A Democratic senator Thursday angrily accused Obama administration officials of doing an about-face on a bipartisan Senate plan designed to stifle funding for Iran’s nuclear weapons work.
Sen. Robert MenendezRobert MenendezSteve Mnuchin, foreclosure king, now runs your US Treasury Senate Dems move to nix Trump's deportation order Senators to Trump: We support additional Iran sanctions MORE (D-N.J.) said Obama officials initially balked at separate amendments on Iran that he and Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkLeaked ObamaCare bill would defund Planned Parenthood GOP senator won't vote to defund Planned Parenthood The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Ill.) planned to offer to a 2012 Pentagon policy bill.
The Menendez-Kirk amendment is likely to come up for a vote Thursday, and is expected to pass easily.
Obama officials were highly critical of the amendment during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Thursday, contending it would have the “opposite effect” of what is intended by driving other nations away from efforts to isolate Iran.
The officials also said the amendment would drive up the price of oil.
A visibly upset Menendez accused the officials of reneging on the agreement.
“I am extremely disappointed,” Menendez said, expressing bewilderment over why the officials in those meetings didn’t simply request that both senators scrap their amendments.
“You have rebuffed us every step of the way,” Menendez said, alleging that Congress has provided the very tools that have produced the success with sanctions against Tehran of which the White House now takes ownership.
“We need to cut off the fuel!” Menendez roared at one point.
The senator berated State and Treasury department officials for several minutes, then stewed in his seat after his allotted time had expired.
Sen. Bob CorkerBob CorkerA guide to the committees: Senate Republicans play clean up on Trump's foreign policy GOP Congress unnerved by Trump bumps MORE (R-Tenn.) joined Menendez in expressing concerns that the administration did not negotiate in good faith.
“That seems highly irresponsible … on your part,” Corker said.
Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John KerryJohn KerryNew York Knicks owner gave 0K to pro-Trump group A bold, common sense UN move for the Trump administration Former Obama officials say Netanyahu turned down secret peace deal: AP MORE (D-Mass.) noted that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wrote to Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl LevinCarl LevinA package proposal for repatriation Silencing of Warren another example of hyperpartisan Senate GOP going nuclear over Gorsuch might destroy filibuster forever MORE (D-Mich.) on Thursday to formally argue against the amendment.
Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) said the administration should have come before the committee with “a strategy to make this amendment work,” rather than one to kill it.
“This amendment is going to pass” by a large margin, Risch said. “It is going to send a signal that [lawmakers] want sent.”
The Obama administration’s push to hit Iran economically and limit its ability to pay for a nuclear arms program — and ultimately persuade it to give up that effort — is an attempt to avoid a future need to use military force to take out its nuclear facilities.
Some officials, lawmakers and experts warn that a U.S. — or Israeli — strike inside Iran could destabilize the entire Middle East.
The compromise amendment supports the administration’s goals, Menendez said. He urged the administration to support it because “the clock is ticking,” referring to a recent International Atomic Energy Agency report that found Iran is closer than ever to having a nuclear weapon.