You'll recall that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously advanced a bill this month that would require the White House to allow Congress to review any finalized nuclear accord struck with Iran. President Obama had threatened to veto any such legislation, but the bipartisan show of force left him with no choice but to relent. Iran skeptics -- who feel vindicated by the regime's rhetoric and actions -- have raised one primary objection to the bill as it currently exists: It's structured in such a way that would require a veto-proof majority to block the implementation of a bad deal, and Republicans know they don't have the votes to do so. Treaties require support from two-thirds of the Senate to secure ratification, so the White House is presenting the Iran deal -- which would bind future presidents and Congresses -- as technically not a treaty, in order to turn that calculus on its head. So an eventual Congressional vote to 'disapprove of' a final framework could simply be swatted away with an Obama veto, which Congress would be unable to override. Critics of the interim framework have also raised major concerns about the substance of the 'agreement' -- both in terms of what it includes, and what it does not. Opponents note that the framework does not even attempt to touch Iran's rogue missile program, notorious support for international terrorism, terrible human rights abuses, fanatical anti-Semitism, or destabilizing regional meddling. The full Senate has begun its debate on the 'Congressional review' bill, with Mitch McConnell promising a "robust" and open amendment process:
Democrats aren't pleased:
Democrats are demanding that Republicans help them rebuff hot button amendments to a bipartisan nuclear review bill. But GOP leaders, on the eve of the first potential votes on the measure, have refused to commit to working in tandem, according to sources in both parties...“We’ve told them that if this is going to evolve into a scenario where it’s Republicans taking the stronger positions and trying to make us look weak, this process is going to slow to a crawl,” said Democratic Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois. “We need a bipartisan spirit for this to end well.” With most amendments likely to require 60 votes to pass, the Senate’s 46 Democrats can single-handedly parry some of them. But Democrats don’t want to shoulder all the political blame for party-line votes against Israel or the release of American prisoners that could easily translate into attack ads. By Monday evening, no Democrats had filed any amendments.
Here's the political dilemma Democrats face: The current iteration of the deal "looks weak" because it is weak, so Republicans are likely to offer amendments to strengthen the American position. The White House opposes any changes to the deal that aren't directly negotiated by Kerry et al, and will heavily pressure Reid and company to torpedo any amendment, no matter how attractive or popular, that could jeopardize their precious negotiations with Tehran's anti-American regime. But Democrats are aware that the optics of blocking a string of commonsense and politically-powerful proposals aren't helpful, and they fear their Obama-protecting votes could haunt them with various constituencies. Therefore, they're insisting upon bipartisan cover to carry the White House's water, hence Durbin's threat that Republicans either join them in shooting down amendments, or Democrats will grind the Senate to a halt. This cynicism is as unsurprising as it is craven. Democrats want to do Obama's bidding by protecting a bad deal from actionable oversight, while protecting their own ability to pretend to oppose the agreement. If they have their way, Democrats will be able to boast that they "stood up to" Obama by demanding oversight of the deal -- and because it would take 67 votes to override a presidential veto, a solid contingent of their caucus could vote with Republicans to (toothlessly) disapprove of lifting sanctions. By that point, though, they'd be casting show votes, because everyone understands Harry Reid would only need 34 votes (collected from safe blue-state members) to safeguard Obama's irresponsible accord. But the amendments now being discussed could prompt an Obama veto at an even earlier stage, wherein he'd reject Congress' assertion of its right to review the end product of the Iran talks. This would be politically disastrous for Democrats, too, especially because the American public overwhelmingly believes the legislative branch should have its say in the matter:
The White House has warned that many of the additions or changes fall outside of the scope of current nuclear talks, and adding them to the bill would very likely revive President Barack Obama’s veto threat and undermine Democratic support for the measure...Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is leading the charge with seven amendment offerings, including the proposal requiring Iran recognize Israel, another that would force Iran to release prisoners including a Washington Post reporter and one that would keep all economic sanctions in place unrelated to nuclear activity. Another GOP senator seeking the White House, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, is pitching an amendment that would require congressional approval of any Iran deal, a reversal of the current bill that would allow Congress to disapprove the lifting of legislative sanctions, a move that would likely kill any nonproliferation deal with Tehran. GOP Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Tom Cotton of Arkansas have a proposal that would require the administration to certify that Iran and North Korea aren’t exchanging ballistics information, while Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) wants the Obama administration to confirm that Iran isn’t making any headway on its missile program. And Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is seeking to treat the nuclear agreement like a treaty, thus requiring the OK from 67 senators to be put into effect.
The Johnson amendment was defeated last night, with 12 Republicans joining united Democrats to bat it down. Another amendment, championed by Sen. John Barrasso, would require the bill "to validate that Iran is not directly conducting terrorism against the United States." These are the ideas fiercely opposed by the White House, which is apparently obsessed with striking a "bargain" with Iran, no matter the cost. Iranian officials have rejected the Obama administration's summary of the interim framework, have demanded immediate sanctions relief at the front end of any agreement, and have made clear that no snap inspections will be permitted at military sites. President Obama has admitted that even if Tehran complied with every aspect of the agreement, they would likely be a threshold nuclear state when its restrictions begin to sunset in 13 years. US concessions have rendered the White House's original position on Iran's nuclear program utterly unrecognizable. I'll leave you with two quick reminders of the productive role Iran plays on the world stage -- not to mention our friends the Russians, who would have wide latitude to run interference for Tehran if and when the regime is accused of cheating on an eventual agreement.