What happened yesterday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee? The committee voted to subject the Iran deal to congressional oversight: the White House cannot lift sanctions for 30 days following the signing of a deal, in which time Congress gets to review. And the Obama administration signed off on the measure– because it could have been a lot worse.
“We’re disappointed, this wasn’t a good day,” says Kate Gould, a Middle East analyst with the Friends Committee on National Legislation. “Congress is blessing this idea of Congress having an extra-constitutional vote on an executive agreement.”
The American public is overwhelmingly behind the deal, two to one according to polls, Gould says. That speaks to the political landscape. Who is against a deal with Iran? Only the rightwing Israel lobby. But it has immense support in Congress. As J Street’s Dylan Williams tweeted:
With unanimous compromise #Iran bill vote, Obama got bipartisan panel to reject 2 of Netanyahu’s demands for a deal.
Even though the New York Times coverage of the matter never mentions those underlying dynamics. And Republicans support Netanyahu over Obama by 67 to 16, according to this Bloomberg poll. Dems are the opposite: 76-15.
“The game really has just begun,” Gould said. And the vote was clarifying: Now we know when the contest over the Iran deal will happen. Opponents of the deal could have tried to sabotage the deal this spring before it even comes to pass. But the contest will take place this summer, when Congress will attempt to keep the president from using his authority to waive sanctions in the weeks after a deal is signed. And the grass roots can now mobilize for a struggle over sanctions relief, in July, ahead of the August recess. “The choice will be as clear as day for every member of Congress: Deal or no deal. And no deal means accepting a path that could lead to war.”
Chemi Shalev of Haaretz:
If Corker bill only gives Congress right to vote on its sanctions, rather than Iran deal, then Corker folded (but, hey, don’t tell anyone)
Polls show that by 2-1 Americans support a deal with Iran and oppose the Congress’s inserting itself into negotiations. And when you consider that Israeli PM Netanyahu’s speech to Congress in March was supposed to result in legislation hamstringing the deal, we have already stopped the opposition at key moments.
Politico has a good account of the legislative wrangling over the bill yesterday, with Democrats demanding that the Congressional review period go from 60 days to 30 days and, even more importantly, removing an amendment saying that the administration must certify that Iran does not sponsor terrorism against Americans. These compromises allowed the Obama administration to end its opposition to the bill, so it passed the committee by 19-0.
The Netanyahu demand that the deal recognize the existence of Israel– Marco Rubio’s “Bibi amendment” — was a non-starter.
From the Times account:
The agreement almost certainly means Congress will muscle its way into nuclear negotiations that Mr. Obama sees as a legacy-defining foreign policy achievement.
The bill threatens the actual negotiations, driving up the cost of securing a deal, the National Iranian American Council warns in a statement from Jamal Abdi:
“The passage of this bill will make already difficult negotiations with Iran even more difficult. The stakes for war and peace, nonproliferation, and the future of the region could not be higher. This is a historic moment and the Senate risks sabotaging it.
“As written, this bill would delay the implementation of a deal by 30 to 82 days, and risk blocking implementation completely. This is not oversight, this is interference. This bill undercuts U.S. negotiating leverage by casting as an open question whether the U.S. can honor it commitments. This does not help our negotiators, it hamstrings them and undermines our credibility.
“The bill risks sending an open invitation to hardliners in Iran to interfere with the negotiations…
But the Iranian American Council is hopeful: “that because the Administration has indicated they can live with this version of the bill, there is a plan in place to ensure it will not derail a deal.
The Times echoes these points in an excellent editorial, A Reckless Act in the Senate on Iran, lambasting the committee for the bill:
Every president has negotiated similar agreements as part of executive authority. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has wrongly and inappropriately diminished the president’s power to conduct the nation’s foreign policy as he was elected to do.
Dylan Williams of J Street, which is working with NIAC to get the deal through, has been more hopeful on twitter. He mocks Bill Kristol over his disappointment that the bill didn’t go nearly as far as the neocons wanted it to:
Billy’s going to have a big sad when the other shoe on the deal cut in the Senate drops…
The New York Times coverage of this story never mentions Netanyahu or the Israel lobby, even though Ben Cardin, the Democratic Senator who negotiated the bill with Bob Corker, is a fervent supporter of Israel. But the readers commenting at the Times site press on these connections.
Frank in the UK
The aim of those who pushed for this bill is to undermine and derail the deal. Senator Tom Cotton said sometime ago that killing the deal will not be an unintended consequence of the bill, it is its main aim. It is sad that on such an important and critical issue of war and peace, when all other great nations have opted for a negotiated settlement of Iran’s nuclear program, a bunch of senators put Israel’s alleged interest ahead of US interest.
Socrates in Verona, NJ:
“War, War, What Are We Waiting For ?!”
Paid For by Sheldon Adelson, AIPAC, Tom Cotton, Bill Kristol and the Committee for Perpetual War In the Middle East
Congress has lost its mind in Sheldon Adelson’s wallet.
How come NYT readers have to go to the readers’ comments to learn an important aspect of this story? James North asks.