House sends Iran review bill to Obama
© Greg Nash

The House on Thursday passed legislation requiring congressional review of a nuclear deal with Iran, handing a victory to critics of the talks who demanded that Congress have an oversight role.

Passage came easily on a vote of 400-25. Only six Democrats and 19 Republicans opposed the measure.

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The carefully negotiated bill, which President Obama is expected to sign, gives Congress the power to approve or disapprove of a nuclear agreement with Iran during a 30-day period when economic sanctions could not be lifted.

Should the House and Senate vote to disapprove of the deal, and then override a likely Obama veto, the administration would be barred from waiving some economic sanctions on Iran as part of international accord.

The Senate passed the bill overwhelmingly last week in a 98-1 vote.

International negotiators reached a framework agreement with Iran last month, and are working to finish a final deal by June 30. The deal is expected to lift economic sanctions in exchange for limits on Iran’s nuclear program and a new regime of international inspections.

For months, the White House had stood firm against the effort in Congress to weigh in on the Iran deal, warning that the proposals threatened to upend the talks.

But with Democratic support for the Iran review bill growing, the administration reversed course, accepting a compromise from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerBob CorkerThe Hill's 12:30 Report Iran nuclear deal still under threat — US must keep its end of the bargain Senate heads to new healthcare vote with no clear plan MORE (R-Tenn.) and the panel's top Democrat, Sen. Ben CardinBen CardinGOP senator: It is in Trump's 'best interest' to sign Russia sanctions bill Sunday shows preview: Scaramucci makes TV debut as new communication chief Oil concerns hold up Russia sanctions push MORE (D-Md.), that omitted provisions most opposed by the White House.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) argued the measure gives Congress more leverage over the Obama administration in the talks.

"Once this legislation is signed, when Secretary Kerry sits across from the Iranians, he'll now have on his mind, 'I've got to take this to Congress.' That prospect can only improve these negotiations. And I just hope it's not too late and we aren't too deep into a bad deal," Royce said.

House GOP leaders moved the bill to the floor under a fast-track procedure typically reserved for noncontroversial legislation. The maneuver prohibits amendments and requires a two-thirds majority for passage. 

Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus had urged votes on amendments such as requiring Iran to recognize Israel's right to exist as part of a final deal.  

Lawmakers of both parties may have found that amendment proposal politically difficult to oppose, even if it potentially strained the ongoing negotiations with Iran.

Some conservatives bristled at the lack of amendments to the bill, which they think doesn't go far enough to rein in the administration.

"It is unconscionable for Congress to grant such sweeping power to President Obama, allowing him to lift sanctions on Iran, no matter the cost to our national security, the security of Israel, and the entire world. But even worse, the House is willing to do this today without having even one hearing, one amendment, a grand total of 40 minutes of debate," said Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.).

Instead, GOP leadership scheduled a vote alongside the Iran bill on legislation to impose sanctions on Hezbollah. That measure passed 423-0.

The House passed a similar Hezbollah sanctions bill last year by a vote of 404-0, but the Senate did not act on it.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellWe can't let Trump pack the court with radicals Judd Gregg: For Trump, reaching out would pay off Congressional GOP struggles for a win as recess looms MORE (R-Ky.) chose to move the painstakingly negotiated bill forward with only a few chances for amendment on the floor. Sens. Marco RubioMarco RubioMexican politicians have a new piñata: Donald Trump Bush ethics lawyer: Congress must tell Trump not to fire Mueller The private alternative to the National Flood Insurance Program  MORE (R-Fla.) and Tom CottonTom CottonCruz offers bill to weaken labor board's power Overnight Finance: GOP offers measure to repeal arbitration rule | Feds fine Exxon M for Russian sanctions violations | Senate panel sticks with 2017 funding levels for budget | Trump tax nominee advances | Trump unveils first reg agenda Iran deal faces uncertain future under Trump MORE (R-Ark.) tried to force a vote on an amendment requiring Iran to recognize Israel, but were denied after McConnell moved to cut off debate.

“If we didn’t face the threats of filibusters, or the blocking of amendments, or the specter of presidential vetoes, this bill would be a heck of a lot stronger. I assure you," McConnell said last week. “But the truth is, we do. That’s the frustrating reality.”

The Obama administration has indicated the president will sign the bill into law as long as it wasn't amended from the original deal struck with Corker and Cardin.

Some liberal Democrats like Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) warned that the legislation signals to other countries that the U.S. is "operating in less than good faith."

"I believe Congress must have oversight. But I don't believe we should make this deal stillborn in the crib before it's even allowed to emerge. We don't want to abort the deal before it's born," Ellison said.