The Senate is moving forward on legislation President Barack Obama has threatened to veto because it may prove harmful to negotiations with Iran on Tehran’s nuclear program.
The bill, authored by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), would give Congress the option to vote on any agreement that the Obama administration and its five negotiating partners (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) reach with Iran.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill April 14, according to a March 19 press release from Corker and Sen. Robert Menendez (R-N.J.). Corker is the committee chairman, and Menendez is its ranking member.
National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said on Feb. 28, after the bill was introduced, that Obama would veto the bill because it would complicate the efforts of the negotiators in the final weeks of the talks.
Negotiators from Iran and the six world powers were trying to reach a framework agreement by the end of March. The deadline for completing a comprehensive nuclear deal is June 30 (see "Iran, P5+1 Said to Be Close to Deal).
Although the agreement will not be a treaty, which requires the advice and consent of two-thirds of the Senate for ratification, Corker said on March 3 that given the importance of the nuclear deal, Congress should “weigh in” on the agreement.
As of March 27, the bill had 21 co-sponsors. In addition to Corker, 12 Republicans have joined the bill, as have eight Democrats, including Menendez, and one independent.
The legislation requires the president to submit the text of any agreement to Congress and prohibits the administration from suspending congressional sanctions for 60 days while the deal is under review. Congress can vote to approve or disapprove the agreement during that time or take no action. If Congress votes to approve the deal or takes no action, implementation of the agreement begins.
Under the provisions of the bill, the sanctions cannot be waived unless the president has certified that Iran is not involved in any acts of terrorism. Critics of the bill argue that the provision is misguided because Iran’s support for terrorism is outside of the scope of the negotiations.
The administration would be required to report to Congress every 90 days on Iran’s compliance with the agreement. If Iran were not complying with the terms of a deal, Congress could vote, on an expedited basis, to reinstate sanctions on Iran.
Recent actions have threatened the support for the legislation from several of its co-sponsors, who expressed concern that Iran is becoming a partisan issue.
On March 9, 47 Republican senators sent a letter to Iranian officials warning that the next president or Congress could interfere with the implementation of any nuclear agreement. The letter, authored by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), said that because the deal will be an executive agreement, which is not legally binding, “[t]he next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), a co-sponsor of the Corker legislation, said in a March 10 speech on the Senate floor that he wants Congress to have a role in the nuclear agreement. But Congress must act responsibly, and “the actions of the last few days have frankly shaken that confidence because we have seen what appears to be an effort to gain political and partisan advantage from this gravest of national issues,” he said.
In another March 10 Senate floor speech, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a co-sponsor of the bill, also spoke out against what he said was partisan action on the legislation. Kaine cited a controversial March 3 address to a joint session of Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which Netanyahu said the deal being negotiated would not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) invited Netanyahu without consulting the White House, an approach that led Democrats to charge that the speech was a partisan maneuver.
Kaine said Republican Senate leaders had sought to exploit Netanyahu’s speech by attempting to move the Corker bill straight to the Senate floor for a vote, bypassing the committee process, the week after the speech.
Kaine said that the “carefully worked-out bipartisan bill…was hijacked basically” and the move to bypass the committee process was meant to “embarrass the Democrats.” He said that Congress has to pull back from the “brink of irresponsible and partisan action” because the stakes of the deal are too high. Congress should not act to “tank a deal” before it is reached, he said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said it is “not about partisan politics [but] about world order.”