Will Senate Democrats really help kill an Obama nuclear deal with Iran?
The negotiations over the future of Iran’s nuclear program are coming down to the wire, with last-minute snags developing around the question of whether Iran will agree to allow its atomic fuel to be shipped out of the country. Other unresolved issues include the pace at which sanctions would be lifted, how many centrifuges Iran could continue operating, what research and development would be allowed on more advanced centrifuges, and what monitoring would look like.
But even if the framework of a deal is reached in the short term — the immediate goal of the talks — there is a real possibility, the White House believes, that Congress could kill a final deal even before it is agreed upon, with the willing participation of Senate Democrats. Republicans are widely expected to oppose the deal, whatever is in it. But even some Democrats who may support the deal could end up helping to scuttle it.
Here’s how. In mid-April, the Senate may vote on the Bipartisan Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 — a bill that is co-sponsored by Republican Bob Corker and at least eight Senate Dems, which puts it in striking distance of a veto-proof majority. The measure would require the president to submit any final deal with Iran to Congress within five days, and prohibit the suspension of sanctions on Iran for another 60 days, during which Congress could vote to approve or disapprove the deal. A vote of disapproval would prevent the lifting of sanctions and thus cut off the ability of the U.S. to meet its end of the bargain. Even if Congress ultimately approved it, the 60-day wait would delay implementation of the deal.
The idea behind the Corker measure is to give Congress more oversight over the process — a laudable goal. But it’s unclear whether this bill is even needed to accomplish that: After a final deal is reached, Congress could theoretically vote to block it at any point it wished, even without passing the Corker measure first. The only practical impact of voting for this bill in mid-April might be to kill the deal before it’s even signed, by signaling possible Congressional opposition before it is finalized in a few months. Indeed, voting for this now might allow members of Congress to kill a compromise — without actually voting against any specific deal — under the guise of voting for more Congressional oversight.
To understand why, I spoke to Edward Levine, a legislative analyst on the Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees for over 30 years who has done some of the most in-depth analysis of the proposal out there.