On Thursday, the United States Senate overwhelmingly passed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which ensures that Congress will have a role in approving or disapproving of any final deal that emerges from ongoing negotiations between the Iranian regime and various world powers. The White House adamantly opposed such legislation for months, going so far as to threaten a veto. President Obama did not want Congress to have any say in the process, even though the deal he's pursuing with Iran is intended to bind future presidents and Congresses. He finally buckled when a sweeping bipartisan majority appeared poised to thwart him with veto-proof margins. Over the last few weeks, the Iran bill was debated, with various amendments getting torpedoed by unified Democrats and a handful of Republicans. In a sane world, virtually all of these amendments would have passed easily. In a sane world, this treaty with Iran would be submitted to the Senate as a treaty, requiring a two-thirds majority for ratification. In a sane world, the terms of the announced framework -- especially after Iranian leaders' subsequent statements, assertions and conduct -- would kill the deal altogether. But we do not live in a sane world. Yes, the deal is truly terrible, bearing no resemblance to the White House's stated goals upon sitting down with the Iranians. By the president's own admission, even if Tehran abides by the eventual terms and doesn't cheat (even though they are currently and actively cheating), the accord would still escort Iran to the doorstep of being a nuclearized state by the time its restrictions begin to expire. Nevertheless, the Obama administration appears myopically determined to enter an agreement, any agreement, with Tehran.
So what can opponents do to prevent the deal from happening? The reality is, very little. Sure, bipartisan pro-Israel, Iran-skeptic majorities could try to marshal the votes to overcome an Obama veto (assuming Congress sends a disapproval bill to Obama's desk), but that's unlikely. Harry Reid would only need to corral 34 Democrats to protect the president, and it looks like House Democrats may already have the votes to sustain a veto. Like it or not, this bad deal is probably coming. And because Obama won't present it as a a treaty (what's the realistic recourse on that point? Lawsuits? Impeachment?), the agreement will go into effect. Therefore, I would argue that Republicans' best option -- depressingly -- is to do everything in their power to delegitimize the deal in the eyes of the American people, the international community, and our Iranian enemies, in order to grease the skids for a Republican president to withdraw from it in 2017. That is why, despite the moral correctness of many of the defeated amendments (and several that were jettisoned by leadership), the "clean" Corker bill was worth supporting. I say that with a great deal of sympathy for Sen. Tom Cotton's position, which compelled him to cast Thursday's lone dissenting vote.
If any of the "controversial" amendments had been successfully attached, the White House would have reissued its veto threat, and Democrats would have found a handy excuse ("Republicans blew up with bipartisan consensus with poison pills!") to once again do Obama's bidding, likely finding the requisite votes to uphold the veto. The public strongly believes that Congress should have a say, if not the final say, on the Iran deal, so Obama would probably have taken a hit for using his veto pen to cut Congress out of the loop entirely. But having the review power guaranteed by the un-amended Corker bill affords Congress a better opportunity to attack and undermine the agreement. The legislation (a) prohibits the administration from lifting any sanctions over a two-month review period, (b) forces the White House to turn over every single page of the finalized deal's text, and (c) establishes a recurring 90-day review cycle that persists throughout the duration of the deal. All three of these provisions are valuable: The full text allows opponents to research the granular details and verbiage of the actual accord itself, not a White House "fact sheet." The freeze gives critics a chance to flood the public discussion with substantive criticisms of the agreement. And the ongoing reviews offer a mechanism for a future president to pull the plug.
A "best case scenario," politically speaking, is for the president to sign the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, for his administration to submit every jot and tittle its rotten deal, for opponents to do their homework and sound the alarm far and wide, and for the GOP-controlled Congress to vote against the agreement -- along with a fair number of Democrats, in all likelihood. One key would be locking down 60 Senate votes for disapproval, which is attainable; Corker's office tells me that the vote would be subject to the filibuster. After an inevitable Obama veto is deployed (and sustained by small Democratic minorities), Republicans must flood the airwaves aggressively highlighting the fact that an unpopular lame duck president -- with ugly numbers on foreign affairs and Iran -- had brazenly ignored the will of Congress in order to unilaterally cut a reckless deal with a sworn "death to America" enemy. That framing would cast a long shadow over the legitimacy and sustainability of the agreement. It would be Obama's side deal, not America's foreign policy.
UPDATE - This Wall Street Journal editorial makes many of these same points: "In a better world—one in which Mr. Obama were not President—we’d be inclined to agree with the critics," the editors write, before making the case for why the Corker bill is opponents' best option. Read the whole thing.
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