Sen. Bob Corker answers reporters' questions Tuesday.
The unanimous vote of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday in support of an amended bill authorizing a congressional review of any agreement with Iran over its nuclear program doesn't mean conflict between the White House and foes of such an agreement has ended. Assuming the bill passes the full Senate and the House of Representatives, it's only a truce likely to end once the parameters of the agreement are announced. That is supposed to happen by June 30.
But while the domestic fight over any deal with Iran is not over, this was a clear White House victory. Jonathan Weisman and Peter Baker report:
While Mr. Obama was not “particularly thrilled” with the bill, said Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, the president decided the new proposal put together by the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was acceptable.
“What we have made clear to Democrats and Republicans in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is that the president would be willing to sign the proposed compromise that is working its way through the committee today,” Mr. Earnest told reporters.
Administration officials have argued all along that Congress has no authority to approve or reject an agreement. All it can do, they say, is vote for or against lifting sanctions.
More analysis can be found below the fold.
As passed by the committee, the bill would—if a final agreement with Iran is reached—give the Senate 30 days to review it during which the president could not lift congressional sanctions. If the Senate didn't like what it saw in the agreement, it could pass a resolution of disapproval requiring 60 votes. If President Obama vetoed that disapproval, it would require 67 votes to override. Under the latter circumstances, the review period could be extended to 52 days. If an agreement was not presented to the Senate by July 7, a week after the June 30 deadline, the extension could go to the original review period of 60 days.
Sen. Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, had been seeking a veto-proof vote on the bill. But it became clear that he wasn't going to be able to get those votes unless he removed a provision requiring the president to certify that Iran has not directly engaged in or supported terrorist actiivities that had harmed Americans. And so the certification mandate was removed.
That—together with other changes in a so-called manager's amendment hammered out between Corker and the committee's ranking Democrat Ben Cardin in the past few days, with advice from members of both parties on and off the committee—turned what was expected to be an afternoon of fiery debate into a short session notable mostly for top members praising each other for working together to alter the bill to make it more widely palatable.
Despite the vote, not everybody was happy with the results. There were as many as 50 possible amendments that had been hinted at in the past couple of weeks by members of the Senate panel. But only one was actually introduced Tuesday. That was by Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso. He sought to reinsert language from the original bill mandating the no-terrorism certification.
Cardin said he opposed that amendment because there is no way the president could make such a certification. Including this as a requirement for signing an agreement would kill it, he said, and give Iran justification for saying diplomacy doesn't work and blame the United States for the result. He pointed out that such certification has nothing to do with the nuclear negotiations underway. Moreover, he added, there are separate sanctions imposed on Iran relating to terrorism and human rights violations that would be unaffected by any nuclear agreement.
Corker added that the bill has stronger compliance reporting requirements on terrorism than any previous agreements. While certification would not be required, the president would have to report back to Congress every 90 days on any Iranian involvement in terrorism.
Barrasso's amendment failed on a 13-6 vote, with no Democrats in favor but at least some Republicans, including Corker, voting "no" only reluctantly.
With Democrats on the committee who were most opposed to the original bill all voting in favor of the amended version, and with the White House indicating that there will be no veto, passage in the full Senate by a large margin seems almost assured. That also will probably be the case in the House as long as Speaker John Boehner can keep any of the wilder-eyed members of that body from getting any deal-killing amendments attached to the bill.