Two junior conservatives blindsided Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellRepublican wins La. Senate runoff in final 2016 race Heitkamp is Trump's top choice for Agriculture secretary: report Schumer calls for Senate probe into Russian interference MORE (R-Ky.) Thursday by attempting to force a vote on an amendment that could derail the bipartisan Iran nuclear review bill.
Sens. Tom CottonTom CottonArk., Texas senators put cheese dip vs. queso to the test Overnight Defense: Debate over Mattis heats up | White House releases military force rules Senate GOP to Obama: Stop issuing new rules MORE (R-Ark.) and Marco RubioMarco RubioSenate clears water bill with Flint aid, drought relief What Trump's Cabinet picks reveal House passes water bill with Flint aid, drought relief MORE (R-Fla.), who is running for president, surprised McConnell by leapfrogging ahead of colleagues waiting for chances to get votes on their amendments.
McConnell’s only way of avoiding the controversial amendment would be to file a motion to end debate on the Iran Nuclear Review Act, which would block Republicans from offering any amendments to the bill.
It would also represent a reversal of McConnell’s intention to allow amendments on legislation in the GOP-controlled Senate after he criticized Democrats for not doing so when they held the chamber.
The GOP leader now faces a tough choice over whether to save the Iran bill from a poison-pill amendment or to cut off debate and move to a swift final vote on the legislation — despite earlier pledges to allow a robust floor debate.
Rubio’s amendment calling for Iran to recognize Israel as part of a nuclear deal with the United States is dangerous because Iran would never agree to it, and so it might doom the nuclear talks.
Democrats have said they will not shoulder the burden of defeating it, meaning that the amendment would likely be approved if it were to come up for a vote.
That would likely lead the White House to veto the Iran legislation.
Cotton refused to back down Thursday, insisting his colleagues weigh in on whether international negotiators take a tougher approach to Iran and call on it to recognize Israel.
“We need to vote. If you don’t want to vote, you shouldn’t have come to the Senate. If you’re in the Senate and you don’t want to vote, you should leave,” he said on the floor.
Cotton and Rubio took advantage of McConnell’s decision not to block amendments to the underlying legislative vehicle, the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act, in order to file the amendment.
When Sen. Harry ReidHarry ReidReid: Comey should be investigated in wake of Russia report Spokesman: NY Times ignored Reid's comments in pre-election story on Russia Senate passes dozens of bills on way out of town MORE (D-Nev.) was majority leader, he frequently used a procedural move known as “filling the tree” to prevent Republicans from offering amendments. McConnell has not done so, in part because he and Republicans had criticized Reid’s management of the Senate.
Cotton filed and made pending to the House vehicle an amendment requiring Iran to give up its nuclear facility before receiving any sanctions relief and to open its program to a fully verifiable inspections regime. He offered Rubio’s Israel proposal as a second-degree amendment to his own measure.
By offering their amendments to the House legislation, Cotton and Rubio jumped ahead of colleagues who were negotiating to amend the Iran review bill.
Under the Senate’s rules, the Senate must take up their amendments next unless a motion to end debate is presented and succeeds. Such a motion would need 60 votes.
Amendments that received votes earlier this week were offered to the compromise legislation hashed out by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn) and Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.), the panel’s ranking Democrat — not the underlying bill.
The Corker-Cardin compromise, which would empower Congress to review any deal struck with Iran before President Obama can waive sanctions, is a substitute amendment to the House firefighters bill.
Corker warned that Cotton’s gambit had “changed the dynamic significantly.”
He said that he had been working on scheduling votes on “a whole package of things” but that the path forward is now uncertain.
McConnell scrambled to buy time Thursday by moving to a proposal to override Obama’s veto of Republican legislation blocking a National Labor Relations Board rule on union-organizing elections.
“Sen. Cotton’s procedural move has forced Senator McConnell to decide whether to vote on poison pills or preserve the bipartisan Corker-Cardin compromise by filing cloture to end debate on the Iran bill,” said Adam Jentleson, Reid’s spokesman.
“If Senator McConnell files cloture to end debate on the Iran bill, it will preserve the Corker-Cardin compromise by protecting it from poison pills — but filing cloture to end debate would also block further amendment votes if cloture is invoked,” he added.