Updated 2:58 p.m. | Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker predicted there was no hope for additional amendments to his bill to provide for review of the Iran agreement — and that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's next step would be to limit debate.
"Mitch has a decision now about filing cloture. My sense is, you'll need to talk with him, but that's what he's going to do," the Tennessee Republican said of his Kentucky counterpart's likely next move. Senate Republicans announced no further floor votes for the week.
"We were moving towards approving a large, large tranche of amendments," Corker said, speaking of the work underway Thursday morning to set up votes that never happened. "I think that's probably over now."
Corker's comments to reporters came after a GOP luncheon that followed an appearance by Sen. Tom Cotton on the floor to explain that he was insisting on simple majority votes on contentious amendments to legislation to provide congressional review of any final nuclear deal with Iran, apparently stymieing the possibility of moving forward, at least for now.
The Arkansas Republican sought to line up a pair of amendments that supportive Democratic senators have said could cause them to remove support for the bill. One of those, sponsored by Cotton, would require Iran to allow inspectors full access to suspicious sites. The other, led by Florida Republican Marco Rubio, would require Tehran to recognize Israel’s right to exist.
"I think some of the tactics that are now being deployed are going to make it much more difficult for us to be able to proceed in an orderly way," Foreign Relations ranking member Benjamin L. Cardin said.
Cotton criticized Cardin for other procedural actions, including the move by bill advocates to lay down a generally innocuous amendment in the first slot. That amendment would require transmission of any final nuclear agreement in Farsi to Congress.
Speaking on the floor, Corker praised both Cardin and Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., "for working with us on what was going to be a series of votes."
Corker then lamented what seemed to be developing on the floor.
"I have a sense that the context of this has just changed, and so I regret that," Corker said. "I've been working with numbers of senators on some really controversial votes that we're willing to make, as we already have. Matter of fact, the only two votes we've had thus far were considered poison pill votes, and my friend from Maryland was willing to have more poison pill votes, if you want to call them that, tough votes, but the context of this debate may have just changed."
The problem might well be the insistence of Cotton and others on simple-majority thresholds, rather than the 60-vote margin that's become quite customary regarding contentious amendments.
Cotton disputed the idea that the amendments he sought votes on would imperil the underlying bill, even though Cardin and others have argued they are the type of amendments that could shatter a fragile agreement with the White House and lead to the return of a presidential veto threat.
"Let's have a talk about poison pill amendments. I would say these are not poison pills, these are vitamin pills. They're designed to strengthen this legislation and strengthen the U.S. negotiating position," Cotton said. "Who could object that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state? And that Iran should not be allowed a nuclear weapon if they won't recognize that right?"
Asked if he thought Cotton understood the implications of his procedural moves before the caucus lunch, Corker paused before answering.
"I think that he understands now the full impact of what has occurred," Corker said.
On Wednesday, Rubio had delivered a lengthy floor speech making similar pleas for amendment votes.
"If you don't want to vote on things, don't run for the Senate. If you don't want to vote on things, don't run for office. Be a columnist. Get a talk show," Rubio said on the floor. "Everyone who runs for office knows that what we are called to do here is vote on issues that sometimes we're uncomfortable on. And there is a microphone here at your desk. Come to the floor and give a speech and explain to the world why you are voting against a deal that requires Israel to have a right to exist."
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