By Jeremy Herb - 11/15/13 06:01 PM EST
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) says Senate Democrats are trying to use him as an excuse to delay a vote next week on imposing tougher sanctions on Iran.
The White House opposes the sanctions measure, which could come up on the Senate floor just as the administration is undertaking new nuclear talks with Iran.
“I will absolutely not give Reid the ability to hide the Obama priority of blocking Iran sanctions," Vitter said in a statement.
But Senate Democratic leadership aides say that Vitter is the one to blame.
The vote on Iran sanctions would take place through an amendment to the Defense authorization bill, but Democratic aides say the Senate isn't likely to finish that bill before the Thanksgiving recess because Vitter blocked them from moving forward this week.
Vitter filibustered a compound drug bill all week by demanding a vote on his amendment that would force members of Congress to disclose which of their staff they have exempted from enrolling in the ObamaCare exchanges.
One leadership aide dismissed Vitter's accusation that he's being made a scapegoat.
“That's pretty rich coming from a senator who just single-handedly blocked a bipartisan, non-controversial, lifesaving pharmaceutical safety bill for an entire week,” a leadership aide said. “We could have started on the defense bill this week if it weren't for Sen. Vitter's single-handed obstruction.”
The Senate plans to vote for cloture and pass the drug bill Monday and then proceed to the sweeping Pentagon policy bill. The time needed to wade through hundreds of amendments to the Defense bill would allow the Senate to wait on a vote on the Iran sanctions amendment.
Vitter said he does plan to submit his measure as an amendment to the Defense bill, but he will not stop the Senate from moving swiftly on the legislation.
Avoiding a vote on Iran sanctions next week would be a win for the Obama administration, which has made a major lobbying push to convince Congress to hold off after last week’s nuclear talks failed to end in a deal.
The White House has warned that new sanctions would upend negotiations set to resume Wednesday.
“If we’re serious about pursuing diplomacy, then there’s no need for us to add new sanctions on top of the sanctions that are already very effective and that brought them to the table in the first place,” President Obama said Thursday.
But lawmakers from both parties were skeptical the deal on the table would serve U.S. interests. Republicans made clear they would push an amendment for the new sanctions on the Defense bill if the Senate Banking Committee did not move its own legislation.
Senate Banking Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) said he was undecided on his next steps after a briefing Wednesday with Vice President Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, making it unlikely he would take action before the new round of talks begin next week.
The Obama administration hopes to strike a tentative agreement where Iran would receive some temporary sanctions relief in exchange for curbing some if its nuclear activity.