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According to the congressional aides, officials from the White House, State Department and Treasury met with Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., the manager of the defense bill, Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., and Senate Banking Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D., seeking help in persuading Kirk and Menendez to delete or dilute the bill’s toughest language.
“There were requirements in the original that would be impossible to enforce and only make our allies really angry,” one aide said. “They would have endangered their cooperation with the sanctions we have now.”
The aides said both Levin and Arizona Sen. John McCain, the ranking Republican on Armed Services, were eager to see the authorization bill passed without significant opposition from the administration. They prevailed upon Menendez and Kirk to agree to drop those requirements.
After an agreed-on version of the amendment was produced, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., asked Menendez to agree to a voice vote on the measure to speed up the legislative process and include the votes of several senators who were scheduled to leave town, aides said. Menendez refused, insisting on a roll call vote, according to aides. The measure passed on a 94-0 vote, signaling to Iran, the administration and the House the depth of Senate support for the measure as it went into conference.
Given that the White House already succeeded in removing the sanctions provisions it objected to most, lawmakers do not sound terribly inclined to further soften the sanctions.
House Republicans, including incoming Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., are promising to fight to hold the line on the sanctions language that was included in the bill. The latest revisions, however, may be mild enough that they do not inspire congressional push-back.
“We’re looking at their input,” McCain said Tuesday. “I don’t know if we’ll do enough to satisfy them, I really don’t.”