Republicans push Senate Dems toward hard votes on Iran

Getty Images

Conservative Republicans are looking for ways to force Democrats to walk the plank in a series of tough votes over Iran.

GOP senators want to attach amendments to the recent deal struck between Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) that would allow Congress to weigh in on any agreement reached between the Obama administration and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program.

ADVERTISEMENT
The White House and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are warning against changes that could erode support from Democrats and President Obama.

But the GOP is looking for options that would place Democrats between the proverbial rock and a hard place, forcing them to choose between opening themselves up to attack by voting against the amendments, or angering Obama and Reid by backing them.

The White House has spent significant political capital on gathering support for the Iran nuclear talks, repeatedly dispatching high-ranking officials, including Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryWhite House: We were prepared for Brexit vote After Brexit vote, is anything left of Britain? Kerry reaffirms support for Britain, urges calm MORE, to meet publicly and privately with lawmakers.

But proposals from presidential hopeful Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioGOP Senate super-PAC reserves nearly million in airtime Reid: Rubio should be sued over missed votes Grayson rips Murphy for voting to create Benghazi panel MORE, among others, could throw a wrench in the works.

The Florida Republican, together with Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkOvernight Healthcare: Biggest abortion rights win in 25 years | Justice Kennedy again steps to the left The Trail 2016: Warren takes VP batting practice Abortion ruling roils race for the White House, Senate MORE (R-Ill.) wants to include in the Corker-Cardin agreement a requirement that President Obama must certify that Iran’s leaders publicly accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

It is highly unlikely that Iran’s leaders would make such a declaration. And other key Republicans suggested that, even if Tehran did so, they would not accept the sincerity of the announcement.

“What if they said ‘Yeah, I recognize Israel?’ I don’t trust them,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamDefense contingency misuse threatens national security Gun-control supporters plan next steps versus NRA Bipartisan gun measure survives test vote MORE (R-S.C.) said. “Those words mean nothing to me.”

Another amendment from Rubio and Kirk, as well a separate amendment from Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), ties the agreement to the release of Americans currently being held in Iran.

Those proposed measures come amid news that Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian is facing espionage charges in Iran.

Rubio and Kirk said that the “Obama administration should demand Mr. Rezaian’s immediate release along with all other Americans wrongfully imprisoned in Iran prior to concluding a nuclear deal with this brutal regime.”

But Marie Harf, the acting State Department spokesperson, told reporters that the administration had already raised the issue of the imprisoned Americans with Iran, adding, “We do everything we can.”

Meanwhile, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) wants to reinsert a requirement that Obama be able to certify that Iran hasn’t carried out or directly supported terrorism against the United States or a U.S. citizen.

The terrorism certification was removed as part of the agreement reached by Cardin and Corker, and Democratic support would be in serious doubt if it returned.

Cardin warned his colleagues Thursday that Iranian human rights violations or support for terrorism amounted to “a separate issue” from the nuclear talks.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest also suggested earlier this month that it was “unrealistic” to expect the administration to be able to get Iran to renounce terrorism.

Rubio has introduced another amendment to ensure that any sanctions relief under a nuclear deal doesn’t affect congressional and Executive sanctions placed on Iran for different reasons: its support of terrorism, its human rights violations or its ballistic missile program.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who like Kirk faces a potentially tight reelection fight next year, has introduced two amendments that would allow Congress to approve a final deal, and also requires a higher threshold of support than under Corker-Cardin.

Under a joint resolution of disapproval, Obama would currently only need to convince 34 senators to back the Iran agreement, meaning he could lose roughly a dozen Democrats and still be successful. 

Under one other amendment, the final deal would have to be submitted to the Senate as a treaty — something the administration had adamantly said the agreement is not.

Graham said that Republicans who believe the agreement should be treated as a treaty are “embracing a concept that I find questionable legally.”

He added that the Supreme Court has tended to give presidents leeway in determining what is or is not a treaty. 

Under yet another amendment, the agreement would have to get support from half of the members in both the House and Senate.

“When you take a look at this deal with Iran, I think it should rise to this higher threshold,” Johnson said, adding that the current deal “definitely does not give Congress enough of a role, and it certainly does not create a high enough threshold for approval.”

Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzOfficials skip Cruz-led hearing on ‘radical Islam’ Trump hires ex-Cruz aide as communications director Overnight Tech: Judiciary leaders question internet transition plan | Clinton to talk tech policy | Snowden's robot | Trump's big digital push MORE (R-Texas), another 2016 hopeful, also wants to weigh in on the Iran legislation. He has filed an amendment with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who is up for reelection next year, to bolster congressional review of any Iran deal.

The Texas Republican said that it “imperative that, at the very least, the president obtain majority support for his deal from both houses of Congress before moving forward.”

There’s no guarantee that the series of potentially tricky amendments will get a vote, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pledged a “robust amendment process.”

“This bill will be open for amendment, and those who seek to improve it will have an opportunity to do so,” the Kentucky Republican said from the Senate floor. “We look forward to a vigorous debate on it.”

Democrats are already pledging to try to block significant changes to the bill. They are also asking their Republican colleagues to maintain the spirit of “bipartisan cooperation” that allowed the legislation to pass unanimously out of the Foreign Relations Committee.

“Let’s see the amendments and try to work with you on the amendments,” Cardin said. “Let’s maintain the bipartisan cooperation we have here.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said he would vote against “poisonous” amendments, and urged senators to “suppress any intentions that would drive this to a point that we can’t have that strong vote.”

Graham had a blunter message for his Republican colleagues.

“Anyone that monkeys with this bill will run into a buzz saw,” he said.