To be clear, they're not divided on the merits of the Iran deal. Every single Republican in Congress -- along with a growing number of Democrats in both houses -- is against it, as is a strong majority of the American people. What Republicans can't decide on, it now appears, is how best to express their opposition. Nobody seems to have a viable plan to stop the agreement in its tracks; Obama guaranteed himself a political win by presenting the accord as an executive agreement, rather than a formal treaty. Got a problem with that? Fine. What are you going to do about it? The menu of options to answer that question is demoralizingly short and unrealistic. Opponents could file lawsuits, which would drag on as Obama implements his deal anyway, or they could make Obama's day with a doomed impeachment push. Contra the consolidating conservative conventional wisdom, the Corker-Cardin bill -- which every Republican Senator voted for, save Tom Cotton -- wasn't an abject "giveaway;" it at least guaranteed Congress some say in this misbegotten scheme. President Obama's desire was to cut Congress out of the loop entirely and impose his will by fiat, his preferred modus operandi. Under heavy bipartisan pressure, Obama eventually reversed course and signed the Corker bill, which among other things established a 60-day window within which Congress would consider the Iran deal, starting as soon as it was submitted in writing by the administration. That two-month clock elapses on September 17, which is why Republicans have been preparing to stage disapproval votes in both chambers this week, likely culminating on the symbolic date of September 11.
Unfortunately, Obama has secured the support of enough Democrats to sustain a veto if the disapproval bill passes, and he may yet convince 41 Senate Democrats to obviate the need for a veto through a successful filibuster. The fix is in. There will be no stopping this deal so long as Barack Obama is president. As I've argued on multiple occasions, the least bad course of action for Republicans is to work to undermine and delegitimize the deal to the greatest extent possible. Such is life in the Obama era. Such is life when the sitting president isn't bashful about being a power-hungry ideologue who's unconcerned with public opinion and contemptuous of the separation of powers -- yet still has a 47 percent approval rating. The GOP's goals should be to turn and keep public opinion against the pact, to make clear that it represents Obama's -- not America's -- policy, and to sow doubts about the long-term stability of the US government's commitment to its terms. An unpopular, unstable agreement that was single-handedly enacted over Congress' explicit rejection would be far easier to unwind and abrogate in the future. It will take a new president to do that. A Republican president.
But wait, some conservatives are suddenly arguing, let's hold off on the disapproval votes. Why? Because the Corker bill, which is the law of the land, very specifically requires the administration to submit every single piece of the deal's text to Congress for inspection, no exceptions. The White House hasn't done that. There are secret (and astonishingly bad) side bargains between Iran and the IAEA that are very much active parts of the overall agreement, and that have not been released publicly. This is a clear violation of Corker-Cardin, critics say, so the 60-day clock hasn't started ticking yet. This contention is valid. A newly-introduced bill would declare the administration's obligations unfulfilled, and demand the missing pieces of the agreement be presented for review. For argument's sake, let's say this bill passes the House. Up next is the Senate, where Democrats are almost certain to kill it via the filibuster. Reid's crew may be fidgety about blocking a final vote on the deal itself, but undercutting a tactical Republican move to punt the issue into the future is an easier political call. It's process, not substance, they'd say. Still, let's pretend the Senate took up the House bill and passed it, sending it to Obama's desk. Then what? A veto, that's what. Obama would assert that he'd checked the necessary boxes, and that the September 17 deadline remains intact. Got a problem with that? Fine. What are you going to do about it? Wash, rinse, repeat. This is the game he's rigged, and he'll shamelessly stand by his hardball tactics for the remainder of his term.
So now what? The Senate is debating a resolution to disapprove of the Iran deal in an on-the-record vote, with Republicans pressuring Democrats not to obstruct a final verdict -- a move that would be controversial and politically perilous. Meanwhile, the House has tabled its plans to pass a corresponding disapproval bill, in response to the eleventh-hour 'clock hasn't started' push from conservatives, described above. Here's the new plan, reportedly:
House Republicans are now resisting Boehner's attempt to bring the bill to the floor, because they believe Obama has not disclosed to Congress what they call "side deals" between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The House GOP is discussing a new plan, which they plan to present to the rank-and-file at a 4 p.m. meeting Wednesday, that would attempt to pass legislation with three separate concepts. They are moving toward voting on a measure asserting Obama did not submit all elements of the agreement with Iran, a concept first raised by Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), a former member of GOP leadership. Second, Republicans are working on a bill to try to prevent Obama from lifting sanctions against Iran. Third, the House would vote on a resolution to approve of the Iran pact. The original plan was to vote on a disapproval resolution.
Three steps, all ultimately symbolic in nature. And voting for a disapproval resolution becomes voting against an approval resolution, for some reason. (Maybe Democrats would be less inclined to filibuster a bill that isn't framed as an act of disapproval?) As usual, Allahpundit asks the salient questions:
Critics have had 60 days to build this argument that the full deal hasn’t been properly submitted to Congress for consideration and it took Andy McCarthy nudging them the weekend before debate is set to begin in September to get their act together and pound that point? Why weren’t hawks slamming away at this during the recess in August? Now it stinks, as if they’ve gone loophole-hunting to try to stop the deal with a longshot argument at the last second instead of spending weeks building the idea that the side deals are a key part of the process and Congress can’t take a fully informed vote without them.
If this was going to be the GOP's post-recess roadmap, that would have been an entirely defensible strategy. This objection is right on substance, it highlights a terrible element of the deal itself, and it showcases Obama's willingness to ignore even the laws he's personally signed. If Obama's going to do whatever he wants anyway, why not use this betrayal as the primary means of underscoring how badly the whole scheme reeks? A strong counterargument could be made that forcing Obama to overrule a bipartisan Congressional rejection of his unilateral deal would be more potent in eroding its legitimacy. Either way, Republicans may have considered getting on the same page prior to, say, today. Instead, they've changed tactics at the very last minute, disrupting plans for a vote that the White House is ferociously opposing. Now that vote, which would weaken, but inevitably fail to block Obama's designs, is in jeopardy. Republicans look disorganized and dysfunctional. This is a product of both poor leadership and a capricious, undisciplined rank-and-file caucus. It feels like a depressing re-run of the many humiliating GOP collapses in recent years. And so it goes. Obama will get his rotten deal, and the world will be less safe because of it. How Republicans will act to try to cripple its long-term viability remains a mystery. They're in the process of transforming a rare moment of total unity into yet another case study in tactical disarray. Quite a feat. Stay tuned.