Updated 3:52 p.m. | After a few false starts, the Senate passed bipartisan legislation to give Congress a say in a final international agreement with Iran on nuclear development.
The Senate voted, 98-1, to pass the measure as agreed upon by Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and ranking member Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., after 93 senators voted to limit the debate, without addressing further amendments.
The bipartisan pair praised former Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., for his earlier leadership on developing the review legislation, but primarily looked ahead to what it might mean for the negotiations themselves and what may be an acceptable outcome from the Senate's point of view.
"The agreement must prevent Iran from having a break out capacity to produce a nuclear weapon in a long enough period of time that the inspection regimes will discover whether they're in compliance," with an ability to restore sanctions if need be, Cardin said.
"We know that what we need to do is now prep and get the committee and the American people, but also the rest of the Senate ... up to scale as to what is important in this," Corker said of the next challenge on the Iran issue as the debate moves back from process to substance, expressing concerns about the quality of the inspections.
The lopsided final vote won cheers from across the political spectrum, as well as on both sides of the Rotunda , with Speaker John A. Boehner looking ahead to consideration of the bill in his chamber.
"This important, bipartisan legislation will ensure that Congress has a role in reviewing any potential agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Our goal is to stop a bad agreement that could pave the way to a nuclear-armed Iran, set off a regional nuclear arms race, and strengthen and legitimize the government of Iran — which threatens Israel and other allies in the region, as well as supports terrorism throughout the Middle East," the Ohio Republican said. "I applaud the Senate for passing this bill, and thank Sen. Corker and others for their hard work. I look forward to House passage of this bill to hold President Obama’s administration accountable."
The White House rescinded a veto threat against the measure after negotiations before the bill went through the Foreign Relations panel.
The outcome seemed preordained a week ago, when the amendment negotiation process ground to a halt after Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., sought to place a pair of proposals in the queue and faced opposition from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to making his move. Corker said a week ago he believed the time for an amendment process had come to an end.
At that time, Cotton was calling for a simple-majority vote on his proposal to amend the bill.
"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. But Congress should not accept this usurpation, nor allow the president any grounds to claim that Congress blessed his nuclear deal," Cotton said in a statement Thursday. "I will work with Republicans and Democrats to stop a dangerous deal that would put Iran on the path to obtaining a nuclear weapon."
In addition to an amendment of his own, Cotton had offered an amendment from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., that would have required a presidential certification about Iran recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. The amendment didn't get considered, but Rubio ultimately supported the Corker-Cardin bill, respecting the time constraints on the Senate floor.
"If we pass a bill, it delays the sanctions being lifted for a period of time. It requires the White House to submit the deal to us so we can review it, and ultimately it calls for a vote, up or down, on approving the deal or not. It actually requires that that vote will have to happen, and there can’t be any procedural process to impede it, for the most part," Rubio said. "So at the end of the day, while this bill does not contain the amendments – we didn’t even get a vote on the amendments that we wanted ... if left to the choice that we have now, I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’re in a better position if this bill passes."
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