Senate committee approves bill giving Congress a say in Iran deal

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved a measure that would give Congress some oversight over any final nuclear deal reached with Iran.

President Obama will reluctantly sign the bill, facing the reality that there were at least a dozen Democratic senators willing to vote for a much stricter measure that would have given Congress a virtual veto over any agreement.

The legislation, as passed by the committee, would give Congress only the ability to weigh in on when sanctions can be lifted.  And unless the final deal to be negotiated before June 30 is worse than the framework deal just completed, it is likely that an Obama veto of any move by Congress to maintain sanctions will be upheld.

New York Times:

The essence of the legislation is that Congress will have a chance to vote on whatever deal emerges with Iran — if one is reached by June 30 — but in a way that would be extremely difficult for Mr. Obama to lose, allowing Secretary of State John Kerry to tell his Iranian counterpart that the risk that an agreement would be upended on Capitol Hill is limited.

As Congress considers any accord on a very short timetable, it would essentially be able to vote on an eventual end to sanctions, and then later take up the issue depending on whether Iran has met its own obligations.

But if it rejected the agreement, Mr. Obama could veto that legislation — and it would take only 34 senators to sustain the veto, meaning that Mr. Obama could lose upward of a dozen Democratic senators and still prevail.

The bill would require that the administration send the text of a final accord, along with classified material, to Congress as soon as it is completed. It also halts any lifting of sanctions pending a 30-day congressional review, and culminates in a possible vote to allow or forbid the lifting of congressionally imposed sanctions in exchange for the dismantling of much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. It passed 19 to 0.

Why Mr. Obama gave in after fierce opposition was the last real dispute of what became a rout. Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, said Mr. Obama was not “particularly thrilled” with the bill, but had decided that a new proposal put together by the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made enough changes to make it acceptable.

“We’ve gone from a piece of legislation that the president would veto to a piece of legislation that’s undergone substantial revision such that it’s now in the form of a compromise that the president would be willing to sign,” Mr. Earnest said. “That would certainly be an improvement.”

In the end, Democrats – even those who dearly want congressional input in the Iran deal – balked at the prospect of undercutting Obama by holding the threat of congressional disapproval over his head.  As for Corker and the Republicans, it's clear that the president is going to take the deal to the U.N. Security Council to seek approval there rather than from Congress.  The only realistic chance they had of having any input at all was in watering down the bill so that Democrats would feel comfortable voting for it.

In the end, the principle of congressional oversight is maintained, but the reality is that Congress will have its hands tied in giving an up-or-down vote on the deal.  There is still a chance that Congress can derail the agreement if the final deal is unpalatable enough.  But as we've seen with the framework deal, the administration will interpret the agreement any way they want in order to sell it to a skeptical country.

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