After veto threat, senators back off on Iran

A few of the senators co-sponsoring an Iran sanctions bill now warn the measure could have serious consequences, a day after President Obama repeated his threat to veto the measure.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said on MSNBC Tuesday night that he didn’t endorse the bill so that it could be voted on during negotiations with Iran. “Give peace a chance,” he said.

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"I did not sign it with the intention that it would ever be voted upon or used upon while we were negotiating," Manchin said. "I signed it because I wanted to make sure the president had a hammer, if he needed it and showed them how determined we were to do it and use it, if we had to." 

Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) authored the legislation late last year, after the United States announced with its allies they had reached an interim deal with Iran to curb its nuclear program. The six-month agreement took effect last week. 

The sanctions bill, however, would add additional and tougher sanctions than those already in place. 

In his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, Obama urged the bill’s 59 co-sponsors to reconsider their positions and to give diplomacy a chance. 

“The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible. But let me be clear: If this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it. For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed,” Obama said. 

A day later, another co-sponsor, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), appears to be backing off of the bill.

"Now is not the time for a vote on the Iran sanctions bill," Coons said Wednesday at a Politico event, according to The Huffington Post.

The senator clarified that he still supports the bill but warned advancing it now could damage ongoing negotiations toward a final agreement with Iran.

"I think, to the extent that we simply excite the distance and the tension between the Congress and administration on this, that doesn't serve our shared view of making certain that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapons capability," Coons said.

Despite pressure from the White House, Menendez and Kirk are still firm in their support of their measure. 

"I’m not frustrated,” Menendez told The Huffington Post on Tuesday after Obama's address. "The president has every right to do what he wants."

Kirk pointed out in a statement that Iran recently said the interim deal does not require them to dismantle their nuclear program.

“While the president promises to veto any new Iran sanctions legislation, the Iranians have already vetoed any dismantlement of their nuclear infrastructure,” Kirk said.

Forty-three Republicans and 16 Democrats co-sponsor the bill, but three top Senate Democrats are reportedly opposed to moving it forward.

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the second-highest ranking Democrat, Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the fourth-highest ranking Democrat, and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have said they are against the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has also suggested he’s leaning toward not allowing a vote on it.

On Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the Senate should move the sanctions bill forward to the floor, predicting it would have a veto-proof majority. 

Meanwhile, Reuters reported on Monday that lawmakers in both the House and Senate are considering a nonbinding resolution that expresses concern about Iran’s nuclear program.