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 CoonsDems: Warren ready to get off sidelines Dems pressure Obama on vow to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees Wildlife crime bill deserves unanimous consent in Congress 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 WarnerNo time to relax: A digital security commission for the next generation Army posthumously awards female veteran who served as WWII spy The Hill's 12:30 Report 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 CorkerRubio: 'Maybe' would run for Senate seat if 'good friend' wasn't McConnell-allied group: We'll back Rubio if he runs for reelection The Trail 2016: Interleague play MORE (R-Tenn.) and Robert MenendezRobert MenendezDems pressure Obama on vow to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees Lobbying World This week: GOP lawmakers reckon with Trump 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 McConnellIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable McConnell: Trump White House will have ‘constraints’ Nearly 400 House bills stuck in Senate limbo 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 CardinSenate GOP ties Iran sanctions fight to defense bill Lawmakers push to elevate Cyber Command in Senate defense bill Baltimore police officer cleared in Freddie Gray case 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 SchumerSanders tests Wasserman Schultz Puerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate Overnight Healthcare: House, Senate on collision course over Zika funding MORE — who is next in line to become Senate Democratic leader after Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidSanders tests Wasserman Schultz Nearly 400 House bills stuck in Senate limbo Puerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate 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.