Menendez charges put Iran legislation in doubt

 

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's (N.J.) decision to step aside temporarily as ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee following his indictment on Wednesday could jeopardize Congress's chances of passing Iran legislation. 

Menendez has co-authored legislation with Chairman Bob CorkerBob CorkerPolicymakers forget duty to protect taxpayers from financial failures Overnight Defense: GOP chairman moves ahead with 0B defense bill | Lawmakers eye 355 ship navy | Senate panel seeks answers on shoot down of Syrian jet Overnight Cybersecurity: Trump tweetstorm on Russia probe | White House reportedly pushing to weaken sanctions bill | Podesta to testify before House Intel MORE (R-Tenn.) that would allow the Senate to weigh in on any nuclear deal with Iran, and a separate bill that would restore and impose tougher sanctions on Iran if it walks away from talks or violates a deal.

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The Foreign Relations Committee is set to vote April 14 on the bill he co-authored with Corker calling for Senate review of an Iran deal. If Menendez is out of the picture long-term, it could sap Democratic support for legislation that the White House has already threatened to veto. 

Typically, the most senior Democrat on a committee steps in when a member takes leave from a post, but Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDems see surge of new candidates Dems to grind Senate to a halt over ObamaCare repeal fight GOP fires opening attack on Dem reportedly running for Heller's Senate seat MORE (D-Nev.) would make the final decision. 

Corker said in a statement to The Hill that he had "no knowledge of the judicial matters at hand" but said he expects Menendez "will continue to play a constructive role" on his panel.

After Menendez, the next most senior Democrat on the committee is Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerTime is now to address infrastructure needs Tom Steyer testing waters for Calif. gubernatorial bid Another day, another dollar for retirement advice rip-offs MORE (D-Calif.), an ally of President Obama who opposes passing any Iran legislation before the final June 30 deadline in the talks. 

She has introduced competing and less stringent legislation with six other Democrats that calls for the White House to regularly report on Iran's compliance with any deal, and sets up an expedited process for Congress to reinstate sanctions if Iran violates an accord.

However, Boxer is not running for reelection in 2016 and is already the ranking Democrat on another panel.

That means the job would likely fall to Sen. Ben CardinBen CardinDem senators urged Obama to take action on Russia before election Overnight Cybersecurity: Trump tweetstorm on Russia probe | White House reportedly pushing to weaken sanctions bill | Podesta to testify before House Intel Senate expected to pass Russia sanctions bill for a second time MORE (D-Md.), who was a co-sponsor of the original bill authored by Sens. Mark KirkMark KirkWhy Qatar Is a problem for Washington Taking the easy layup: Why brain cancer patients depend on it The Mideast-focused Senate letter we need to see MORE (R-Ill.) and Menendez that would restore and impose tougher sanctions on Iran.

Cardin also signed a letter to the president saying he would wait until after the end of March to support that bill, and has indicated he would support Corker-Menendez. 

After Cardin, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenDems push for more action on power grid cybersecurity Senate overwhelmingly passes Russia sanctions deal Russia sanctions deal clears key Senate hurdle MORE (D-N.H.) would be the next most senior member. She has typically leaned somewhat hawkish on foreign policy. However, she did not co-sponsor the original version of Kirk-Menendez, and criticized an open letter to Iran by Republicans warning it that any deal might not last past the Obama administration. 

Sen. Chris CoonsChris CoonsOvernight Regulation: Labor groups fear rollback of Obama worker protection rule | Trump regs czar advances in Senate | New FCC enforcement chief Overnight Tech: Uber CEO resigns | Trump's Iowa tech trip | Dems push Sessions to block AT&T-Time Warner deal | Lawmakers warned on threat to election systems | Senate Dem offers patent reform bill MORE (D-Del.), next after Shaheen, is a co-sponsor of the original Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill, a co-sponsor of the latest version and has also signed the letter saying he would support it after March.

All Senate Democrats last week voted to unanimously pass a nonbinding budget amendment in support of sanctions if the administration could not certify to members of Congress that Iran was not violating any deal.

Last updated at 8:46 p.m.

— Jordain Carney contributed.