WASHINGTON (AP) — The GOP-controlled Senate on Tuesday turned back an attempt to elevate any nuclear deal with Iran into a treaty, a vote that gave momentum to Republicans and Democrats trying to pass a bill giving Congress a chance to review and possibly reject any agreement with Tehran.
The amendment, filed by Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, failed 39 to 57.
Supporters want the bill passed free of controversial add-ons they claim could scuttle negotiations with Tehran, draw a presidential veto or leave lawmakers with no say on a national security threat.
As written, the legislation would block President Barack Obama from waiving congressional sanctions for at least 30 days while lawmakers weigh in on any final deal the U.S. and five other nations can reach with Iran. And it would stipulate that if senators disapprove the deal, Obama would lose authority to waive certain economic penalties — an event that would certainly prompt a presidential veto.
The bill has gained tacit approval from Obama. He says he will sign it as written, but the White House warns that he will reconsider if the measure is substantially changed. Sen. Bob Corker, a lead sponsor of the bill and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the measure in its current form, has 67 backers, enough to override a presidential veto.
Corker and his supporters are trying to bat down more than 50 amendments have been introduced so far — all by Republicans.
Earlier in the day, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid warned GOP presidential hopefuls in the Senate not to use it as a "platform for their political ambitions." He said the full Senate should pass the bill with the same bipartisanship that occurred in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which unanimously approved the measure 19-0.
The alternative to the bill is not a better bill, he said, "it is a deal without any meaningful congressional input."
Johnson's failed amendment would have turned any final nuclear agreement with Tehran into a treaty, requiring ratification by two-thirds of the Senate.
The amendment failed just hours after former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was national security adviser under President George W. Bush, said any Iran nuclear deal is an executive agreement that doesn't need to be a treaty. "The proposed Iranian nuclear agreement is classically an executive agreement and doesn't need to be a treaty with advice and consent of the Senate," she said. "But Congress should be able to opine, given that congressionally mandated sanctions would have to be lifted."
"By trying to deem this is a treaty is a losing effort," said Corker, who consulted with Rice. "In essence, it will destroy our ability to have any say so in one of the biggest geopolitical events of our time."
"We can wish it was a treaty or we could try to deem it a treaty, but the effect is we would have no role if we were to pass this amendment. ... We will have no role in this. I urge people to vote 'no.'"
It was the first vote on the dozens of amendments under consideration.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a White House hopeful, wants to amend the bill to require Iran's leaders to publicly accept Israel's right to exist, a nearly impossible mandate. Another presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz. R-Texas, hopes to put the onus on advocates to win congressional approval of a deal, and not on opponents to gather enough votes for rejection.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., has filed an amendment that insists on international nuclear inspectors' access to Iranian military sites. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., wants to restore a section of the initial bill that would require the president to certify every 90 days that it is not engaged in supporting terrorism against America. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., wants the bill to address four Americans being held in Iran.
"It is true that the negotiations underway have nothing to do with alleviating any kind of terrorist sanctions, human rights sanctions or ballistic missile testing sanctions," Corker said. "Should Iran commit an act of terrorism against an American, sanctions would be the minimum thing, I think, they'd have to be worried about. I think bombs and missiles on heads would be the thing they'd have to be concerned about."