Forty-five Democrats, enough to maintain a filibuster, united to block a resolution that would have tied implementation of the deal to Iran recognizing the state of Israel and releasing American prisoners, including Washington Post Tehran correspondent Jason Rezaian.
Democrats then for the third time over the past week blocked an up or down vote on the overall agreement on a 56 to 42, with 60 votes needed to advance the measure.
Democrats blasted Republicans for playing politics with the fate of hostages by trying to attach them to the pact – something the administration consciously decided against doing during negotiations, in order to not give the Iranians leverage to extract more concessions. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) — who represents Amir Hekmati, a U.S. Marine Corps sergeant held in Iran since 2011 — called the effort “appalling.”
Three Democrats who oppose the deal — Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Ben Cardin of Maryland and Bob Menendez of New Jersey — sided with their colleagues and voted against the Republican attempt to tie the prisoner concern and Iran’s relations with Israel to the nuclear agreement.
Just prior to the vote, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) became almost apologetic when explaining to his panel’s top Democrat, Cardin, why Republicans tried to link the Iran agreement to other contentious issues concerning the rogue nation.
“I think out of frustration, and knowing there were a number of members who wanted to express themselves in the way that this amendment is – I think that is the reason that has occurred,” Corker said. “We’re not ever going to be able to get that vote of conscience that all of us have wanted to make.”
McConnell and other Republican leaders have defended the series of votes they laid out this week, arguing they were justified in the face of a filibuster from Democrats. Had a simply-majority vote been allowed, the deal’s opponents would have been able to send President Obama a resolution of disapproval he would have had to veto into order to protect the deal.
“Democrats went to extreme lengths to protect the president politically,” McConnell said on the floor. “Because they did, Democrats ensured that this would be not just be Obama’s deal with Iran but the Democratic Party’s deal with Iran too.”
While the 60-day review period ending on Thursday, House Republicans are promising to keep the debate alive.
Last week, they voted to express their lack of confidence in the deal, passed a measure forbidding Obama from lifting sanctions against Iran and adopted a resolution stating Congress’s review clock never actually started ticking, because lawmakers did not receive from the administration the text of two side agreements between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The Senate has not announced any plans to take up these bills and leaders appear ready to move on, arguing not much more can be done while Obama is in the White House.
But House Republicans say their contention that the review clock never started could form the basis for an eventual lawsuit against the Obama administration to block the deal.