The debate over the role of Congress in international negotiations with Iran about nuclear development is entering another week.
Hopes to get the legislation spearheaded by Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., through the Senate quickly were thwarted Thursday when talks about setting up a series of amendment votes went off course when Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., came to the floor and offered a pair of amendments, including one by Sen. Marco Rubio that would require certification of Iran recognizing Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.
That would be a tough vote, since there's broad support for Israel, but attempting to compel President Barack Obama to make that a point in negotiations would be all but sure to restore a veto threat. Corker predicted that after the events on the floor Thursday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would end up filing cloture to limit debate on the measure, precluding the offering of further amendments.
The Kentucky Republican has a lot of other business to get to during the current work period, with legislation to restore Trade Promotion Authority expected to follow the Iran bill to the floor.
"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," Corker told reporters .
Speaking Friday at an event sponsored by National Review, the Florida Republican said he was not attempting to derail the underlying bill from Corker with the backing of ranking member Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland and many other senators. Rubio has filed more than a handful of amendments.
"I don't want the bill to go down. I mean, it's not perfect but it's better than nothing," Rubio said. "It creates a process by which the Senate can review what the president does."
Under the process in the Senate bill, Obama would be able to move forward with an Iran deal after the review period with the support of only 34 senators, since any disapproval resolution could be vetoed.
"Here's the reality: There are a lot of people in the Senate Democratic caucus who will stand up and argue we want a good deal with Iran, we want to support Israel, we don't want them to get nuclear weapons, but ultimately they are going to support virtually any deal the president signs. That is a fact," Rubio said Friday. "Unless it is just way over the top, virtually any deal the president signs they are going to support, despite their public pronouncements."
Rubio, along with Cotton and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, met with McConnell in his Capitol office Thursday afternoon. That meeting came just before McConnell was interviewed by Politico about a variety of topics, including the challenges of running the Senate with the current makeup of the Republican Conference.
"You know what I told several of the [presidential candidates] today? I said, ‘You think running for president is hard?'" McConnell said in that interview.
McConnell has been reticent to shut down the amendment process using tools available to the majority leader that his Democratic counterpart Harry Reid of Nevada used more frequently, but he has not sworn them off.
On the Iran debate, the Democratic caucus has proven to be more cooperative when it comes to getting the Corker bill done quickly, having seen issues resolved earlier in the legislative process.
The Iran debate will continue as the Senate also needs to work through some serious housekeeping, starting with a vote to attempt to override Obama's veto of a resolution disapproving of the National Labor Relation Board's rule on election procedures for private-sector union elections. When the veto message on that resolution faces a vote Monday evening, it's certain to fall short of the two-thirds threshold needed for an override, effectively allowing the NLRB to move forward.
Also on the docket is agreeing with the House on the fiscal 2016 budget blueprint. After a brief delay over concerns raised by Corker, the House was able to move forward adopting the conference report before departing for their weeklong recess.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Thursday that the Senate could act on the budget resolution conference report as early as Tuesday.