Graham thinks Iran has reached a tipping point for Americans and for Congress. “The Iranian issue is galvanizing Republicans, Democrats, conservatives and liberals in a way I have not seen since I’ve been here,” he tells me. “In January the influence the White House has in stopping legislation ends. When Susan Rice suggests we don’t need sanction, you can bet we do. This is the lady who told us Benghazi was about a video. This is the lady who was the architect of our Syria and Iraq policy.”
He is confident that in the new Senate the Menendez-Kirk bill to enact sanctions and the Corker-Graham bill to require Congress to vote on any final deal will pass with overwhelming, bipartisan support. He recalled that Congress has enacted a series of measures seeking to bolster the president’s hand. President Obama spoke out against containment so the Senate passed a non-binding resolution 90 to 1 declaring containment would not be the U.S. policy. (You can guess who the sole opponent was.) Later, Obama declared “we have Israel’s back,” so the Senate passed another resolution saying that in the event Israel would have to act, the United States would give the Jewish state its full support. At the time Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said, “While this resolution makes absolutely clear that we are not authorizing the use of force, it does make clear that we have Israel’s back, that if Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense against Iran’s nuclear program that we should stand with Israel — using all the tools of our national power — to assist Israel in defense of its territory, people and existence.”
In 2015, the Senate would again be enforcing the president’s own words. Wasn’t Obama the one to promise much more “pressure” if Iran did not sign a deal ? Haven’t his advisers promised they’d come right back to Congress if Iran stalled? Taking the president at (what was once) his word, the Senate and the House can ratchet up sanctions, demand a vote and also, as several lawmakers have recommended, set a bottom line for the negotiations — again based on what the president’s advisers have affirmed is U.S. policy.
Speaking at the Foreign Policy Initiative. Sen.-elect Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) spoke in favor of new sanctions and criticized the president for, in essence, giving away the store. The only senator so far to object publicly is Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who doesn’t want to “interfere” with the negotiators. Whether Paul finds some way to justify reversing his position or some excuse to justify what may be the only GOP vote against sanctions remains to be seen. (Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who previously agreed with Paul, warned before the last deadline was missed, “Talks on implementation of the Nov. 24 agreement are ongoing, but time is running out. If Iran is simply using this as another stalling tactic, further congressional action will be warranted.” He sounds poised to join the rest of the GOP.)
Senate Democrats like Menendez have given Clinton cover to move away from the president. Clinton in turn, with a show of support to Menendez and other Democrats, can show her independence from the White House (could this have been a topic during her one hour meeting with the president?) and join the overwhelming bipartisan support for strong congressional action. That will leave Obama and Rice to argue the case that any action would be dangerous. We trust they won’t call Clinton a “war monger.” Oh, but they will have Paul’s vote of confidence.