The PJ Tatler

GOP Senate Strategy: No Lifting of Sanctions Unless Iran Recognizes Israel and U.S. Hostages Freed

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) revealed today Senate Republicans’ next strategy to fight the Iran deal after the president’s allies blocked for a second time a vote on the disapproval resolution.

The cloture vote was 56-42, with four Democrats who had previously announced opposition to the agreement voting once again to move the bill forward: Sens. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Bob Menendez (N.J.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.).

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), both opponents of the P5+1 agreement and both running for president, did not show for the vote.

But before the vote, when McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) were engaged in a back-and-forth on the Senate floor — Reid, for example, accused GOPs of trying to curry favor with Pope Francis by attempting to defund Planned Parenthood even though, the Mormon lawmaker claimed, the pontiff would hate Republicans’ stances on helping the poor and the environment — McConnell vowed that the Iran deal would not drop from the Senate agenda.

“If only Democrat senators would stop blocking the American people from even having a final vote on one of the most consequential foreign policy issues of our age,” McConnell said. “If Democrats share the president’s determination to ‘win ugly’ on this important issue, then they have sufficient numbers to do that.”

“But I would remind my colleagues of something. This debate should not be about a president who will leave office in 16 months. It should be about where our country will be in 16 years.”

However, no Dems indicated that they were going to budge from their Thursday filibuster.

“Democrats seem to think they can end the discussion by blocking an up-or-down vote, then turn around and pretend they care deeply about Israel and human rights. Well, if they vote again to deny the American people a final vote, they’ll have a chance to test the theory,” McConnell said right before the vote.

“I will file an amendment that would prevent the president from lifting sanctions until Iran meets two simple benchmarks: It must formally recognize Israel’s right to exist, and it must release the American citizens being held in Iranian custody.”

Noting that President Obama “has so far resisted linking his deal — a deal that fails to end Iran’s enrichment program, while leaving it as an American-recognized nuclear threshold state — to other aspects of Iran’s conduct,” the GOP leader stressed that “linkage is appropriate, and in this negotiation would have been wise.”

“Indeed, senators say they understand the importance of standing up for an ally like Israel in a dangerous region, and the Senate voted unanimously just a few months ago in calling for Iranian leaders to release those Americans,” he said.

The move is likely to especially anger some Democrats whose constituents are held by Iran but who backed the deal, echoing the administration’s insistence that the release of hostages — Amir Hekmati, Bob Levinson, Jason Rezaian, and Saeed Abedini — not be linked to a final deal.

McConnell read from a letter that Hekmati, a Marine veteran held more than four years on trumped-up espionage charges, wrote to congressional leaders earlier this year: “As a fellow American and combat veteran, I am writing to bring to your attention my situation and that of a long list of my fellow Americans. For nearly three and a half years, I have been falsely imprisoned and treated inhumanely… While I am thankful that the State Department and the Obama administration has called for my release and that of my fellow Americans, there has been no serious response to this blatant and ongoing mistreatment…”

“My strong preference is for Democrats to simply allow an up-or-down vote on the president’s Iran deal,” McConnell said after reading Hekmati’s quotes. “But if they’re determined to make that impossible, then at the very least we should be able to provide some protection to Israel and long-overdue relief to Americans who’ve languished in Iranian custody for years. Either way, this debate will continue.”

Before recessing for the night, McConnell filed cloture on the new amendment, setting the stage for a Thursday vote to move to debate. He also filed cloture on another disapproval resolution of the Iran nuclear agreement. If either passes the 60-vote threshold the amendments would receive up to 30 hours of debate.

The House of Representatives voted down the Iran deal 162-269 Friday and also voted to block President Obama from repealing sanctions 247-186.

The House has already voted on the noncompliance bill, finding 245-186 that Obama didn’t follow the law by not providing to lawmakers all of the documents involved in the deal — in this case, the agreements between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

That resolution came from Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas), who said his resolution is “crucial to reining in the president and forcing him to live up to his obligation under Corker-Cardin, which he himself signed into law just a few months ago.”