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House Approves Senate's Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act

Today, the House of Representatives approved the Senate’s Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which would give Congress a minor role in debating any deal President Obama makes with Iran regarding its nuclear program.

The legislation passed the Senate 98-1 after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell killed the chance to strengthen it with amendments. The House followed with the same tactic of stifling debate on a vital foreign policy measure, and approved it by a vote of 400-25.

It deserved an open discussion in the Senate, and the House should not have punted on its responsibility to have one.

The bill is a feeble substitute for an assertive congressional role in shaping our interaction with Iran, one of the most dangerous countries in the world, an exporter of terror, and a jailer of Americans. An Iran with nuclear arms — combined with a dedication to end the existence of Israel and a hatred of the United States — is unacceptable.

The legislation passed by Congress provides that any deal the president makes with Iran won’t be carried out if Congress disapproves the agreement. The road is wide open for Congress to do what it does best under these conditions: pass the buck and avoid a tough debate on the accord. Today’s House floor action is a case in point: by moving the Iran bill, House leadership had to be prepared to respond to critics of how they handled the bill and to counter the narrative that the bill is weak. Speaker Boehner and his team brought a bill to the floor that would crack down on the funding and activities of the Hezbollah terrorist organization. Iran is Hezbollah’s patron, and thus the bill would hurt Iran and promote American interests.

That bill is wise and necessary. It is a shame that it didn’t have a committee hearing in the House before coming to the floor for a vote, violating regular order. And it wasn’t even introduced until the day before it was voted on, so it didn’t appear on Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s weekly schedule released on May 8.

When the Senate was considering the bill before sending it to the House, Senator Rubio had a wise amendment to require that Iran recognize the state of Israel, and Senator Cotton had a reasonable amendment that would have required Iran to agree to provide more information about its nuclear operations and permit more stringent inspections of them. Majority Leader McConnell gave into Democrat Minority Leader Harry Reid, and pushed the bill though without debating these amendments.

House Speaker Boehner went even further. He didn’t permit the House Foreign Affairs Committee to debate the bill and mark it up; even the Senate did that. Instead, the House brought up the bill under an expedited procedure known as suspension of the rules, a process normally reserved for noncontroversial measures such as naming post offices.

No amendments were allowed, and only 40 minutes of debate was permitted instead of the customary hour or more for bills of this magnitude. A two-thirds majority is required for passage under suspension of the rules, a relatively assured outcome once leadership has whipped the bill. Members in the House were ready to offer amendments during floor debate to make the bill stronger, but leadership prevented them from moving forward by employing legislative legerdemain.

Unwisely, House leadership followed the same anemic procedure to pass legislation in March urging the president to provide lethal aid to Ukraine. The aid was approved in the previous session of Congress. However, in this session with many new members of the House, there was no committee action or debate. A massive statement of American foreign policy was moved by House leadership as if it were a routine legislative exercise.

This is an unhealthy pattern for a legislative body. Senate and House action on the Iran bill stands in stark contrast to the promises the majority leader and the speaker made to have a more open amendment process and regular order.

By working outside of the norms of legislative procedures, Senate and House leadership do a disservice to the members of both chambers who can constructively contribute to the debate, to the voters who elected them, and to our foreign policy, which benefits when Congress is confident enough to fully and robustly consider our role in the world.

Congress should act as a check on the president instead of providing him with a blank check in foreign policy. The Senate is known as the world’s greatest deliberative body. In foreign policy, it has recently abdicated this role. The people’s House should have filled the breach.