GOP amendments might blow up compromise on Iran bill
The compromise on the bill that would give Congress a small say in any final nuclear agreement with Iran may not last the day, as Republicans in the Senate are concerned that the legislation would not give them enough leverage with the president.
The idea that Congress should weigh in on any deal is popular on Capitol Hill — and among Americans — but many Republicans think the compromise worked out between Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland doesn't give lawmakers enough of a role in the process.
Corker and Cardin have been meeting with lawmakers to see if they can work out a way to keep those concerns from upsetting the consensus that has emerged on the bill, which the White House acknowledged by lifting a veto threat. The Foreign Relations Committee approved the bill in a rare 19-0 vote on April 14.
"I just want all the members to know that we're open for business," Cardin said Monday.
The legislation would give Congress 30 days to review a deal and decide whether to vote on a resolution of disapproval. If one is adopted, the bill allows another 22-day period during which President Obama can veto the resolution and Congress could try to override his veto.
During that period, Obama may not waive any sanctions written into U.S. law. But if the disapproval resolution is not adopted over his expected veto, that restriction is lifted, clearing the way for an agreement to be implemented.
In effect, the legislation turns the treaty ratification process under the Constitution upside-down. Instead of 67 Senate votes to ratify a treaty, the bill would require 67 votes to block Obama from carrying out any agreement.
But Obama has refused to submit a deal to the Senate as a treaty, and the White House has indicated he would use his executive power to provide Iran the relief from sanctions it expects as a condition of signing any deal.
Corker and other supporters of the bill have noted that this gives the initiative to the president, since Republicans would need to find a veto-proof majority to force him to change his approach, and Democrats are likely to hang together to oppose that.
This will be a test of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's leadership. There are plenty of Republicans dissatistifed with the compromise, who want a stronger role for Congress to allow them to definitively nix the agreement if it's fatally flawed. But Democrats are balking at giving the Senate that kind of power, which means even if the bill passes with augmented Senate input, it is likely to fail when the president vetoes it and the Senate is unable to override.
The way the compromise is structured, it has no teeth. All it does is re-establish the idea that Congress has a say in treaty-making. But when you're talking about nuclear weapons in the hands of a bitter enemy, empty gestures like this ring hollow with history. Better for the GOP to go on record opposing this flawed deal than acquiesce in a charade that gives the president the opportunity to cut Congress out of the loop.