House Republicans won't be able to stop President Barack Obama from moving forward with implementation of a nuclear deal with Iran, and they know it.
Still, many members left a closed-door GOP conference meeting Wednesday night emboldened by a new plan that would let them go on record with their fierce and multifaceted opposition, even as House and Senate Democratic leaders stand to gain with a veto-proof majority of support inside their caucuses. The revised strategy, concocted by Republican leaders at the eleventh hour to quell a revolt among members in their own rank and file and approved by the Rules Committee Wednesday night, will take the place of the vote originally scheduled for this week on a straightforward disapproval resolution of the nuclear agreement.
Instead, members will vote on three separate measures Thursday and Friday:
- A resolution expressing a sense the House should delay consideration of a disapproval resolution because President Barack Obama did not submit the secret "side deals" to Congress, as required by legislation setting up the 60-day congressional review period of the nuclear agreement. That bill, signed into law earlier this year, was crafted by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and ranking member Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., respectively.
- A resolution approving the nuclear deal, which Republicans will soundly reject.
- A bill prohibiting Obama from lifting sanctions against Iran relating to its nuclear program through early 2017.
Because votes on the deal itself at this point are moot, Republican leaders — particularly a vulnerable Speaker John A. Boehner — stood to benefit from ceding to pressure from members to adopt a more comprehensive attack of the Obama administration's foreign policy.
Of course, not everybody loves the new strategy. There is still concern about the implications for leadership "caving" to demands from hard-liners, and lingering disagreement over whether the House itself is in compliance with Corker-Cardin by not voting expressly on a disapproval resolution. Ultimately, lawmakers said the chamber could end up voting on that original disapproval resolution next week on top of everything else.
Still, a large number of lawmakers emerged from their emergency closed-door conference meeting late Wednesday afternoon openly optimistic about what they see as the advantages of the new strategy.
First, House Republicans — whose mantra for some time has been that Obama unabashedly disregards the law and exceeds his own authority at every turn — contend the new strategy will give lawmakers a chance to call the president out for failing to provide Congress information called for under Corker Cardin.
"You can't vote for anything, including a motion of disapproval, until such time as Corker-Cardin has been complied with," Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., who with Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., fought for a vote on this language, told CQ Roll Call Wednesday night. "You can only vote for a resolution of disapproval if criteria is met. To be honest, I don't know how anyone votes to approve this deal."
Also, while Pompeo and others said "approval" versus "disapproval" was really just a matter of preference, plenty of lawmakers said the distinction was important from a messaging standpoint.
"From the public's view point, we got a vote on it, but we didn't stop it. That's all they know," explained Rep. John Fleming, R-La., of a disapproval resolution. "What this thing does is, we're voting on an approval, yet it failed, and therefore we disapprove it, and that's what the public's gonna see. No. 2 is, there's a resolution that says, 'you didn't even comply with Corker.' So the president lost in two ways."
Finally, there's the opening of a door to the possibility of legal action. Should Obama go forward with the implementing the nuclear deal with Iran — and he has every intention of doing so — House Republicans could argue they not only voted against implementation but also to express the belief that the administration did not comply with Corker-Cardin, thereby violating the law.
As it happens, members were meeting to discuss the new strategy on Wednesday afternoon just as news broke that the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the House had standing to continue its lawsuit against the Obama administration for its implementation of the 2010 health care law.
"This was an exciting day," said Republican Policy Committee Chairman Luke Messer, R-Ind. "I mean, today we won in district court on the standing question. You know, none of us want to solve these problems through the court but the president has brought us where we are and those are the best options we have left, so the position of our conference is we believe the president hasn't complied with the submission, therefore his actions ... will be invalid.
"If we have to go to court to prove that," Messer said, "we'll have to go to court to prove that."
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