The PJ Tatler

What's Behind That 100-0 Iran Sanctions Vote — and Why Obama Should Worry

Every member of the Senate last night went on the record supporting what could be described as an Iran sanctions-lite amendment to the budget.

The language from Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), co-author of the tough Iran sanctions bill still pending with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), establishes “a deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to reimposing waived sanctions and imposing new sanctions against Iran for violations of the Joint Plan of Action or a comprehensive nuclear agreement.” It was co-sponsored by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

The non-binding amendment, getting senators on the roll call, passed 100-0.

Menendez-Kirk imposes crushing sanctions if Iran does not agree to a deal by June 30. Another bill from Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Menendez, which is coming to committee early next month, requires congressional approval of any deal. Both are vehemently opposed by the White House.

Democrats who oppose those bills and support the administration said the amendment reaffirmed the White House reasoning that sanctions can be turned back on if Iran violates an agreement. Menendez has warned, though, that sanctions can’t be turned on and off like a spigot.

The amendment actually pulled language directly from the Kirk-Menendez bill, the Illinois Republican said. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), though, claimed in an interview with Politico that it was inspired by her White House-approved legislation — which reinstates sanctions if President Obama says Iran violated the agreement. The final amendment says reimposed and new sanctions will come if Obama “cannot make a determination and certify that Iran is complying.”

“By passing the bipartisan Kirk-Brown amendment to impose sanctions on Iran, the Senate voted for the security of the United States and Israel and against making dangerous nuclear concessions to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei,” Kirk said in a statement. “The unanimous vote for the Kirk-Brown amendment signals the Senate’s strong support for the Kirk-Menendez Iran sanctions bill, which stands ready now for a full Senate vote.”

That bill has 52 co-sponsors, including Democrats Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Chris Coons (Del.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Gary Peters (Mich.) and Chuck Schumer (N.Y.).

The Corker-Menendez bill’s co-sponsors include Democrats Michael Bennet (Colo.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), and Angus King (Maine), an independent who caucuses with the Dems. Blumenthal and Donnelly are also co-sponsors.

And Schumer signed on Thursday. “We must do everything to prevent a nuclear Iran and so any potential agreement must prevent Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon,” the senator said in a statement carried by Israeli media but receiving little press in the U.S. “Congress played a lead role in crafting the tough-and-effective sanctions regime that brought Iran to the table, and Congress should have a role on how those sanctions are altered in any final agreement with Iran.”

“This issue is far too important — for the United States, for Israel, for the entire Middle East — for Congress not to have any ability to review a nuclear deal with Iran.”

Twelve Democrats wrote to Obama on Jan. 26 in support of Kirk-Menendez, vowing to act if Iran “fails to reach agreement on a political framework that addresses all parameters of a comprehensive agreement.”

Menendez charged yesterday that the latest report out of talks in Switzerland indicates “we are not inching closer to Iran’s negotiating position, but leaping toward it with both feet.”

The Associated Press cited officials saying the United States “is considering letting Tehran run hundreds of centrifuges at a once-secret, fortified underground bunker in exchange for limits on centrifuge work and research and development at other sites.”

“We have pivoted away from demanding the closure of Fordow when the negotiations began, to considering its conversion into a research facility, to now allowing hundreds of centrifuges to spin at this underground bunker site where centrifuges could be quickly repurposed for illicit nuclear enrichment purposes,” Menendez said. “My fear is that we are no longer guided by the principle that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal,’ but instead we are negotiating ‘any deal for a deal’s sake’.”