Senate Dems hesitate on Iran vote

Facing heavy pressure from President Obama, Senate Democrats on Tuesday signaled they have reservations about moving forward with Iran sanctions legislation.

Some senators who had previously backed a sanctions bill treaded carefully when asked whether they support holding a vote on legislation before the Iran talks wrap up in June.

"Well let's wait and see when there's a bill. There's no bill yet," said Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerSchumer: NYC should refuse to pay for Trump’s security Reagan's 'voodoo economics' are precisely what America needs When political opportunity knocked, Jason Chaffetz never failed to cash in MORE (D-N.Y.). "Let's wait and see how the whole thing plays out."

ADVERTISEMENT
"There's a question and a debate about timing, and that's something we should continue to discuss," said Sen. Bob CaseyBob CaseyDems struggle with abortion litmus test Dems crowd primaries to challenge GOP reps GOP fundraiser enters crowded primary for Pa. Senate seat MORE (D-Penn.). 

"I don't have a sense that there's anything that will happen in the near term," Casey added.

The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Bob MenendezRobert MenendezTaiwan deserves to participate in United Nations The way forward on the Iran nuclear deal under President Trump Corruption trial could roil NJ Senate race MORE (D-N.J.) and Mark KirkMark KirkThe way forward on the Iran nuclear deal under President Trump ObamaCare repeal bill would defund Planned Parenthood Leaked ObamaCare bill would defund Planned Parenthood MORE (R-Ill.), would sanction Iran if the country walks away from the negotiations over its nuclear program or violates the terms of any deal. 

The Senate banking committee had scheduled a hearing for Tuesday to debate and vote on sanctions, but postponed the session until next week, with outside opponents of the bill citing a lack of bipartisan support.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the panel’s chairman, said the hearings were "rescheduled to give senators more time." 

The committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownTrump talks big on trade, but workers need action Dems crowd primaries to challenge GOP reps Battle begins over Wall Street rules MORE (Ohio), opposes passing a sanctions bill ahead of the June 30 deadline.

"There's not a rush on this. I mean these negotiations are going forward, I don't want to disrupt the negotiations. ... Our long-term allies are saying 'Don't do this.' So I don't know what the hurry is except for Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellStudy: Trump tops recent GOP presidents in signing bills in first 100 days Senate passes stopgap funding bill to avert shutdown Let’s never talk about a government shutdown — ever again MORE's politics," Brown said. 

Brown said he wants to see what administration officials have to say at a classified briefing on Iran next week.

"I want to hear the briefings before I commit for sure on Menendez-Kirk," he said. 

The White House is pushing Senate Democrats to withhold their support, arguing passage has the potential to end the chances for reaching a historic diplomatic accord with Iran.

Obama last week threatened to veto the bill if it reaches his desk, and spoke with Senate Democrats about the issue behind closed doors.

Sen. Ben CardinBen CardinDemocrats exploring lawsuit against Trump Overnight Finance: Dems explore lawsuit against Trump | Full-court press for Trump tax plan | Clock ticks down to spending deadline Sanders on skipping WH Korea briefing: 'I did not want to be part of a photo op' MORE (D-Md.), who was a co-sponsor on a sanctions bill in the last Congress, said Democrats are debating when new sanctions legislation should be voted on. 

"The administration has a point. I think we should listen to what they have to say, and hopefully we can reach some agreement on when's the best timing for its consideration," he said. 

Sen. Chris CoonsChris CoonsA Vandenberg movement in Congress Senate approves Trump's Agriculture chief How Gorsuch's confirmation shapes the next Supreme Court battle MORE (D-Del.) said he was "actively considering" whether to support holding a vote ahead of the June 30 deadline.

Without the support of at least 13 Democrats, the sanction bill will not reach a veto-proof majority of 67 votes. Last year, 17 Democrats, including Menendez, cosponsored the bill, but five of them lost reelection in November. 

Menendez isn’t backing down, and told The Hill he would introduce his bill when he's "ready." 

Sen. Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalDemocrats exploring lawsuit against Trump Overnight Finance: Dems explore lawsuit against Trump | Full-court press for Trump tax plan | Clock ticks down to spending deadline FCC head unveils plan to roll back net neutrality MORE (D-Conn.) said he would discuss the Iran bill with Menendez and other colleagues on Tuesday and throughout the week. 

"I think that the principles and convictions incorporated in the bill are significant and they deserve a hearing. The question of timing is one we need to discuss," he said.  

Other Democrats played down dissension in the caucus, saying there is broad agreement that if no deal is reached, Iran should pay the price.

"We all want the same thing. We want a non-nuclear Iran, and we prefer to get there diplomatically rather than by any other outcome. So this is really a question of strategy rather than end-goal," said Sen. Tim KaineTim KaineDemocrats exploring lawsuit against Trump Overnight Defense: US moving missile defense system to South Korea | Dems want justification for Syria strike | Army pick pushes back against critics of LGBT record Kaine, Schiff press Trump on legal justification for Syria strike MORE (D-Va.). 

Kaine, who did not support the previous Menendez-Kirk bill, said he is looking at the new version because it is "different from the previous one." 

Still, the senators said he fears a new sanctions bill could shift the focus away from Iran's behavior. 

"And I don't want to do anything that makes people question whether we are negotiating fairly," he said.