Senate Dems waver on Iran bill

The White House is trying to bottle up bipartisan legislation that would give Congress 60 days to review a final Iran nuclear deal.

The pushback may be having an effect — Sen. Chris CoonsChris CoonsOvernight Healthcare: McConnell unveils new Zika package | Manchin defends daughter on EpiPens | Bill includes M for opioid crisis Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare Cruz fights domain name handover in hearing MORE, a Democrat from Delaware, is now undecided about the legislation after Republicans had touted him as a supporter.

Coons is worried Republicans might use the bill as a political weapon, something the White House has warned about.

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“He’s reviewing and making a decision on how he’ll vote next week. He is focused on creating a responsible structure for congressional oversight. He is concerned about the bill becoming a partisan vehicle,” said Sean Coit, Coons’s spokesman.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark WarnerDemocrats press Wells Fargo CEO for more answers on scandal Democratic tax bill targets foreign reinsurance transactions Leahy wants Judiciary hearing on Yahoo MORE of Virginia, another Democrat floated as a likely vote to override a veto of the Corker-Menendez bill, softened his stance on Tuesday. A spokesman said it’s “TBD” if Warner will vote for the bill or support a veto override.

“Let’s first see what happens during [the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s] markup next week,” the aide said.

Claiming Coons and Warner as likely allies, the supporters of the Iran legislation believe they have 66 votes, one short of the threshold needed to override a veto from President Obama.

With the bill close to a tipping point, the White House is leaning on Democrats to withhold support.

Administration officials warn that while the substance of the bill from Sens. Bob CorkerBob CorkerCongress steamrolls Obama's veto Senators already eyeing changes to 9/11 bill after veto override Cornyn: White House 'MIA' during 9/11 debate MORE (R-Tenn.) and Robert MenendezRobert MenendezDemocrats press Wells Fargo CEO for more answers on scandal Dem senator: Louisiana Republican 'found Jesus' on flood funding Taiwan and ICAO: this is the time MORE (D-N.J.) might seem innocuous enough, it could create the perception that Congress thinks the emerging nuclear deal is not viable.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration has been “in close touch” with lawmakers about the framework of the Iran deal reached last week and is urging them to evaluate it “on the merits.”

On Tuesday, Earnest told reporters the Corker-Mendez bill includes a poison pill provision that would make an agreement contingent on Iran renouncing terrorism.

“Now, that’s an unrealistic suggestion, because we’ve been very clear that this agreement is focused on preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and that it is not going to succeed in resolving the long list of concerns that we have with Iran’s behavior,” he said.

Earnest said the provision was one of “a number of concerns” the White House has with the Corker-Mendez bill.

The Foreign Relations panel, which Corker leads as chairman, is expected to approve the legislation on April 14, setting up a floor vote in the next several weeks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellMichigan Dems highlight Flint with unanimous opposition to CR Congress departs for recess until after Election Day How Congress averted a shutdown MORE (R-Ky.) has not yet said when he will bring it up.

The legislation would require the administration to submit the text of a final Iran deal to Congress for review, along with a verification assessment of Iran’s compliance and a certification that the agreement does not jeopardize U.S. national security.

Congress would have 60 days to review the agreement, during which time the president would be barred from suspending congressionally imposed sanctions against Iran.

The measure would require the president to assess Iran’s compliance with the agreement every 90 days, and any breach would trigger an expedited vote to restore sanctions.

The Iran review bill has nine co-sponsors in the Democratic caucus, which appears to give supporters, at minimum, 63 votes to override a presidential veto.

Republicans are hopeful that Warner, Coons and Sen. Ben CardinBen CardinSenators already eyeing changes to 9/11 bill after veto override State official hints more Chinese firms being probed for N. Korean ties Reid is sole senator to back Obama's 9/11 veto MORE (Md.), now the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, would give them three more votes to override Obama.

But Cardin, who took over the top Democratic slot on the panel after Menendez stepped aside in the wake of corruption charges, indicated in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Tuesday that he wants to see changes to the bill to address the administration’s concerns.

“What I am trying to make sure is that the legislation we consider is a congressional review and does not prejudge the agreements — that we make sure there’s nothing in this that’s inconsistent with the power of the president to negotiate the strongest possible agreement with Iran,” he said.

The Corker-Menendez bill received a major boost before the April recess when New York Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerCongress departs for recess until after Election Day Democrats press Wells Fargo CEO for more answers on scandal 78 lawmakers vote to sustain Obama veto MORE — who is next in line to become Senate Democratic leader after Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidCongress departs for recess until after Election Day How Congress averted a shutdown Congress steamrolls Obama's veto MORE (D-Nev.) announced he would not seek reelection — signed on as a co-sponsor.

“This is a very serious issue that deserves careful consideration and I expect to have classified briefing in the near future. I strongly believe Congress should have the right to disapprove any agreement and I support the Corker bill which would allow that to occur,” Schumer said in a statement Monday.

Republicans argued that Schumer’s backing is a sign the bill is gathering momentum.

“He’s a very prominent voice within their caucus,” noted a senior GOP aide.

But Schumer is also facing pressure from the left to side with Obama. The Huffington Post published a banner headline Monday evening blaring, “Schumer Veers Toward War” after he reiterated his backing for the Iran bill.

MoveOn.org, a liberal grassroots advocacy group, panned Schumer for co-sponsoring the legislation.

“Supporting reckless legislation that undermines President Obama’s diplomacy with Iran and risks a dangerous, unnecessary war in the Middle East should disqualify anyone from leading the Senate Democratic caucus,” Ilya Sheyman, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

“Sen. Schumer needs to withdraw his support from the Corker and Menendez legislation,” he added

A senior Democratic aide, however, argued that support for the Corker-Menendez bill doesn’t translate to support for a resolution disapproving the final nuclear deal, which negotiators are expected to reach in June.

“It is very possible and, in fact, likely that there are Democrats who are supportive of the Corker bill because they believe in congressional review that would vote to sustain a deal if it’s a good deal at the end of the day,” the aide said.

—Jordain Carney contributed to this report.