Menendez could delay Iran sanctions measure until March

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert MenendezOvernight Cybersecurity: Senate narrowly rejects expanding FBI surveillance powers Senate narrowly rejects new FBI surveillance Kaine, Murphy push extension of Iran sanctions MORE (D-N.J.) is considering delaying the introduction of his Iran sanctions bill until March, which would give him more time to gather support from wavering Democrats, according to a recent interview.

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The bill, co-authored with Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkDuckworth settles retaliation lawsuit The Trail 2016: Berning embers Senate Dems link court fight to Congressional Baseball Game MORE (R-Ill.), would impose new sanctions if international negotiators do not reach a deal with Iran to roll back its nuclear program by the June 30 deadline, with a waiver if a deal is close.

“If sanctions aren’t in place, his only options will be a military option, or to accept a nuclear-armed Iran,” Menendez, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told The Star-Ledger. “By having sanctions in place, you have a third way.”

However, President Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it passes before then, concerned that the bill would derail the talks. Menendez that putting sanctions in place takes months, so having sanctions ready to go would give the president options.

Democrats who last year co-sponsored a previous version of the bill have expressed reluctance to override the president in recent days.

While delaying introduction of the bill could be evidence that the support isn't yet there, it could also allow it to coincide with a March visit to the U.S. by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposes negotiations with Iran and could rally support for the bill.

The issue has created tensions between the president and Menendez, who reportedly clashed during a recent Democratic Senate retreat. And when the president issued a veto threat at last Tuesday's State of the Union, Menendez did not stand up and applause.

“I was tired. I got up 98 percent of the time during that speech, and I obviously would support a veto on any of these issues. That’s stuff I shed blood for," he told the Star-Ledger.

However, he said, “If you want to have a relationship, why start off with a litany of veto threats?...I’m not sure that was the best way to approach the beginning of a new Congress with Republicans in charge.”

Menendez told The Hill last week he would introduce the bill when he's ready, but did not rule out others doing so. The Senate Banking Committee is scheduled to debate the bill on Tuesday, and possibly vote on it on Thursday.

“I hate to say it, but this administration at various times when I have moved on sanctions legislation has opposed them, and now heralds them as the reason (Iran) is at the table,” Menendez said.