Corker: Obama 'Trying to Shut Down Debate' on Iran Deal by Branding Skeptical Lawmakers 'Unpatriotic'

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee began a hearing on human trafficking this morning by blasting President Obama's Iran speech Wednesday at American University.

"Just because Iranian hardliners chant ‘Death to America’ does not mean that that’s what all Iranians believe. In fact, it’s those — in fact, it’s those hardliners who are most comfortable with the status quo. It’s those hardliners chanting ‘Death to America’ who have been most opposed to the deal. They’re making common cause with the Republican Caucus," Obama said in his scathing attack on critics.

At the start of the hearing focusing on whether political favors bumped up the rankings of Cuba and Malaysia on the State Department's human trafficking report, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) quipped, "I wonder if we have questions about trafficking if it throws us into the category of bad people."

Corker noted that "up until an hour and a half before" the 19-0 committee vote passing the bill to require congressional approval of the Iran deal, the White House had a veto threat on the legislation "because they did not want the issue debated."

"We are being compared to the hardliners in Iran because we have concerns that we are trying to have answered," he said. "Just a few months ago the president was talking about what a thoughtful, principled person I was." And now, "he's trying to shut down debate by saying those who have legitimate questions are somehow unpatriotic, are somehow compared to hardliners in Iran."

Corker added that, after a frustrating closed-door meeting yesterday with the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, he called Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman this morning to ask for "at least" her notes from the meetings between the IAEA and Iran that forged the confidential agreements.

But the chairman had a theory on why the IAEA is being so hush-hush about the inspections details.

"I don't think it would stand the test of late-night comedy, if people understood how the Parchin thing was being done," Corker said.

Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who was pulled into a meeting with Obama last night, said to Corker, "I think you are and continue to always be a thoughtful and principled person."

"Hopefully if I disagree with you once you won't compare me to the hardliners in Iran," Corker replied.

Cardin, who like Corker has not announced his decision on the deal but has been critical of agreement aspects, stressed that he's "encouraged our leadership to provide for the debate on the floor of the U.S. Senate that we think is befitting this critical issue."

Floor debate is expected to begin as soon as Congress returns from recess in September.

Cardin said Obama is "clearly doing what we would expect the president of the United States to do" as he tries to make a case to the American people, but "I disagree with the president's interpretation on this issue" -- namely, comparing the Iraq war vote to the Iran deal.

"I do not see a comparison," Cardin said, adding "this is not a clear situation where the popular view is support the president or oppose the president."