Dems back down from Iran sanctions fight

Senate Democrats on Tuesday backed down from a confrontation with President Obama over new Iran sanctions, agreeing to withhold support if Republicans bring legislation to the floor.

But the Democrats warned Obama they will only hold the line against the bill for roughly two months, after which point they would be ready to join with Republicans to muscle it through.

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"In acknowledgement of your concern regarding congressional action on legislation at this moment, we will not vote for this legislation on the Senate floor before March 24," read a letter to Obama spearheaded by Sen. Robert MenendezRobert MenendezBipartisan group, Netflix actress back bill for American Latino Museum The Mideast-focused Senate letter we need to see Taiwan deserves to participate in United Nations MORE (D-N.J.), who is the co-author of the bill. 

The letter was signed by Democratic Sens. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerLive Coverage: Senate votes down 'skinny' ObamaCare repeal Passing the DACA legislation will provide relief to children living in fear OPINION | Trump, there is no better AG than Jeff Sessions — don't lose him MORE (N.Y.), Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalDem bill would ban controversial pesticide Trump attack puts Sessions in bind Dem leaders amp up calls for bipartisan ObamaCare fixes MORE (Conn.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Bob CaseyBob CaseyFamilies make emotional plea for diabetes research funding Dem leaders amp up calls for bipartisan ObamaCare fixes Let’s not roll back bipartisan progress on global food security MORE Jr. (Pa.), Ben CardinBen CardinBoth sides of the aisle agree — telemedicine is the future Republicans get agreement on Russia, North Korea sanctions Congress can send a powerful message by passing the Israel Anti-Boycott Act MORE (Md.), Chris CoonsChris CoonsIf our innovators have no reward, how will America compete? Democrats go in for the kill on ObamaCare repeal Funeral for the filibuster: GOP will likely lay Senate tool to rest MORE (Del.), Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSenate heading for late night ahead of ObamaCare repeal showdown Overnight Healthcare: Four GOP senators threaten to block 'skinny' repeal | Healthcare groups blast skinny repeal | GOP single-payer amendment fails in Senate GOP single-payer amendment fails in Senate MORE (W.Va.), Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellySenate heading for late night ahead of ObamaCare repeal showdown Overnight Healthcare: Four GOP senators threaten to block 'skinny' repeal | Healthcare groups blast skinny repeal | GOP single-payer amendment fails in Senate GOP single-payer amendment fails in Senate MORE (Ind.), and Debbie StabenowDebbie StabenowDems at odds over direction of ‘Better Deal’ Overnight Finance: House votes to repeal arbitration rule | Yellen, Cohn on Trump's list for Fed chief | House passes Russia sanctions deal | GOP centrists push back on border wall funding Senators urge quotas on Canadian lumber, consultations with Congress MORE (Mich.).

The new deadline allows Menendez and the other Democrats to support the legislation while honoring the wishes of Obama, who has warned that sanctions could derail the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program and pave the way to a military confrontation.

A senior administration official traveling with the president aboard Air Force One said the move to delay the sanctions vote is seen by the White House as a” very constructive signal."

March 24 was already the date that negotiators had set for reaching a political framework for an agreement, with the overall talks set to conclude June 30.

The sanctions bill, which Menendez is co-sponsoring with Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkMcConnell: Senate to try to repeal ObamaCare next week GOP senator: Not 'appropriate' to repeal ObamaCare without replacement GOP's repeal-only plan quickly collapses in Senate MORE (R-Ill.), would slap new sanctions on Iran beginning July 6 if no deal is reached, exacting new punishment on the country’s struggling economy.

Without the support of the 10 Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellHuckabee calls for repeal of 17th Amendment after healthcare failure ObamaCare repeal: Now what? McConnell: 'Time to move on' after healthcare defeat MORE (R-Ky.) likely won’t have enough support to break a Democratic filibuster and get the bill to Obama’s desk.

But Republicans are eager to have the Iran debate, believing they have the upper hand by standing firm against Obama’s foreign policy and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzSenate heading for late night ahead of ObamaCare repeal showdown Two GOP senators back ObamaCare repeal after Ryan call Senate releases 'skinny' ObamaCare repeal bill MORE (R-Texas) said McConnell should bring an Iran sanctions bill to the Senate floor immediately.

“I think it has been heartbreaking to see how few Democrats, even to this day, are willing to stand up to the Obama administration when it comes to the threat of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons capability,” he said. 

The March 24 deadline from Menendez sets the stage for a last-ditch push to try to reach the outlines of a deal.

In his letter, Menendez noted that the legislation would allow the president to waive additional sanctions for a month at a time to provide additional flexibility in the negotiations.

The Senate Banking Committee is planning to vote on the bill Thursday, and an aide to Menendez said he plans to co-sponsor and vote for it.

Schumer, another member of the committee, is also likely to vote for the bill. He said Tuesday he would co-sponsor it. 

If the 10 Democrats were to vote for a sanctions bill on the floor, Republicans would be close to a veto-proof majority of 67. Only three additional Democrats would be needed. 

Sens. Michael Bennett (D-Colo.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandGOP senator forces Dems to vote on single payer OPINION | Democrats: Time to wish Hillary Clinton good luck and goodbye Dem says ObamaCare repeal effort moves US ‘toward single-payer’ MORE (D-N.Y.) backed an earlier version of the sanctions bill in the last Congress, but they did not sign Menendez’s letter. 

Last updated at 6:19 p.m.

Justin Sink contributed.