Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked a Republican effort to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal, delivering the Obama administration a long-awaited, major foreign policy victory.
But with Republicans in both chambers dead set on taking further shots to eviscerate the deal, and potentially even drag it to court to block its implementation, the Iran deal debate may not be over.
The vote on the procedural motion was 58 to 42, falling two votes short of the 60 votes needed to consider the resolution rejecting the agreement.
Meanwhile, the House on Thursday evening passed, 245 to 186, a resolution stating that President Obama didn’t fulfill his obligations under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act because Congress has yet to see two confidential side agreements pertaining to the deal — documents the administration says it doesn’t have. The resolution also stated that the 60-day clock for Congress to approve the deal hasn’t started.
But despite the House vote (and two more to come on Friday), the Senate action virtually assures that the deal will be implemented, at least in the short term. In recent days, the deal’s supporters secured the votes to sustain Obama’s promised veto. The successful filibuster of the resolution of disapproval now ensures Obama won’t have to rely on his veto pen to preserve a major piece of his foreign policy agenda.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the Senate will vote on the resolution of disapproval one more time before the Sept. 17 deadline to see “if any folks want to change their minds.” But he seemed to accept that there was no way to block its implementation via Congress.
“If we want to do anything further about this Iranian regime, bring me a bill with enough cosponsors to override a presidential veto,” McConnell told his colleagues after Thursday’s vote. “Otherwise, the American people will give us their judgment about the appropriateness of this measure a year from November.”
But in the House, Republicans don’t want to wait until the election to take aim at the pact from another angle.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday said House Republicans will “use every tool at our disposal to stop, slow and delay this agreement from being fully implemented,” including suing Obama to keep him from carrying out the deal.
“That is an option that is very possible,” Boehner said.
A lawsuit would be a potentially dramatic postscript to a long fight over green-lighting the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for easing economic sanctions on the rogue nation – a fight that has been in its final hours ensnared by procedural jockeying in both chambers of Congress.
In the House, leaders abruptly shifted course to quell a nascent uprising this week, and now may not consider a disapproval resolution at all.
Republican lawmakers, and some Democrats, have been asking to see two confidential side agreements, struck between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The administration argues it can’t produce them because it never had the confidential documents.
On Friday, the House will take up a measure to prevent Obama from lifting sanctions on Iran. Then, it will likely reject an approval resolution for the entire deal that “is about holding every member accountable for their vote,” Boehner said.
Now that efforts to block the deal through a disapproval resolution have faltered, many House conservatives are agitating for their Senate counterparts to follow their lead.
“I’d like to see the Senate actually go nuclear on this,” said Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho). “Take up our resolution and also turn down the deal. There’s a lot of different things that we could do.”
A few senators might be receptive to the idea. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Thursday sent House Republican leaders a letter, making the same argument as House conservatives about Congress not having to abide by the deal because of lawmakers not being privy to side agreements.
But Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) indicated there isn’t much interest among Senate Republicans in taking steps to formally assert that Obama is in violation of his obligations under the law.
Democrats, meanwhile, are frustrated and impatiently waiting to declare victory.
“It’s time that we move on to something else. This matter is over,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said after Thursday’s vote. “You can continue re-litigating, but it’s going to have the same result.”
Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that opponents of the Iran deal had secured enough votes to override a presidential veto of a resolution attacking the agreement. Deal opponents never had enough votes for a veto override.