Iran nuclear agreement review procedures similar to Russian sanctions process
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For those who notice a similarity between the congressional review process enacted earlier this month for lifting sanctions against Russia and the procedures utilized in the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, congratulations: you have just earned your “deep-weeds, procedural wonkery” merit badge. And, if you successfully ferreted-out the specific differences between the two laws, please affix a ragweed cluster to your badge.

In July 2014, Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSenate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials McConnell calls for Senate hearings on Russia sanctions MORE (R-Tenn.), then the ranking minority member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced legislation to require President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaEx-White House stenographer: Trump is ‘lying to the American people’ Trump has the right foreign policy strategy — he just needs to stop talking The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump faces bipartisan criticism over Putin presser, blames media for coverage MORE to submit the final Iran Nuclear Agreement for congressional review.

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The bill provided for a 30-day review process that included tight, expedited procedures to help ensure a vote in both houses on a joint resolution of disapproval. These included: automatic discharge of a disapproval resolution from committee if not reported after 15-days, no intervening floor amendments or procedural motions, and a limit on debate time in both houses, meaning no filibusters in the Senate.

President Obama came out in strong opposition to any congressional review process, pointing out that any final deal would be an executive agreement and not a treaty requiring Senate ratification or a presidential-congressional agreement. The Corker bill eventually picked-up eleven co-sponsors, all Republicans, and received no further consideration the 113th Congress.

In the next Congress, with Republicans in the majority, Corker, now chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced a significantly revised version of the bill, this time with 11 co-sponsors that included four Democrats and independent Angus KingAngus Stanley KingBipartisan bill would bring needed funds to deteriorating National Park Service infrastructure Lawmakers say Trump tariffs are threatening local newspapers Senate adds members to pro-NATO group MORE of Maine. One of those co-sponsors, Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineGraham would consider US-Russia military coordination in Syria Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick Election Countdown: Latest on the 2018 Senate money race | Red-state Dems feeling the heat over Kavanaugh | Dem doubts about Warren | Ocasio-Cortez to visit Capitol Hill | Why Puerto Ricans in Florida could swing Senate race MORE (D-Va.), had convinced Corker to consider a compromise that would attract bipartisan support. The main difference in the new substitute was a provision allowing for either a joint resolution of approval or disapproval, but which jettisoned all the expedited procedures from Corker’s original bill. That meant that any resolution of approval or disapproval would be subject to the normal process of amendments and motions, and could be filibustered in the Senate until 60 senators voted to invoke cloture. By the time the bill was reported from the Foreign Relations Committee in April, it had 66 co-sponsors, including 20 Democrats.

Confronted by a veto-proof super-majority in the Senate, President Obama had a position conversion experience and vowed to sign the measure if it reached his desk. It obviously helped that the watered-down language fashioned by Kaine worked to the president’s advantage. The review language was attached to an unrelated House-passed measure, and went on to pass both Houses by substantial majorities.

When the Iran Nuclear Agreement was finalized and submitted to Congress, a joint disapproval resolution was offered in the Senate as a substitute for a non-controversial joint resolution from the House. Democrats held firm in supporting the president and killed the measure by talking it to death, beating back four separate cloture motions. The House was unable to move forward on its own disapproval resolution due to a protest within Republican ranks that the president had not complied with the review act’s requirement to provide all relevant documents. Even if the House had passed a disapproval resolution, the Senate filibuster spared the president a messy veto override fight.

The 2017 review process for lifting the Russian sanctions was also introduced by Chairman Corker and co-sponsored by ranking member Ben Cardin (D-Md.). It was part of a larger bill that included sanctions against Iran and North Korea. The Russian portion allowed for enactment of either a joint resolution of approval or disapproval during a 30-day review period. After it easily passed both houses by veto-proof margins, it was reluctantly signed into law by President Trump.

While the Russian sanctions bill restored most of the expedited procedures that had been dropped from Corker’s original 2014 and 2015 Iran nuclear review bills, there was no limit on Senate debate time. That leaves open the possibility of another filibuster. Ironically, President Trump has repeatedly urged Senate Republicans to go nuclear and repeal the 60-vote cloture requirement for ending legislative filibusters, even though such a full-blown filibuster would be Trump’s only hope for winning a fight to lift any of the Russia sanctions.

Because an overwhelming number of members in both houses and both parties were angered over Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. elections and voted to impose the sanctions, the president will have a steep uphill climb to convince 41 senators to stand with him. Moreover, his public lashing of the Senate generally and Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell spokesman on Putin visit: 'There is no invitation from Congress' Overnight Defense: Trump inviting Putin to DC | Senate to vote Monday on VA pick | Graham open to US-Russia military coordination in Syria Senate to vote Monday on Trump's VA nominee MORE (R-Ky.) personally for not passing an ObamaCare repeal and replace bill has not exactly put him on firm footing to even begin that climb.

Don Wolfensberger is a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and Bipartisan Policy Center and former staff director of the House Rules Committee. The views expressed are solely his own.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.