By an 18-4 vote, with six Democrats joining all Republicans, the Senate Banking Committee today defied the White House veto threat and passed conditional sanctions against Iran if it does not make an acceptable deal on its nuclear weapons project. A letter yesterday signed by 10 Democrats, including those who signed onto the bill today, warns against a floor vote before March 24, but scheduling remains the province of the Senate majority leader. (USA Today reported in an interview that Sen. Mitch McConnell “was unyielding on Iran” and commended the Menendez-Kirk legislation. He was noncommittal on the timing of a floor debate.)
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) in committee successfully included an amendment on an up-or-down vote from Congress on a final deal. Another bill with additional language on making sure Congress gets a vote has been sponsored by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) but has not yet been introduced.
The winner here is U.S. national security and our negotiators in Vienna who will have additional leverage in talks with the Iranians. It is also a boost to damaged U.S.-Israeli relations since Israel has his been adamant about the need for more pressure on Iran. And it is a boon to our Gulf allies who also fear we are capitulating to the mullahs. But there are other winners and a number of losers.
Winners include: the two co-sponsors of the bill who weathered a fierce campaign by the White House and at times its media minions; McConnell for backing it and putting it on the calendar; bipartisanship in foreign policy; the GOP Senate majority (unlike the Democrats it is allowing a vote to proceed); regular order in the Senate; Congress’s influence in foreign policy; Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer (who has been accused of messing up a vote over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit) and mainstream foreign policy gurus of both parties who have been hammering for a tougher position on the talks.
Losers are: the White House (and its campaign to hobble Netanyahu); the New York Times, which laughably claimed the prime minister was imperiling sanctions; Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is isolated from virtually all his Senate colleagues and stands with the left wing of the Democratic Party; J Street; the “libertarian moment” that was supposed to represent a less aggressive foreign policy; the mainstream media, which missed all of these storylines; Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has been shown to be an obstacle to productive legislating; and Hillary Clinton (is she with the Senate Democrats or President Obama?).
What the Iranians will recognize, one hopes, is that they can’t get a deal simply by snowing the administration. The American people and large bipartisan majorities in the Senate will demand a sound agreement dismantling its nuclear program or demand a return to and increase in sanctions. Unfortunately, our negotiators at the bargaining table and the president’s passivity in the face of Iranian aggression throughout the Middle East send a mixed signal to the mullahs. But let us be thankful for small favors — at least the signals are mixed and no longer send out an unalloyed message of weakness.