President Barack Obama received a reprieve on Wednesday from Democrats who back legislation allowing Congress to review a nuclear deal with Iran when they decided to withhold their vote until after this month’s negotiating deadline between the two nations.
The measure by Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey and eight other Democrats, as well as independent Maine Sen. Angus King, essentially holds up a bipartisan attempt to demand congressional approval of any agreement that would lift sanctions against Iran, The New York Times
The move was triggered by an attempt from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to speed up the process by calling for a procedural vote next Tuesday on legislation
to prevent Obama from agreeing to end sanctions in return for Iran vowing not to build a nuclear bomb.
McConnell’s action quickly created a backlash from Democrats, even among those who back the legislation. The Democrats claimed that it was turning the Iran talks into a political confrontation instead of a security issue.
Saying that the procedural vote "poisons the well," Menendez said on Wednesday that there was "no reason to rush this to the floor unless you’re looking for a political process."
In a letter to McConnell, Menendez and other backers of the bipartisan bill said the measure should go through the usual channels of being discussed and voted on by a committee before being brought to the floor for a vote.
Their opposition likely means the procedural measure will be voted down, although it will probably resurface after the March 24 deadline for an initial deal in the Iran negotiations with the U.S. and other world powers.
"On a day defined by serious discourse about Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program, at a moment when legislators are contemplating the most serious national security issue of our time, we are disappointed that you have proceeded outside of regular order which suggests that the goal of this maneuver is to score partisan political points, rather than pursue a substantive strategy to counter Iran’s nuclear ambitions," Menendez and the other senators wrote to McConnell.
"As a result of your actions, we will only vote for this bill after it has gone through the regular markup process in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and after the March 24th deadline for the political framework agreement," they wrote.
But McConnell said, "There is nothing partisan about the Senate acting to fulfill its constitutional role. I was surprised that some senators made statements objecting to their own legislation. This isn't complicated."
McConnell decided to expedite the review process of any Iran deal soon after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned in a speech to Congress of the dangers of negotiating with Iranians on weapons of mass destruction.
The congressional review legislation is co-sponsored by GOP Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Menendez, the panel’s ranking Democrat.
The bill would force Obama to get approval from Congress on any Iran deal and restrict his authority to waive Iran sanctions for 60 days to give lawmakers the opportunity to make their criticism, the Times said.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama would veto the legislation
no matter what, because it would damage the nuclear negotiations with Iran, although he admitted that the administration "does believe that Congress has a legitimate role in this process."
He said, "What I also understand is that many of the Democrats, including some who do support the legislation, are now changing their mind about the bill because of the partisan tactics that are being employed by the Republican majority in the Senate.
"So, it may be a situation where the president doesn’t even have to veto it because there are now legitimate questions that are being raised about whether or not it’s actually going to even pass the Senate."
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