Unanimous Foreign Relations Vote Puts Iran Bill on Warpspeed
In the end, it was unanimous.
After weeks of negotiations on language, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee backed legislation to provide for congressional review of any final deal on Iran’s nuclear program on a 19-0 vote, winning the support of senators from Rand Paul, R-Ky., to Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and everyone in between.
Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who spearheaded the legislation with former chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., worked with new Foreign Relations ranking member Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., and other members including Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia to craft a bill that could win broad support, leading the White House to step back from a veto threat.
New York Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the current No. 3 Democratic leader who had faced no shortage of questions about his views on the Iran review legislation, was quick to praise the committee outcome.
“I want to thank Senators Cardin and Corker for their hard work – they both did an excellent job. It’s important that this process be as bipartisan as possible, and clearly they’ve been able to do that and come to an agreement. The American-Israel relationship has always been bipartisan and I’m glad we’re continuing in that fine tradition,” Schumer said in a statement. “I’m certainly in favor of what they’ve put together.”
In a hallway interview before the markup and during the meeting itself, Corker suggested the White House was spinning when it said that President Barack Obama would accept the revised bill, repeating comments he made Tuesday morning on MSNBC about not having talked about changes to the bill with the administration.
“I’ve had no conversations with the White House about the substance of the bill. I’ve had only pushback, even in the Kerry presentation. … My sense is they know this thing has run away and very likely is going to go well beyond the veto threat,” the Tennessee Republican said in reference to the bill likely getting more than the 67 votes needed to override the president.
While White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest cited several changes to the bill sought by the White House and noted it was not a vote on the potential Iran deal itself but a vote to vote in the future on Iran sanctions, Corker denied the bill was significantly different.
“This has always been what it is,” Corker said. “This is the same legislation they’ve always opposed. … They are spinning you mightily. It has always been a vote on the sanctions. They are spinning you guys.”
Earnest said the agreement negotiated by Cardin would address a large number of the White House’s concerns.
In any event, the Iran debate is sure to generate a certain degree of contention on the Senate floor, despite the 19-0 vote at the committee level. Several senators held back amendments in order to move quickly at the committee level, meaning floor debate could still be rather tense. But advancing Corker’s bill is a top priority for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
And a debate on a final agreement itself with the international negotiators, should one come to fruition, would be even more complicated.
“The interim agreement we saw from the administration would not only allow Iran to continue to enrich uranium and retain thousands of centrifuges, but also allow it to continue researching and developing even more advanced centrifuges,” McConnell said Tuesday morning. “In other words, it seems more like an agreement built around Iran’s terms, rather than a plan to advance what should be our national goal: ending its nuclear program.”
The Iran bill highlights a busy Senate schedule, including a push by McConnell to clear the permanent doc fix bill Tuesday.
The deal spearheaded by Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to replace the sustainable growth rate has some opposition on the Senate side, particularly from conservatives who have balked at the lack of offsets for the $141 billion price tag, even if the current system has been somewhat farcical from the outset.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, joined that crowd Tuesday morning.
“While I appreciate the work done by my colleagues in the House, I cannot support the Boehner-Pelosi bill, which institutionalizes and expands Obamacare policies that harm patients and their doctors while adding roughly half a trillion dollars to our long-term debt within two decades,” Cruz said in a statement.
But, House GOP leadership is warning the Senate against making any changes.
“The House passed the bill to permanently end the ‘doc fix’ with nearly 400 votes. It’s good, solid, fiscally-responsible legislation – and we certainly don’t intend to pass anything else,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement.
McConnell also hopes to pass legislation designed to address human trafficking that’s sponsored by Republican Whip John Cornyn of Texas before moving ahead with confirmation of Loretta Lynch to be attorney general, with a new proposal by Cornyn to tweak the abortion language potentially clearing the logjam.
It is now more than 150 days since President Barack Obama nominated Lynch.
Judiciary ranking member Patrick J. Leahy criticized the delays on Lynch’s nomination, as well as the slow movement on judicial nominations since Republicans took over the Senate majority, in a Monday statement. The first judicial confirmation of the year came Monday evening.
In his floor speech, McConnell also took time to praise bipartisan efforts on education policy, cybersecurity and trade promotion authority.
Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.