Party leaders agreed to scrap the 191 to 106 House vote to pass a bill taking aim at the agreement and hold a new vote tentatively set for Jan. 26 in hopes more lawmakers will show up to put their position on the record.
But by then, it may be too late to make a difference.
Iran is getting closer to the nuclear deal’s implementation day, at which point nuclear sanctions against Tehran will be lifted, freeing up about $100 billion in Iranian assets. Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry suggested implementation of the deal was just “days away.”
The bill considered Wednesday would force the president to certify that entities slated to have sanctions on them lifted under the agreement have never supported terrorism or Iran’s missile program.
Republicans, eyeing the calendar, argue that legislation like this is necessary because once Iran gets its hands on that money, the security situation will deteriorate.
“In what could be a matter of days, Iran will cash in with a hundred billion dollars plus in sanctions relief,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said, listing aggressive moves Iran has made since the deal was signed, including ballistic missile tests, firing rockets near a U.S. aircraft carrier and the detention of 10 U.S. sailors on Wednesday just hours before the President Obama’s final State of the Union address.
“I’m sure it’s occurred to many of us that if Iran behaves this way now, in a few days when it gets its hands on this bankroll… what other actions are we going to see?” Royce continued.
While there is little Congress can do now to roll back the deal, which was announced in July, Republicans are intent on making it an election year issue.
The legislation House considered Wednesday is the latest of several efforts by lawmakers to make sure the United States keeps up the pressure on Iran over recent provocative actions, such as reportedly conducting two ballistic missile tests in likely violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, even if they do not violate the terms of the nuclear agreement.
Many Democrats are also concerned about Iran’s actions and have backed efforts to put Tehran on a tighter leash. Very few of them, however, supported Wednesday’s bill, which they viewed as more of a partisan shot at the administration.
Republicans defended their latest Iran proposal as a needed warning to Tehran, especially in the aftermath of the ballistic missile tests.
“There is no pushback from the administration on this,” Royce complained Wednesday on the House floor. “We need a policy of more backbone, not more backing down.”
While Republican lawmakers have been pushing bills designed to enervate the Iran deal before its implementation, Democratic proposals have focused on making sure they retain the ability to enforce tough measures against Tehran while keeping the nuclear deal intact.
Earlier this month, a pair of House Democrats introduced a bill that would set up an accelerated procedure for imposing sanctions on Iran any time Tehran acts out in the realm of terrorism, human rights or ballistic missile development. Some Republicans supported the initiative.
But Democrats – especially those that made a show of opposing the agreement when it was being considered in Congress this summer — have been vocal about decrying Republican efforts to stymie implementation of the Iran deal.
“It’s a waste of all our time,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said of the bill passed Wednesday, reasoning that Obama would never sign the measure. He opposed the Iran deal initially, but after concluding that “our side lost the debate” Engel has worked to protect it through subsequent legislative attacks.
“Today this is a symbolic vote because we know the president is never going to sink his own agreement,” Engel said, likening the successive Iran votes the House has taken to the dozens of votes to dismantle Obamacare. “Symbolic votes won’t help us crack down on Iran’s support for terrorism.”
But none of the measures Democrats have backed have yet made it to the floor – while the march of Republican-backed measures to pick at the Iran deal are only increasing as implementation day grows closer.