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 MenendezDemocrats press Wells Fargo CEO for more answers on scandal Dem senator: Louisiana Republican 'found Jesus' on flood funding Taiwan and ICAO: this is the time MORE (D-N.J.), who is the co-author of the bill. 

The letter was signed by Democratic Sens. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Democrats press Wells Fargo CEO for more answers on scandal 78 lawmakers vote to sustain Obama veto MORE (N.Y.), Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalLeahy wants Judiciary hearing on Yahoo Obama defeat is Schumer victory Overnight Cybersecurity: FBI probes possible hack of Dems' phones | Trump's '400-pound hacker' | Pressure builds on Yahoo | Poll trolls run wild MORE (Conn.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Bob CaseyBob CaseyElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare Enough bickering, time to stay focused on important issues: MORE Jr. (Pa.), Ben CardinBen CardinSenators already eyeing changes to 9/11 bill after veto override State official hints more Chinese firms being probed for N. Korean ties Reid is sole senator to back Obama's 9/11 veto MORE (Md.), Chris CoonsChris CoonsElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Overnight Healthcare: McConnell unveils new Zika package | Manchin defends daughter on EpiPens | Bill includes M for opioid crisis Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare MORE (Del.), Joe ManchinJoe ManchinElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Mylan CEO should be ashamed of EpiPen prices Overnight Finance: Senate rejects funding bill as shutdown looms | Labor Dept. to probe Wells Fargo | Fed to ease stress test rules for small banks MORE (W.Va.), Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyOvernight Finance: Senate rejects funding bill as shutdown looms | Labor Dept. to probe Wells Fargo | Fed to ease stress test rules for small banks Overnight Energy: Judges scrutinize Obama climate rule Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears MORE (Ind.), and Debbie StabenowDebbie StabenowMichigan Dems highlight Flint with unanimous opposition to CR How Congress averted shutdown Senate passes funding bill to avoid shutdown 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 KirkFormer Miss Universe becomes surprise story to emerge from debate Senate rivals gear up for debates The Trail 2016: Trump seizes on Charlotte violence 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 McConnellMcConnell blames dysfunction on Dems McConnell: Cures bill a 'top priority' in lame-duck McConnell opens door to changing 9/11 bill 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 CruzFour states sue to stop internet transition House approves stopgap funding, averting costly shutdown Overnight Tech: TV box plan faces crucial vote | Trump transition team to meet tech groups | Growing scrutiny of Yahoo security 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 GillibrandOvernight Tech: TV box plan faces crucial vote | Trump transition team to meet tech groups | Growing scrutiny of Yahoo security Overnight Finance: McConnell offers 'clean' funding bill | Dems pan proposal | Flint aid, internet measure not included | More heat for Wells Fargo | New concerns on investor visas Senate Dems call for investigation into Wells Fargo's wage practices 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.