponsor, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, sent a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell along with other Democrats announcing they would not vote in favor of the bill until after a March 24 deadline for a framework for a nuclear deal with Tehran.
The senators criticized McConnell, R-Ky., for moving to bring the bill directly to the floor without going through the committee process. They said that route "suggests that the goal of this maneuver is to score partisan political points, rather than pursue a substantive strategy to counter Iran's nuclear ambitions."
McConnell said it was Democrats who had now decided to block action on their own bill. He set a test vote for Tuesday on beginning debate, but unless some Democrats join Republicans in backing the bill, it will not advance.
"The Iranians need to know — need to know — that congressional sanctions will not be lifted if a bad deal is reached," McConnell said late Wednesday.
The bill, which President Barack Obama has said he would veto, would allow a congressional vote on any nuclear deal the U.S. might sign with Iran.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest noted the emerging Democratic opposition in the Senate. "It may be a situation where the president doesn't even have to veto it because ... some legitimate questions are being raised about whether or not it's actually going to even pass the Senate," Earnest said.
Reid, D-Nev., accused McConnell of "hijacking" the bill, written by Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the chairman, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
On the military force authorization for the Islamic State sought by the White House, Reid said there was so much disagreement on Capitol Hill that it looked possible Congress might not agree to a bill.
"It's going to be really hard to get something done because some want to give (Obama) a lot more power, some want to give him less power and the sweet spot has not been reached on that legislation," said Reid.
His expression of pessimism came as Corker announced the Foreign Relations panel would begin a series of hearings next week on the threat from the Islamic State group, with top administration officials to testify.
Reid also said he will not be prevented from seeking re-election by a severe injury to his eye. He was hurt on New Year's Day while he was working out, when an exercise band broke.
Reid's right eye is obscured by a tinted lens in his glasses. He said doctors don't know if he will regain sight fully. He has had extensive surgery.
"This has been a tremendous inconvenience to me, but that's about what it's been," Reid said. "I've had black eyes before. I'm getting better. I wish I would get better quicker."
Reid, 75, will be a top GOP target as he seeks re-election to a sixth term next year.