Opinion writer

The news is breaking that House Republicans have postponed a vote on the resolution disapproving of the Iran deal, after a revolt from conservatives who are pushing the party to adopt a more aggressive strategy to derail the agreement, now that it has the support in the Senate to go forward.

Conservatives are pushing for a vote on a new measure that would prevent any vote on a final resolution of disapproval, until President Obama makes the full contents of so-called “side deals” attached to the agreement, including one between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, available to Congress. Opponents grabbed onto an IAEA-Iran side deal in a last ditch effort to spook Democrats into opposing the agreement, even though arms control experts clarified that the alarm about it was mostly distortion and hype, but that didn’t work. Now these side deals are at the center of an effort to block the agreement by legal means.

The basic idea, which House conservatives are acknowledging very frankly, is that now that it’s obvious Congress can no longer block the Iran deal, a legal push to get more details of it revealed could conceivably divulge more damaging information about it, thus getting Congressional Democrats to pull their support. Matt Fuller adds:

If the House passes a resolution stating that the president hasn’t followed the law by not disclosing the content of so-called “side deals” and therefore the president doesn’t have the authority to implement the Iran agreement, Obama would almost certainly move ahead anyway. In many ways, however, that’s exactly the point conservatives want to make.

This is a lawless president, they say. The Iran deal should be nullified because Obama didn’t follow the law, they’ll argue. Let’s take him to court, they’ll probably conclude. If Republicans are just playing out the string anyway on an Iran deal that’s already done, there are some in the GOP who think Congress might as well reserve the right to make its case in court.

It’s still unclear what House Republicans will end up doing; a meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. today. One perfectly plausible outcome, however, is that House Republicans might end up not holding any vote on the disapproval resolution at all. Indeed, Politico reports that right now, here are the three votes that Republicans are considering:

They are moving toward voting on a measure asserting Obama did not submit all elements of the agreement with Iran….

Second, Republicans are working on a bill to try to prevent Obama from lifting sanctions against Iran.

Third, the House would vote on a resolution to approve of the Iran pact. The original plan was to vote on a disapproval resolution.

If I understand this right, the first would essentially be a declaration that it’s the sense of the House that Obama has not given the full contents of the Iran deal to Congress, which means that under the bipartisan Corker-Cardin framework passed by Congress for its votes on the Iran deal, the clock never actually started on Congress’ deliberations at all, since Obama never gave them the full deal. GOP leaders may then charge that Obama is breaking the law by moving forward with the agreement, which would then have to be sorted out in court. The second would be a measure reimposing sanctions, which we already knew Republicans were going to vote on. The third would be a resolution of approval of the deal, designed only to put Democrats in the politically difficult position of voting for it.

Why that would be a difficult vote for Dems already on record in support of the deal is unclear. Indeed, as Nancy Pelosi told reporters today, House Democrats are prepared to support the deal in large enough numbers to sustain an Obama veto of disapproval, if necessary.

But for now, no House vote on the resolution of disapproval. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are saying they will go forward with their own disapproval resolution. It should be interesting when Senate Republicans weigh in on the mess in the House.

The oddest thing about this course of action in political terms is that it could end up denying Republicans the slim message victory they stood to gain from this whole procedure. If the House passed a resolution of disapproval of the deal, and more than 50 Senators voted for it (the resolution now looks likely to fall short of 60), Republicans would at least be able to argue that Obama and Democrats moved forward in defiance of a majority of both chambers in Congress, flouting the will of the American people. Now they won’t even have that argument.

However, they will retain the hope of legally derailing the deal later, or shaking out some new and damaging information that will get Dems to finally abandon it. Do both of those seem unlikely? Yes. But once you understand that for conservative Republicans the following two things are articles of faith — Obama acted nefariously or possibly illegally; and the Iran deal is so awful that there just have to be truly hideous aspects of it still hidden from view — it becomes clearer why this course of action makes more sense than voting on a hopeless resolution of disapproval and failing to block the deal in undramatic fashion.

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UPDATE: House Republicans have now announced that they will indeed be holding the three votes detailed above.