The Corker-Menendez bill requiring congressional approval of any deal with Iran was headed to the Senate floor after unanimously passing out of the Foreign Relations Committee today.
The 19-0 vote may not be as unified in the full Senate — Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), for example, said her “aye” vote would be gone if any amendments were added that she doesn’t like — but the bipartisan negotiations to get the bill to point rose “to the high calling of what the United States Senate is all about,” according to Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).
The White House relented on its absolute veto threat shortly before the committee marked up the bill. “I won’t be in a position to be ultimately definitive about whether or not we’ll be able to support the product that emerges,” Earnest told reporters today before the committee meeting. “…We would vigorously oppose any sort of extraneous element not at all related to the agreement that could undermine our ability to implement the agreement.”
The final product before the committee was scaled down to cover only the nuclear deal. It clearly states that sanctions on Iran for human rights, missile testing and terrorism will remain in place.
It did, however, strip language originally inserted into the bill by Menendez that would require certification by President Obama to Congress that Iran was not sponsoring acts of terrorism against Americans. Menendez said that the new sanctions language satisfied his concerns about terrorism not being disregarded in the Iran deal, and added that he’ll continue to pursue Iran’s terrorist activities through other avenues.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) tried to reintroduce the certification language into the bill as an amendment, which failed 6-13. Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said it was “well intentioned,” but unrealistic to expect Obama to make this certification.
“This idea that we could essentially get Iran to renounce terrorism is unrealistic,” Earnest said.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who has been the most vocal White House loyalist on the committee, said the “benign” nature of the compromise — which also nicks the review period from 60 to 52 days, including the White House reply and congressional rebuttal periods — led the administration to pull back on its veto threat.
Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) retorted that he had a “180-degree view” on the quieting of tough talk from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
The administration’s change of heart in the previous two hours, Corker stressed, was simply because they realized “the number of senators they knew would support this legislation.”
Corker said the bill “forces the administration to bring to us every detail if there happens to be a final agreement,” and puts congressional oversight on compliance not seen in the North Korea nuclear agreement.
“This puts Congress in its rightful role,” he said, crediting Cardin with “valiantly” rallying more Dems to support the bill.
Corker also credited Menendez, who took the reins of the committee from John Kerry when he left to be secretary of State, with helping transform the panel into “more than just a debating society” but a committee passing significant security legislation.
“Let’s send a message to Tehran that sanctions relief is not a given and not a prize for signing on the dotted line,” Menendez declared.
Senators made clear that amendments will be coming on the floor, including one from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), back at work the day after his presidential announcement, requiring that Iran recognize the state of Israel.
Boxer urged her colleagues to “refrain from trying to solve every problem with Iran” in the legislation, or she’ll scuttle her support.
“I’m concerned about more than ‘disrupting the delicate balance of this bill,’ I’m concerned about the destruction of Israel,” Rubio retorted before reading some of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s tweets. “At some point when someone says they want to destroy, you take them seriously… you don’t build ballistic missiles because you want to do some fancy fireworks show.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who was also instrumental in building Democratic support, called “offensive” the insinuation that lawmakers who want congressional approval of an Iran deal must want war.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) suggested that the White House embrace the Corker-Menendez bill and utilize it as leverage “as it moves toward any final agreement, which Congress should be able to judge on its merits.”
“Last evening, Secretary Kerry and other senior Administration officials briefed the full House on the nuclear negotiations with Iran. It is clear that many fundamental issues such as verification and sanctions relief must be better addressed if a viable and supportable final agreement with Iran is to be reached,” Royce said in a statement after the Senate committee passage. “Senator Corker’s legislation, which would rightly give Congress a say on this agreement after negotiations are complete, strengthens the Administration’s hand at the negotiating table.”
Earnest still stressed that “the president of the United States is the one who is given the authority under the Constitution to conduct foreign policy.”
“Therefore, it is his decision to make — to make about whether or not to enter into an agreement,” he said. “But we have acknowledged that Congress does have an important and legitimate role when it comes to voting on the sanctions that Congress passed.”