WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday decided to postpone action on a bill giving Congress a chance to review and vote on any deal the U.S. signs with Iran over its nuclear program.
The move comes at a time delicate negotiations are at a critical juncture between the U.S. and its partners and Tehran.
Democrats, many of whom backed the legislation, had loudly criticized McConnell for scheduling a Tuesday test vote on the bill. They accused him of playing politics in bypassing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee process and said it was better to move slowly to ensure bipartisan support for the measure.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., a co-sponsor of the bill, announced that he was so outraged at McConnell's decision to fast-track the bill that he would vote against moving ahead on the measure on Tuesday. Nine other Democrats said they would join Menendez.
Faced with unified Democratic opposition to move ahead on the bill, McConnell reversed course.
"It is clear that Senate Democrats will filibuster their own bill — a measure they rushed to introduce before the White House cut a deal with Iran," McConnell's spokesman Donald Stewart said. "So, instead, the Senate will turn next to the anti-human-trafficking legislation while Democrats decide whether or not they believe they and Congress as a whole should be able to review and vote on any deal the president cuts with the leaders of Iran."
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the Foreign Relations chairman and the main sponsor of the bill, on Wednesday played down McConnell's action, saying he scheduled the vote for procedural reasons to save legislative time when the measure eventually comes to the Senate floor. On Thursday, though, he too said he was happy for the delay.
"The strongest signal we can send to the U.S. negotiators is having a veto-proof majority in support of Congress weighing in on any final nuclear deal with Iran," Corker said Thursday. "This week, our bipartisan legislation gained momentum with four additional Democrats offering their support for the bill. I greatly appreciate the majority leader's commitment to getting the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act across the finish line by allowing the vote to occur at a time when we will more likely generate a veto-proof majority."
An aide to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said McConnell moved to bypass committees and bring the bill to the floor unilaterally without consulting Menendez or any of the other Democratic senators working to garner support for the measure.
"Sen. McConnell made the right decision by heeding calls from Democrats and Republicans to back off his transparently political move," Reid said in a statement. "Protecting Israel and the world from a nuclear-armed Iran is too important of an issue to use in partisan political games. As leaders we should seek to build and cultivate bipartisan support for Israel, not try to score cheap political points."
The bill would require President Barack Obama to submit any agreement reached with Tehran to Congress within five days. In addition to the text of the agreement, the bill would require the White House to submit information about Iran's compliance and a certification that the agreement meets U.S. non-proliferation goals and does not jeopardize U.S. national security, including not allowing Iran to pursue nuclear-related military activities. Moreover, it would prohibit the president from suspending, waiving or easing any congressional sanctions being levied on Iran for 60 days.
Obama has threatened to veto the measure.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that in trying to rush the vote, McConnell was "injecting politics" into the U.S.-Israeli relationship just as House Speaker John Boehner did by inviting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress earlier this week to warn the U.S. and its partners from signing an agreement with Iran, an archenemy of Israel.
"The relationship between the United States and Israel is at its strongest when both parties are working in tandem, and those of us that value that relationship are glad that Leader McConnell backed off," Schumer said.