By Alexander Bolton - 09/10/15 04:07 PM EDT
Senate Democrats held ranks Thursday and blocked a resolution disapproving the Iran nuclear deal, handing President Obama a major political victory.
Only a few months earlier, some Senate opponents of the deal predicted they would be able to muster 67 votes to override a presidential veto.
Republicans refused to concede defeat, however, and said they would force Democrats to vote on Iran again next week.
“It will be all Iran next week,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said before the vote.
“There are going to be more votes,” he told reporters. “There will be other opportunities for people to change their mind next week, hopefully after they hear from their constituents.
Forty-two Democrats voted Thursday to filibuster the Republican-led disapproval measure and pave the way for sanctions to be lifted on Iran in the spring of 2016. Fifty-four Republicans and four Democrats voted to proceed.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellClinton, Trump sharpen attacks Sanders, Merkley back McConnell decision to skip TPP vote John McCain: No longer a profile in courage MORE (Ky.) framed it as one of the most important foreign policy debates of the past decade and suggested Democrats would pay a political price.
He called the Democratic obstruction “a tragedy.”
“This is a deal that will far outlast one administration. The President may have the luxury of vacating office in a few months, but many of our responsibilities extend beyond that,” he said. “The American people will remember where we stand today.”
McConnell filed a motion Thursday afternoon setting up another vote on the disapproval measure next week.
In the House, lawmakers on Thursday approved legislation contending that Obama has not sent all of the documents related to the nuclear deal to Congress for review.
On Friday, the House will also vote on a measure to prevent the U.S. from lifting sanctions on Iran as part of complying with the deal. Their final vote will be on a measure of approval for the deal, which is intended to embarrass the White House and force a difficult vote for Democrats.
Congress faced a Sept. 17 deadline for taking action on the Iran deal under legislation approved earlier this year.
The action in both chambers caps weeks of intense lobbying by the administration and its allies on one side and pro-Israel groups led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
President Obama personally lobbied Democrats to support the deal, arguing it offered the best chance to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon over the next decade.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz met often with senators to assuage their concerns over the arcane details of the agreement. Moniz estimated that about 30 Democratic senators visited his office.
Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, a group backed by AIPAC, promised to spend between $20 million and $40 million on television and digital ads urging opposition to the deal.
In the end, only four Senate Democrats defected, despite the high-profile opposition of Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerDems' Florida Senate primary nears its bitter end Trump was wrong: Kaine is a liberal in a moderate's clothing Trump poised to betray primary supporters on immigration MORE (N.Y.), the Senate Democratic leader-in-waiting.
He was joined by Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, former Foreign Relations panel chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
Public support for the deal has declined in recent months, according to a Pew Research Center poll.
The September survey showed that only 21 percent of the American public supports the deal, while 49 percent disapproves and 30 percent have no opinion.
A Pew poll from mid-July, shortly after Obama announced the deal, showed 33 percent approved of it, while 45 percent disapproved.
A key factor in Obama’s win was a speech to a joint session of Congress earlier this year by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was invited by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) with no input from the White House.
Netanyahu blasted the deal, and several Democrats said his criticism and the invitation from Boehner turned the debate into more of a partisan affair.
Another key moment was a letter spearheaded by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and signed by most Republican senators to Iran’s leadership. It warned that any deal might not be supported by the next president.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDems' Florida Senate primary nears its bitter end Trump haunts McCain's reelection fight 10 most expensive House races MORE (Nev.) said Thursday’s cloture vote was a definitive statement of support for the deal by many Democrats.
“All senators should understand that the cloture vote will then become the defining vote that determines whether the resolution of disapproval moves forward to the president’s desk,” he said. “A vote against cloture is a vote for the Iran agreement — plain and simple.”
Reid touted the outcome in a Thursday afternoon press conference and urged his GOP colleagues to move on to a new issue.
House conservatives joined by Texas Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzWould internet transition have an impact on current US election? Trump haunts McCain's reelection fight The Trail 2016: On the fringe MORE (R), who is running for the GOP presidential nomination, made a last-minute bid to postpone votes on the disapproval resolution.
They argued the 60-day review phase had not begun, because the administration failed to submit information on side deals between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The House on Thursday was expected to pass legislation making this point.
McConnell, however, rejected the notion that argument would be successful.
“We have to act before September the 17th, which is next week, or the deal goes forward,” he said Wednesday.
Senate Republicans hope to keep the Iran debate front and center and plan to wrap it up with a discussion on the Syrian refugee crisis to highlight what they say are the failures of Obama’s Middle East policy.
“I think there’s a desire by a lot of people on both sides of the aisle to have some strengthening of our Middle East policy to push things,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerBob CorkerBolton would consider serving as Trump's secretary of State Trump struggles to land punches on Dems over ISIS GOP senator: Trump calling Obama ISIS founder 'went far too far' MORE (R-Tenn.).
“There’s significant bipartisan concern that the Iranian deal is going de facto become our Middle East policy, which would be a travesty. So certainly there’s going to be some efforts to push the administration to be more articulate,” he added.
Jordain Carney and Cristina Marcos contributed to this story.
This story was updated at 5:38 p.m.