The difference between being in the minority and being in the majority is stark at times. In the latter case, it matters what you do.

US Senator Robert Menendez, D-NJ, speaks as he introduces Defense Department general counsel Jeh Johnson to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for Johnson's nomination to be Homeland Security secretary in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on November 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGANMANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) (Mandal Ngan/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

In the budget arena, GOP senators can grandstand knowing their votes aren’t needed. In the House, responsible Republicans will make sure it passes. Those voting no in the Senate are in essence coasting on House Republicans’ and Senate Democrats’ votes. It is easy to be a critic when your vote is irrelevant.

The reverse has happened on Iran sanctions. In the House, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) and GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) in essence had reached agreement on a resolution that would, among other things require Iran to comply with IAEA requirements (arguably broader than the interim agreement), cooperate fully with inspections and account for past illegal activities.  (The full text appears below.)

This morning Hoyer made clear he would not go forward with the resolution. Hoyer’s press secretary Stephanie Young told Right Turn, “Mr. Hoyer believes Congress has the right to express its views on what should be included in a final agreement, but that the timing was not right to move forward this week.” She explained, “Mr. Hoyer decided now was not the time to move forward with a resolution given implementation talks have not yet wrapped in Vienna.”

A congressional aide not authorized to speak on the record because the resolution may be passed in the near future informed me that Hoyer had been fully engaged in the process, hand-wrote portions of the resolution and then backed off this morning. The conclusion one can draw is that the White House “got to” him. (Hoyer, it comes as no surprise, has been in close contact with the White House on the issue.) Cantor’s office would say only the following via e-mail: “The Leader is disappointed we could not move ahead with the agreed on resolution this week, but he will continue to work with Whip Hoyer, Chairman Royce and Congressman Engel to get it to the floor as soon as possible.”

The delay surprised long-time foreign policy and pro-Israel observers because Hoyer has acted independently in the past: for example, in voting on sanctions despite White House foot-dragging. Nevertheless, in light of the administration’s full-court press, Hoyer’s stall is not entirely unexpected.

Meanwhile, Democratic Senate majority members may be moving ahead with sanction in direct contravention of the White House, although not in December (for over a week it was apparent nothing would get done this month.) In the Senate it really matters what happens, both because the Democrats and Republicans have the votes to pass something and because sanctions mean a whole lot more than a House resolution. True, the sanctions measure will not be part of the defense authorization act, but the Senate is far from done.

Politico reports, “The Senate Banking Committee’s leaders have drafted a bill that would slap fresh  sanctions on Iran and will pass the legislation if Tehran fails to follow  through on its end of a temporary nuclear deal with global powers.” With  a full-court press from administration officials, Menendez  wasn’t prepared to move ahead with a stand-alone sanctions bill right now, but indications are that he is far from satisfied with doing nothing:

Menendez said perhaps the Senate should go even further than another  round of sanctions, given the broad criticism against the administration for the  terms of a deal that many believe will leave Iran with unacceptable nuclear capacity. That step would likely come in the form of a Senate resolution that  defines what Congress can stomach as part of a permanent diplomatic deal with  Iran.

“Maybe what the Senate needs to do is find the endgame and define what it  finds acceptable,” Menendez said.

On a separate track from Johnson and Crapo, powerful Democrats like Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York and Menendez are teaming with Republicans like John  McCain of Arizona and Mark Kirk of Illinois to work on a bill that would trigger new sanctions if diplomatic talks with Iran fall through. But Johnson said  emphatically at a hearing on ongoing talks that he disagrees with such an approach.

There you have it — Hoyer can be implored to at least pause under White House pressure, but despite whatever last minute arm-twisting was applied to Menendez, Senate Democrats in the majority must govern, and govern they will (if not immediately then when the Senate returns) to deter a dangerous and ill-advised deal. It is noteworthy that the bipartisan congressional blowback on the interim deal did move the administration to some action. The New York Times reports, “Under pressure from Congress to demonstrate that it is not easing up on sanctions on Iran’s oil sector or on its nuclear and missile programs, the Obama administration on Thursday announced an expanded list of Iranian companies and individuals that it said it would target to block their trading activities around the world.” That is one sign Congress matters very much when it comes to Iran.

The text of the agreed upon, but not presented, House resolution is as follows:

Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives concerning the policy of the United States of America toward the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.


 Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives concerning the policy of the United States of America toward the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Whereas the United Nations Security Council has adopted multiple resolutions, including Resolutions 1696, 1737, 1747, 1803, 1835, and 1929, which demand that the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran (hereinafter ‘‘Iran’’) ‘‘suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development’’, condemn Iran for failing to comply with the Council’s demands, and impose sanctions on Iran;

Whereas the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported as recently as November 2013 that Iran has continued to enrich uranium, in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions, and that Iran has installed approximately 19,000 centrifuges, which have the capacity to enrich uranium in a matter of weeks to levels that would provide sufficient fissile material for a nuclear explosive device;

Whereas Iran is constructing a heavy water reactor at Arak, which, once operational, would have the capability to produce plutonium that could be used in a nuclear weapon;

Whereas the IAEA, concerned about the possibility of a covert nuclear weapons program in Iran, has since 2005 found Iran to be in non-compliance with its Safeguards Agreement and has repeatedly but unsuccessfully sought access to several sites at which it suspects clandestine nuclear- related activities have taken place, as well as explanations regarding information the IAEA has uncovered that Iran has conducted research on a nuclear explosive device and delivery vehicles;

Whereas President Barack Obama has repeatedly stated his commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon;

Whereas it is the policy of the United States that no nation, including Iran, has an inherent right to enrich uranium;

Whereas the Congress has long recognized the threat Iran poses to the United States, our interests, and allies, and has provided the President with the authorization to impose sanctions designed to counter Iran’s aggressive actions, including its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability, its support for terrorism, and its repression of its own citizens;

Whereas the United States–led sanctions effort, including those imposed by the United Nations, the European Union, and other countries, has been instrumental in compelling Iran to re-enter negotiations aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program;

Whereas the Congress supports the pursuit of a peaceful, diplomatic solution to ending Iran’s efforts to obtain a nuclear weapons capability and recognizes that all options must be on the table to prevent Iran from achieving such a capability;

Whereas Iran continues to develop ballistic missiles in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1747 and 1929, has developed medium-range ballistic missiles to target Israel, and, according to the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, ‘‘could develop and test an ICBM capable of reaching the United States by 2015’’;

Whereas the Department of State has designated Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1984 and has for the last decade characterized Iran as the world’s ‘‘most active state sponsor of terrorism’’;

Whereas Iran’s destabilizing activities throughout the region pose a threat to United States interests, the interests of the United States’ closest partners in the region, and international security;

Whereas the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran has reported systematic abuses of human rights, including significant limits on freedom of expression, lack of due process, and suppression of dissent; and

Whereas United States citizens Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, and Robert Levinson continue to be unjustly

detained in Iran: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that it should be the policy of the United States to— 

seek the verifiable end to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and its capability to develop or acquire a nuclear weapon, including by securing a comprehensive agreement between the P5+1 coun8 tries and Iran that—

requires dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, including enrichment and reprocessing capabilities, such that Iran is prevented from pursuing both the uranium and plutonium pathways to a nuclear weapon; and prevents the construction of a heavy water nuclear reactor in Iran;

require Iran to fully and verifiably implement its Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA, ratify and implement the Additional Protocol, and comply with the transparency measures requested by the Director General of the IAEA, as well as with all verification and monitoring measures necessary to ensure that Iran is abiding by the terms of any agreement, including no-notice inspections of all suspect sites, including military facilities, and full access to all Iranian personnel, scientists, and technicians associated with Iran’s nuclear program; and require Iran to provide a full accounting of its current and past research and development work regarding weaponization, warhead design, and vehicles for the delivery of nuclear weapons as called for by IAEA and United Nations Security Council resolutions, as well as provide satisfactory explanations to pending IAEA questions; impose additional sanctions on Iran if it violates the terms of the Joint Plan of Action reached with the P5+1 countries or if a comprehensive agreement is not be reached within the term of the Joint Plan of Action; confront Iran’s activities in the region that pose a threat to the United States and its interests, our allies, and international peace and stability, and continue to implement and fully enforce all existing United States sanctions against Iran based on its support for international terrorism, including those pursuant to the Iran Sanctions Act, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010, section 1245 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, and subtitles C and D of title XII of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (also referred to as the ‘‘Iran Freedom and Counter-Proliferation Act of 2012’’); continue to recognize and confront with all existing authorities Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, ballistic missile programs, proliferation activities, and human rights abuses; and continue efforts to secure the release of United States citizens held unjustly in Iran.