Former senators Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) are banding together to urge Congress, via a new 501(c)(4) entity, the American Security Initiative, to pass the Corker-Menendez bill, formally known as the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act.
It began with a $500,000 ad buy meant to underscore the seriousness of an Iranian nuclear bomb:
In separate interviews with Right Turn, Coleman and Bayh stressed that the effort must be bipartisan. Coleman makes the case that a congressional vote should not be a “heavy lift.” He says that any deal with Iran should give the chance “for the people’s representatives — just as we have done for 25 other nuclear arms deals” the opportunity to review and vote on it. He stresses, “There is a benefit to getting Congress to approve and get a long-term, binding contract with Iran. If you don’t, you run the risk of being challenged or changed by the next president.” Put differently, the president is peddling snake oil to the Iranians if he is saying he can give them permanent or even 10-year relief from sanctions without a congressional vote.
Today, that bipartisan effort got back on track when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) heeded Democrats’ complaints that the bill was being jammed through on the floor. In an e-mail, McConnell’s communications director said, “While the original schedule would have allowed for a committee markup and vote on the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 before final floor consideration, it is clear that Senate Democrats will filibuster their own bill—a bill they rushed to introduce before the White House cut a deal with Iran.” He added, “So, instead, the Senate will turn next to the anti-human-trafficking legislation while Democrats decide whether or not they believe they and Congress as a whole should be able to review and vote on any deal the President cuts with the leaders of Iran. The Senate will take up the trafficking bill on Tuesday morning.”
With that glitch behind them, Coleman remains confident there will be broad agreement, in part because the public overwhelmingly is opposed to Iran getting a bomb and would even favor force to prevent that. “Public opinion is extraordinarily important on Capitol Hill,” he emphasized. “That is who they are working for — the American people. The American public clearly understands the danger of Iran getting a nuclear bomb.”
Bayh echoed Coleman’s certitude that of course Congress should weigh in: “If the deal doesn’t enjoy the approval of Congress and the American people, this will only undermine the objective of the accord.” From the point of view of Congress, Corker-Menendez should be an easy vote, he says: “I don’t know how a member of Congress can say, ‘I really don’t want to have a say.'” He acknowledges that there were hard feelings about the Israeli prime minister’s speech and again on the timing of the vote, but, he insists, “Democrats were exercised about process, not the substance.” He says the White House might want to keep Congress out of it. “Will it be messy? Could Congress insist on some changes that [the negotiators] would need to go back to the Iranians? Sure. But that’s democracy.”
Bayh has always voiced the view that the more pressure put on the Iranians in the form of sanctions and the credible threat of military action, the better the deal will be. And therein lies a problem for the administration. The deal, if there is one, will fall far short of the president’s stated policy of preventing a nuclear breakout; but he will be telling Congress this is the best he can do. Members might well conclude that if he had not effectively blocked sanctions by pressuring Democrats, the deal would be a whole lot better. Bayh won’t criticize the president and simply says, “Well, that hasn’t been debated. We need to have that debate.”
If Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and fellow Democrats hold firm and join with virtually all Republicans, they will get that chance. That the administration is so dead set on preventing the American people from hearing about the deal and listening to criticisms and on working without Congress tells us volumes about the content of what the negotiators will be coming back with. President Obama can dream up all sorts of executive power and try to smear opponents, but a veto-proof majority and American public opinion can effectively prevent a lasting, bad deal from being jammed through. In his last 22 months, he might lift sanctions — and start a nuclear arms race – but he cannot seal his deal acting unilaterally. A new president and Congress will look at this with fresh eyes in concert with our allies.