After Senate discussions on two companion bills went public, it appears Republican and Democratic supporters of sanctions against Iran are aiming for a united front, despite the administration’s threat of a veto.
In a telephone interview, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) was emphatic. “Senator Menendez and I are working hand in hand to find the best path forward in the event Iran negotiations fail to insure severe penalties will be put in place, and if a deal is agreed on that Congress has a role,” he told Right Turn. He continued, “We are both working together on appropriate timing.”
Menendez-Kirk legislation would enact sanctions that would go into effect at the end of June if a deal is not reached. Timing of a vote on the conditional sanctions in this case may involve two considerations.
First, in light of the White House strong-arming and utilizing intelligence to manipulate an outcome to its liking, Senate Democrats are taking flight from sanctions legislation. Menendez will need to reassemble and if possible expand the block of Democrats who would support sanctions legislation. The magic number in this case is 2/3 of the Senate, with the GOP likely to have at least 53 votes.
Second, the administration has set an earlier March deadline for a “political framework,” although it is far from certain whether Iran and the “P5+1” will reach a deal by that time. Some argue that a Senate vote before that date would raise the ire of the Europeans, shift the focus to Congress and wreck talks. This is a variation on the administration’s specious argument that no new sanctions legislation can be passed. Critics of delay argue if this is the concern, it would be equally true after March 1. If the entire purpose of conditional sanctions is to put pressure on Iran to come around by June 1, it is arguably immaterial when the Congress acts.
In any event, the talk about timing is interesting but beside the point. The timing of a final vote on the Senate floor is set by the majority leader, who in this case has said he will move expeditiously. The amendment process he is committed to would allow both sides to try to shape the bill to their liking. The House has been on board with Menendez-Kirk since last year, and provided the bill comes out of the Senate essentially intact (or strengthened) a large House majority is virtually certain.
The administration’s fit over sanctions tells Congress, our allies and Iran everything one needs to know: The administration is deathly afraid of exercising leverage and seeing Iran walk away from the table, however briefly. It has come to believe it needs a deal much, much more than Iran. The Obama team is desperate for a deal and even more desperate to avoid calls for action.
The collapse of the government in Yemen yesterday at the hands of Iranian backed rebels should serve as a reminder of how little understanding the administration has of Iran and events in the Middle East. Yemen was its great success story, the president told us, and now it is in shambles. The president misrepresented to the entire world that the interim deal “stopped” Iran’s nuclear program. Does Congress really want to accept at face value the administration’s analysis of Iranian potential reaction to sanctions? Menendez’s words ring truer with each passing day: The administration is peddling talking points from Iran. Congress should not be scammed and should proceed with sanctions legislation as soon as the votes are there.