The vote on cloture on the Corker-Menendez bill was 93-6; the final vote on the merits, 98-1. With that, the Senate rebuked the White House’s plan to avoid Congress entirely on a final Iran deal. If there is a final deal, at least President Obama will be barred from immediately lifting sanctions, will have to turn over the whole deal to lawmakers and will risk a resounding bipartisan “no” vote. It is not ideal, but only Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) in the end made the perfect the enemy of the good to vote no on the merits. While Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Cotton were among the six voting no on cloture, Cruz wound up voting yes on the merits of a bill he co-sponsored and then called it a bad deal. Go figure. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who initially raised two of the poison pill amendments, was clear-eyed enough to recognize when a good-enough bill deserves support. He voted for cloture and yes on the merits.
In remarks before the vote, White House nemesis Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) argued:
And despite the good intentions – and I will say the good intentions of many of the amendments, some which I agree with – we cannot risk a presidential veto and we cannot at the end of the day risk giving up Congressional review and judgment. That is the critical core issue before the Senate so we will have congressional review and judgment on probably the most significant nuclear nonproliferation national security, global security question, I think, of our time.
We cannot risk having no oversight role. And without the passage of this legislation, we will have missed an opportunity to send a clear message to Tehran. So as we near the finish line and hopefully agree to govern as we should, I believe we will ultimately pass legislation without destroying what Senator Corker and I carefully crafted and was passed unanimously out of the Committee.
He then went on to decry many of the provisions that may wind up in a final deal — affording Iran immediate sanctions relief (“a signing bonus”), allowing Iran to keep working on advanced research, reliance on the faulty concept of snapback sanctions, the failure to secure anytime/any place inspections, Iran’s refusal to come clean on past military dimensions of the program and excluding terrorism from sanctions consideration. He then told his colleagues what we anticipated, that he is now willing to work across the aisle on more and more limits on the president:
And I would say to my colleagues who feel passionately about some of these amendments that they have offered, this isn’t the only bill on which we can consider those things. I stand ready to work with colleagues immediately on pursuing other concerns such as missile technology, such as terrorism, such as their human rights violations, such as their anti-Semitism, such as the Americans who are being held hostage. And to look at either sanctions or enhanced sanctions if they already exist on some of these elements that we should be considering. That is separate and apart from a nuclear program.
So I’d be more than willing to work with my colleagues to deal with all of those issues. And I will say that even as we have worked to give the Administration the space to negotiate and believe very passionately in this legislation, it bothers me enormously that just last week Reuters reported that Great Britain informed the United Nations sanctions panel on April 20 of an active Iranian nuclear procurement network apparently linked to two blacklisted firms – Iran’s centrifuge technology company called TESA and Kalay Company, KEC. If what Great Britain brought before the sanctions panel is true, how can we trust Iran to end its nuclear weapons ambitions and not be a threat to its neighbors when even as we are negotiating with them, they are trying to illicitly acquire materials for their nuclear weapons program in the midst of the negotiations?
What critics of the bill refused to understand or acknowledge is that the way to get a bipartisan majority is step by step. Having supported this less-than-perfect bill, Republicans can now demand Menendez and his Democrats make good on their promise for additional bills. They can begin by enacting additional, harsh sanctions for terrorism and by setting forth the minimum conditions (adopting Menendez’s list of complaints) for their approval of a final deal. The result, if there is a final deal, may be a decisive and bipartisan vote of no confidence in the president’s deal, depriving it of moral authority and setting up the next president to wipe the slate clean. If Congress succeeds in stopping an awful deal or creating conditions to kill it after the fact, we will look back on this vote as a turning point.