Sen. Robert Menendez, Chairman of SFRC, took to the Senate floor yesterday to express his concerns about the current path forward on Iran, both in the administration and in the Senate. In a long and detailed speech, Menendez chastised the administration for its use of the term “war-mongering,” criticized the Joint Plan of Action, and stated his disinterest in playing partisan politics. The former two points were par for the course. The latter, however, represented a major break on S. 1881 from his Republican allies, who recently urged Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a letter sent on Feb. 4, to bring the bill to the floor. The letter, signed by 42 Republican cosponsors of the bill, was sent despite an increasing consensus among Democrats that the Senate should hold off.
Speaking on his concerns over a nuclear-armed Iran, Menendez slammed those who would attempt to force a vote:
I have long thought of this as a bipartisan national security issue – not a partisan political issue. And — at the end of the day — a national security issue that we must approach in a spirit of bipartisanship and unity, which has been the spirit for which we have worked together on this matter. And I hope that we will not find ourselves in a partisan process trying to force a vote on a national security matter before its appropriate time.
In a statement issued shortly thereafter, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) reiterated Menendez’ remarks:
We agree with the Chairman that stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support and that there should not be a vote at this time on the measure. We remain committed to working with the Administration and the bipartisan leadership in Congress to ensure that the Iran nuclear program is dismantled.
While Menendez continued to press for passage of the bill in his speech, stating that “The legislation is not the problem. Congress is not the problem. Iran is the problem,” both he and AIPAC clearly prefer to disassociate themselves with any overly partisan effort. And at this point, that is what S. 1881 has become. As a result, neither seems likely to push for a vote at this time.
Sen. Bob Corker also backed off of a vote on Thursday, explaining his absence from the Republican letter in question (signed by all but one of 43 Republican cosponsors of the bill). “It doesn’t diminish my support,” Corker said, “It’s just that as ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I’d like for us to end up with an outcome that… I want to do what I can to cause it to continue to be an issue that both sides care about.”
The IAEA will meet with Iran once again tomorrow to discuss its nuclear program, and will continue to monitor the country closely over the course of the next six months. We can be certain that at the first sign of controversy, the Senate will move to act. But for now, as it becomes more and more clear that the time is not ripe for additional provocation, more moderate heads have begun to prevail, leaving 42 Republican Senators on their own to push a bill that runs the risk of derailing the positive progress we’ve made.