Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who orchestrated the “poison pill” amendments that would have wrecked the passage of a bipartisan, veto-proof majority learned the wrong lesson from the Iran letter that Cotton authored and was co-signed by 46 other Republicans. There, Cotton was right on the merits as to the president’s powers and helpful in laying bare the White House plan to bypass Congress and first go to the United Nations. However, he was terribly destructive in the quest to separate Democrats from the White House and forge a bipartisan, super-majority for measures to stop a bad Iran deal.
The two freshmen have no plan B, and seem to think that defeat of the Corker-Menendez bill would be a win for those opposing the White House. The White House does not agree, and neither do the majority of senators. They are trying to devise a mechanism to get in the game, to recover some congressional role. However, by making this an intra-party fight, the two freshmen made this about them and not the deficiencies of the Iran framework or unity in opposing many of its terms. One shot at a meaningful public debate was lost.
Whether by cloture or one last deal on handling amendments, the bill will pass, get to the House and then to the president’s desk. But what then?
One would be, in a separate measure, to pass legislation preventing the president from lifting sanctions in the event there is no deal that does certain things (e.g. shutdown Iran’s nuclear facility at Fordow). It will pass the House, and then Democrats in the Senate can explain why they aren’t insisting Fordow be closed, go anywhere/anytime exceptions be passed, etc. Even a nonbinding resolution would be helpful, after Corker-Menendez passes. In other words, win back the ability to have an up or down vote, and then establish a benchmark on which to judge the deal.
Another option would be to increase strangling sanctions on Iran for supporting terror, pursuing an ICBM program and aggressive actions like detaining the Marshall Islands ship. The president has emphasized again and again that these sorts of items are not included in the talks. Fine, so Congress should be focusing on them. In addition to sanctions, Congress should demand within a short period of time a comprehensive Iran policy that lays out our efforts to prevent regional aggression. The White House has such a plan, right?
Third, the appropriate oversight committees should begin extensive hearings to question Wendy Sherman and Secretary of State John Kerry as to the justification for letting Fordow remain open or letting Iran keep 6,500 centrifuges. If the answer is that Iran wouldn’t agree to anything else, then the question becomes whether the Joint Plan of Action and the entire administration’s approach to Iran is faulty.
In short, once Congress gets a process that guarantees a vote, prevents the president from immediately lifting sanctions and requires the administration to cough up the full deal, then it can, no thanks to the freshmen, return to a bipartisan approach to policing the administration and discrediting a terrible deal.