The Senate today overwhelmingly passed the bill to require congressional approval of any nuclear deal struck with Iran over its nuclear program.
The final vote was 98-1. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who gave the administration heartburn with his open letter to Iran’s mullahs signed by 47 GOP senators, was the lone “no” vote. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) missed the vote.
“A nuclear-arms agreement with any adversary—especially the terror-sponsoring, Islamist Iranian regime—should be submitted as a treaty and obtain a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate as required by the Constitution. President Obama wants to reverse this rule, requiring opponents to get a two-thirds vote to stop his dangerous deal,” Cotton said. “But Congress should not accept this usurpation, nor allow the president any grounds to claim that Congress blessed his nuclear deal. I will work with Republicans and Democrats to stop a dangerous deal that would put Iran on the path to obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
The White House said it would not veto the version of the bill that passed unanimously out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but the change of heart from the administration was also seen as a realization of months of Democratic support for such a bill building in the upper chamber.
The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act was scaled down from a previous version before passing committee 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 Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) that would require certification by President Obama to Congress that Iran was not sponsoring acts of terrorism against Americans.
The administration must submit a deal reached by the June 30 P5+1 deadline to Congress by July 10, when a 52-day period to review the agreement begins. That includes a vote within the first 30 days, 12 days for Obama to weigh a veto, and 10 days for Congress to respond. If Obama submits the deal to Congress in the August recess, lawmakers get an additional 30 days of review.
Lifting sanctions against Iran would require a separate vote in another bill. The legislation passed today requires Obama to certify to Congress every 90 days that Iran is in compliance.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) voted “no” on the cloture motion to end debate on the bill, but minutes later voted for the legislation in the final passage.
Other cloture “no” votes but “ayes” in the final round came from Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).
Key amendments to the Iran bill didn’t get a vote, including Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) provision to require that Iran recognize the Jewish state of Israel.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) wanted the bill to include the requirement that Iran release Americans Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, Jason Rezaian and Bob Levinson. That amendment drew a swift veto threat from the White House.
“It is outrageous that after two years of negotiations, Iranian officials continue to hold four American citizens as prisoner without any real cause. The United States must insist that Iran release these Americans as a condition of any agreement,” Blunt said.
“You would think if you were negotiating something as significant as preventing Iran from building a nuclear weapon, the very least you could do is release these prisoners,” he added. “The president is committed to blocking my recent efforts, but I’ll keep fighting until these four innocent Americans are released unconditionally and brought home safely to the United States where they belong.”
Cotton and Rubio tried using a procedural move to force a vote on amendments, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) responded by moving to cut off debate and push the bill to a final vote.
Menendez said on the Senate floor today that he agreed with many of the amendments — Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), for example, tried to get terrorism language inserted like the original Menendez language stripped from the final version — but “we cannot risk a presidential veto and we cannot at the end of the day risk giving up congressional review and judgment.”
“I increasingly get alarmed that there is a suggestion that there will be greater upfront sanctions relief. I don’t believe that Iran should get a signing bonus,” Menendez stressed. “I’m concerned about the recent statement by the president that he could envision greater sanctions relief coming upfront for Iran.”
Rubio said he was “deeply disappointed by the direction this debate has taken,” understanding that it was carefully crafted to gain widespread support “but I also understand that every member of the Senate has a right to be heard on this debate.”
“Unfortunately, only a couple of amendments were allowed to be voted on, and no one else had an opportunity to get their amendments voted on – amendments that I thought would have made this bill much more meaningful,” he said.
Moran said the Senate “should have done more to strengthen the bill and demand accountability from Iran,” but “this legislation provides the only opportunity for Americans to review the nuclear agreement and have their voices heard.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) lent his backing to the bill as it heads over to the lower chamber for a final stamp of approval.
“Senator Corker’s legislation rightly positions Congress to judge and render a verdict on any final nuclear agreement the administration strikes with Tehran. It also should strengthen the administration’s hand at the negotiating table,” Royce said in a statement after Senate passage. “The House should pass this legislation, and the administration should put its added leverage to use. The committee will continue monitoring these negotiations and the growing Iranian threat to our allies and nation.”